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El Tren Fantasma

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Album Review

Chris Watson's late-2011 disc starts out as the train recording it is, pulling into a location with a rumble and a metallic screech. But with the Spanish and English announcements for "the ghost train," things move into a slightly different arena, a kind of ultimate train journey of the mind. Watson drew on recordings he made for a BBC project on a now discontinued Mexican railway line from the Caribbean to the Pacific to create El Tren Fantasma. With his ear for field recording and collage again at play, the resultant hourlong disc sometimes has the feeling of a retrospective advertisement at work to some unavoidable degree, a tourist impulse that can't be fulfilled. But it's a marvelous portrayal in miniature of the tensions between the "natural" and the "man-made" — thus "Los Mochis" and its bird and dog sounds slightly undercut by a distant rumble and then another approaching train, while "El Tajin"'s insect sounds inevitably call up the feeling of a quiet, still night in a tropical area. Subtlety is the order of the day throughout — a gentle flattening of tone on the horns on "El Divisadero" collapsing into long, distant tones and drones, near silence in moments like "Sierra Tarahumara" and the first half of "Aguascalientes." Throughout, trains recur in various ways, sometimes a quick clip on tracks, other times with a more extreme impact, as with "Chihuahua," where silences are suddenly punctuated by another quick train rush that then slowly fades away, also heard again on the conclusion of "Aguascalientes." The transformation of the train into a rising and falling loop on "El Divisadero" adds a through rhythm not previously heard on the album, a further remarkable transformation in an enticing listen.


Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Chris Watson was a founding member of late-'70s/early-'80s techno and synth-pop innovators Cabaret Voltaire and, later, ambient-industrial fusioners the Hafler Trio. In something of an odd switch, Watson left the music industry behind in the early '90s to work as a sound recordist for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Watson quickly branched out into production for film and television, and has since handled field recording for a number of nature programs, documentaries, and feature films....
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El Tren Fantasma, Chris Watson
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