Episode 003: Train in the Station
In which we discuss silent films, bustling crowds, and 1950s rock and roll
I love trains. I would have loved to be around in the late 1800s, just for the romance of regularly traveling by train. Like Sherlock Holmes.
I also love movies about trains. Everything from Strangers on a Train to Murder on the Orient Express, to my fav The Lady Vanishes. Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited. Train to Busan of course [trains and zombies!]. All wonderful.
But not The General by Buster Keaton. I cannot abide old silent black-and-white movies. Creepy.
I usually do a few different rounds of reductions for an artwork. I'm loath to take things out in the beginning but I end up chopping and chopping until I think I’ve boiled it down to the essence of the thing. For me anyway.
When I started this reduction, I naturally felt the two most important things to capture were the train and the people waiting to board it. But the more rounds of reduction that I did, the more I realized that those four bands of color across the painting were the hidden gems. No train. No people. Just the four bands of color.
Then I realized, hey, these look like train tracks.
I used the smoke color for the background to emulate the way the smoke and steam from old movie locomotives fill the entire platform. Why not the background for the full reduction?
There are songs aplenty about trains. It's hard to find an old blues or jazz or country album that doesn't contain a song whose rhythm is based on the sound of a locomotive.
Here, I wanted something slower, something that evoked the sound of a train slowly pulling into a station and then slowly starting up as it was leaving again. No fast chugga-chugging along.
I also wanted to break up the movement with a section that brought to mind the people talking, walking, and jostling through the station. One of my long, single-note, through-composed lines that weaves in and out of different keys seemed to fit the bill. I played it using a couple of vaguely harsh-sounding, slightly overdriven sounds to give the passengers even more urgency.
In the end, it turned out that the two items I focused on in this beat—the sound of the train and the sound of the people—are absent from my reduction!
I guess they are there in spirit.
Additional bonus train music chatting:
I will admit, I was more than a little influenced to write some train music after I listened to an episode of Andrew Hickey's brilliant podcast The History of Rock Music in 500 Songs. This podcast is the beginning and end of podcasts about the history of rock and roll. Well researched, with tons of music examples, just fantastic. (Fair warning: it can get a bit in the weeds, so maybe not for everyone.)
Anyway, the episode was on ”Train Kept a Rollin’” by Johnny Burnette and the Rock 'n' Roll Trio. This mighty train song is also one of my very favorite rock and roll songs of all time. Of course, any rocker worth his or her salt knows the Aerosmith version, but do not sleep on the original!
Until next week, thanks for reading Polyester City. If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment by clicking the link above. If you know anyone who likes Music and Art and Stories [and trains], which is pretty much everyone, please consider sharing by clicking the link below.