Chris Watson – El Tren Fantasma

El Tren Fantasma

There is, has been and will always be, a lot of debate about what “ambient” music is. Whatever you think of that, the word definitely has ambience in it, so the music will probably have something to do with the atmosphere of your surroundings.

Closely related, yet still an entirely different matter, are what we call Field Recordings, and/or Environmental Soundscapes.
The first strive to record environmental sounds as closely as possible to its origin, the second add an emotional  dimension to that recordings by deliberately manipulating these recordings into a soundscape. Which, inevitably leads to the discussion about the moment when sound becomes music.

Chris Watson is one of the very few real masters of this area (which might be a lot more challenging than you’d suspect). He was one of the founding members of Sheffield’s Cabaret Voltaire and the Hafler Trio, and started another career as a television sound recording engineer in 1981.
Recording and documenting natural sounds, he has also specialised in assembling these recordings to fascinating soundscapes.
Most of his memorable works have been released on the Touch label, that recently presented his latest masterpiece: “El Tren Fantasma” (The Ghost Train).
And after listening to this album for quite a few times, I can easily state that this is certainly one of the most impressive soundscapes available.

“Take the ghost train from Los Mochis to Veracruz and travel cross country, coast to coast, Pacific to Atlantic. Ride the rhythm of the rails on board the Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México (FNM) and the music of a journey that has now passed into history.”

The basic sound recordings for this album were made for a BBC Radio 4 documentary about this ” rail passenger service which no longer exists – It’s now more than a decade since FNM operated its last continuous passenger service across country.”

But this album is not a strict documentary recording, since Watson has reordered it to a ‘filmic narrative’, relayering, post-producing the recordings and sometimes adding musical elements like subtle drones, or the beating rhythms of the train wheels.

There is an enormous dynamic on this recording, ranging from the humming, lulling rhythm of the train riding through quiet Mexican nature, to the ear-deafening screeching of metal-to metal.

If the recordings of Chris Watson teach us anything, it is that there is fascinating beauty in sounds of everyday life, in the sounds that we we tend to ignore, take for granted – or that even may irritate us.
As Sasha Frere-Jones wrote in Time Out, New York, in 1999: “Listen to your world. It may be more interesting than all the things you buy to escape from it.” 

Close your eyes and start the ride.

Chris Watson – El Divisadero


Spotify– (Also on Spotify)

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