Sound recordist Chris Watson’s latest CD is a homage to the sounds of trains, sounds that until ten years ago travelled the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Mexico. The ten pieces on El tren fantasma abound with the screeching and the rhythms of steel wheels rolling over the tracks, eerie locomotive whistles, and the sounds of life alongside the railway, all of which conjure the image of the dry mountainous landscapes the trains traverse.
Watson has done far more than faithfully reproduce sonic environments. He has painted fantastic, surreal images in sound. The whistles and hoots protract almost endlessly, vanishing slowly in clouds of hiss, clangs built upon din, mounting to virtually unbearable pressure levels. His main achievement on El tren fantasma is that he manages to turn the sounds into music, apparently with just a flick of the switch.The collection also tips its hat to the train sounds in Pierre Schaeffer’s 1948 musique concrète composition Cinq études de bruits. A track like El Divisadero transports you to an area where trains become ghostly riders in the sky, banging and singing to unearthly hymns.