Chris Watson – El Tren Fantasma

Art & Culture

Chris Watson Tren Fantasma
Reviewed by Andrew Weatherall

If your fifty things to do before you die list includes, Take the Ghost Train from Los Mochis to Veracruz across country, coast to coast, Pacific to Atlantic, you can forget it. El Fantasma is no more. However, thanks to Chris Watsons months spent on board travelling with some of the last passengers to ride the route and his subsequent recordings you can tick it off as achieved and turn your attention to driving Route 66? or Pamplona bull run. Thats how evocative this piece of work is.

Ive taken the trip, courtesy of Mr Watson, on a number of occasions but like any rail journey one undertakes regularly, although physically and geographically the same, in terms of evocation, memory and feeling they differ greatly each time. The aural equivalents of Marcels biscuit dunking moment change, morph and crystallize into a million thoughts and memories every time you leave the station. Thats how evocative this piece of work is.

Trying to describe Watsons work would be like sharing last nights dreams and you dont want to hear about my suppressed feelings of wistful romantic regret, fear of ageing [that’s the teeth falling out one],fear of the future or be taken on my erotic flights of fancy. Ill stick to a sonic description and let you dream your own dreams.

As a thundering locomotive is given life by delicate micro-engineered machine parts El Tran Fantasma is given life by delicate micro-engineered machine manipulation. A trains warning klaxon is, for a split second, shaped into the dieing moment of a symphonys last chord which in turn becomes a drone underpinned rhythmically by the rattle of rails. Sub-bass looms out of shunting yards and ether. Flies hovering over carrion sprout metallic wings until disturbed by clanging bells. Violent jolts as you enter tunnels and the air sucked out on exit shapes itself into distant church choirs. Jet-streams form delicate chords and harmonies.

At the same time none of this manipulation is heavy-handed or gimmicky and never detracts from the quality of the actual field recordings themselves. Frequencies are gently teased to provide triggers one would otherwise get visually from the actual journey. They talk of hazey daytime heat and damp nighttime cold. Of shimmering plains and lost histories. And thats just the first stop.

Im giving you the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible, your luxury is a never ending supply of Hine cognac; whats the one record you would take with you if push came to shove?

Thats a tricky one Kirsty, but I guess it would have to be Chris Watsons El Tran Fantasma. A benchmark in field recording not to mention a map of the soul, an insight into the human condition and a key to dreams.

Copies of El Tren Fantasma can be bought from the Caught by the River shop, priced 11.00

Review used by very kind permission of the fantastic Caught By The River blog. If you’ve not checked the site, we suggest you seriously check yourself and rectify it forthwith.