(con)juncture was lawson fletcher's thought pile. Now blogging at soundofruins.net
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rattling carriages

Our (public transport) commute is primarily an affective sonic exchange/experience. When I sit on the train those times when I decide not to envelop myself in my headphones (let's not talk about this point itself, it's been exhausted), I realise the extent to which sound itself regulates, simulates, constitutes, reflects, the urban. The focus on the visual for what seems like an inordinate amount of time in urban studies neglects this, and at times it's as if (late) modernity itself were one big sound. ("The twentieth century is, among other things, the Age of Noise" - Aldous Huxley). The following is a short narrative of a train travel, and it is of course quite limited - there are many other sounds and events it fails to consider (rattling carriages, the silence between empty seats, the draft of Melbourne Central platforms, and that is to not even consider other modes of movement - think of the grinding paper noise of when those little green things stamp a date on your metcard on buses and trams, of the crunch of a tram wheel against its tracks, ...). But I digress - all aboard!

There is the de-personalised paternal voice of the ubiquitious service announcer, omnipresent across all platforms and stops, "Good morning passengers, ...", that signals your entry into the womb of public transport, the "
claustrophobic commuter's Hades" of the city loop.

This place itself has a mode of hearing all of its own, borne of the compression (?) of the tunnel, when you are made aware of the actual sounds of the train itself, with nothing else like nature to interrupt. As a child I the city loop was futuristic, adventurous, slightly unsettling, too. I put that down to the particular play of light that came about in the carriage under darkness, it seemed like a flourescent cocoon. But now I realise it was as much that suffused, technological sound of the train itself that gave me this image.

Out to the suburbs, once past Flinders St or Southern Cross (which strangely fails miserably to sound like as if you are indeed in a whale's belly, and even though it looks as such, you could further say that it fails to feel like that too, rather cold and drafty. Drafts are the scourge of internality), you are within an entirely different acoustic space. Here the train is given a chance to spray its acoustic field across the suburb-scape, and apart from what still feels/sounds somewhat sophisticated in the rise and fall of the train's speed-sound, the majority of hearings here are ones of frustration. The voice of the paternal (?) woman telling you that the next station is, the train is now arriving at, Nondescript Suburban Stop - oftentimes malfunctioning so it comes out crackled and garbled through the ancient speakers, a disquieting interruption of noise into the smoothly oiled machine of transportation, the physicality of sound that sets off grumbles and snaps sleepers back to wakefulness. Be it from these speakers too, or a far more acoustmatic disturbance, the trip is often carried along with an excessively high-pitched and quiet ringing. You almost internalise it and take it with you into your work, school, home, shopping centre. Walking does not kill it.

There is that point at which the train arrives at a stop, and in coming to a halt it lurches ever-so-slightly, leaning forward more than it logically should have and then agonisingly waiting a second or so before it falls back to where it should have been. This moment in the carriage is possibly the most nerve-racking experience of the entire trip, but 'nerve-racking' is probably not the right description - because you feel this in your being, for me it's in my back. And there is a distinct sound that accompanies this movement, subtle but also adding an extra layer of disturbance to the act. I never forget when the train fails to 'fall back' that tiny increment, and stays forward those few millimetres, milliseconds. This throws my entire day, my entire being, out of order.

And then there are those beeping doors, a sound more prominent on the older models where one must force the doors open manually (and it goes without saying that this can be compared to the new metallic box models and the rarely sighted Siemens Malfunction Master 3000s; each model is constitutive of an entirely unique sonic experience). There is something about the particular chime of this beep that has been uniquely engineered to give one the shits, but the frustration it registers itself speaks to something far more complex. Although I'm not sure what.

Maybe it's found in the wished-for automation of experience - travelling (hearing) on these trains makes one dream of a space in which nothing makes a sound, as it were, save maybe for a few slick, futuristic slides and increments. Not the crushing bodily malfunctions of these beeping doors, the broken announcing speakers. It's a wish to desert the body, which itself is a wish to desert machines, those steam-punk monstrosities that populate our world, replacing them with a perfect virtuality. And yet to cherish (or at least to hear) these beeps, this noise, even though it is a sonic imposition on our affective state, is in a sense to reassert our humanity, our physical being.

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