Building the World

Singin’ in the Train



SFOT Red Train 4 by James Murray from Wikimedia Commons, at

Haunting whistle in the night, hypnotic rhythm of wheels on rail, panting acceleration of uphill runs breathed heavily by a 2860 engine, sigh of brakes — these were sounds quite new in the landscapes of the world until rather recently. The business of constructing rails was introduced in England in the seventeenth century. British mapmaker and engineer Captain John Montressor built the first American railway in Lewiston, New York in 1764. Nearly a century later, the Golden Spike was driven, completing the Transcontinental Railroad; it was now possible to traverse the country in 10 days instead of six months. The Transcontinental Railroad (1869), Canadian Pacific Railway (1885) and the Trans-Siberian Railway (1904) introduced soundscape to the landscape — the train whistle. Japan’s Shinkansen(1964) added a new note: each commuter station is announced by an electronic tune, composed to reflect the culture of the district. For a train soundscape, enjoy a listen (and look) via YouTube “Sound of Royal Hudson steam engine with O Canada horn ‘Good Times Express'” ( Finding music in the midst of urban sound, George Gershwin who included in “American in Paris” the blare of French taxi horns, might agree with Mozart: “Music is continuous, listening is intermittent.” As new trains, and cars, are developed, should musicians be on the team to create the ideal soundscape?

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Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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