Experiments in Speed, Time, and Sound on the Tube

This is a 10 minute long sound piece focusing on speed and timing as a tool in sound as a medium apart from cinema or performance. The sounds heard are that of the London Underground. The event is entering a London Underground station, going through the gates, riding the elevator, walking and boarding a train.

The piece is broken into four distinct sections:

The first sequence looks at time in fast forward. The original event in real time is literally sped up so it lasts less than a minute compared to the original five.

The second sequence is also sped up from the real time length, but in a different way. In cinema, directors edit down from real time to move through events faster while still giving us the details we need to make sense of the story. This sequence is cut down to one and a half minutes from the original length to illustrate how sound can be edited like filmed material. The edits are kept unmasked and very noticeable to the listener to emphasize the jumps. All the main distinguishable elements needed to associate the sounds with boarding the tube are retained, while the monotonous bits are subtracted.

The third sequence is an original real time (5 minutes) event of entering the station and boarding a train to give the viewer an explanation of what the first two sequences illustrate.

The final sequence looks at the tool of music and how it can warp and change our sense of pacing. In a film or performance, music is used to move through events that the director believes the viewer will not need dialogue to understand. For example a scene where we are reading the emotion of a characters face or observing a silent action may just be accompanied by music that fits the mood and draws us into the moment. We can be made to forget about how long the scene is taking, or that time is passing because our minds are sorting out what the character is thinking or doing and what the music may mean in relation to it. In this final sequence I have layered music into a composition of the sounds of entering the station and boarding, as well as riding trains. This turns into a collage of music and sounds, the point being the music can slur the fact that long amounts of time may be going by, even as we accept we are moving at the same pace.

The point of this piece was to give thought to how the mind perceives time when we go through events that we do not deem important. To me, the mind seems to dismiss bits of time when the body is going through a repetitive motion or routine. In this example, a daily routine trip on the tube to work or school is put in a warped light. When presented in a gallery setting it is meant to cycle repeatedly.

An Overheard Comment on the Tube



When listening it may be interesting to have the tube map to follow the lines.

View Tube Map


This is a radio documentary of the London Underground public transportation system. It consists of sounds of the tube, bits of overheard conversation, and interviews of Londoners who use the the tube fairly regularly. This is not a documentation of historical facts or current quantitative information, but generally(and hopefully objectively) captures the mood of the people and different aspects of the system during the time it was recorded.  I was not trying to take on opinion praising or criticizing the tube.

I chose to make this documentary a sound piece to test myself in creating stories without the visual aspect and still engage the audience.  In editing I did feel like I was working on a film because there are organized scenes that have an order and progression.  My intensions were not just to collage many sounds of the tube together without a plan or a destination.

Due to the vast possibilities of topics available when looking at the London Underground and the time restraints of the course and my time in London, I gave myself a rough time frame of 30 minutes for this documentary.  As you can see I went over this limit slightly.   The material was all recorded between the 18th of October and the 6th of December.  I would record to and from school and on different trips around London, as well as specific outings, usually twice a week for multiple hours to gather sounds and interviews.  In this documentary there is a roughly outlined route, more easily noticed throughout the first half.  This route was determined by where the most interesting material was found and how it would flow in the narrative.

Discription of Scenes:

Enter Elephant and Castle and board the Northern Line southbound.

Overhear two children reading off the stations of different lines until arriving at Stockwell.

Switch for the Victoria Line northbound.

While standing on a platform a drug deal is overheard with two men and one woman.

Board the Victoria line northbound, overhear a man’s thoughts as he reads the paper, more voices join in emphasizing the information taken in by a large percent of regular tube riders on their journeys.  Rush back to reality as the first man almost misses the doors at his stop, Victoria Station. He throws his paper down and squeezes out just in time.

Move through and out of the station and watch a busker playing “Everybody Hurts.”

Busker interview.

Series of service updates and opinions from users of the London Underground, good and bad.

Begin riding the tube and overhearing random events and bits of conversation.  Audio spectrum splits to two journies on separate lines, one on the left and one on the right.  Changes at various stations.  Hear slight differences in the sound of different lines.

Begin to ride the Bakerloo line southbound, this is in the middle of the spectrum from left to right, with other things still happening on either side.

Journeys on the left and right sides fade, the focus is exclusively on the Bakerloo Line.

End at Elephant and Castle, train terminates, waits, and resumes travel northbound, continuing the cycle.



On Steve Reich’s ‘Different Trains’

I have listened to this a few times and enjoyed it.  Now I am making the connection between it and my current work on ways of conveying the sense of time in different ways in sound.

“Mr. Reich’s 1988 piece, Different Trains, marked a new compositional method, rooted in It’s Gonna Rain and Come Out, in which speech recordings generate the musical material for musical instruments.”    – Al Filreis 

“Back in the 1960’s Steve Reich hit on a marvellously simple idea. He noticed that if a fragment of recorded interview was looped and recorded interview was looped and repeated, a melodic pattern would mysteriously emerge from it. In Different Trains, written in 1988, he elaborated on this idea, taking phrases from interviews with travellers and train staff and weaving them into a continuous musical texture of live and pre-recorded string quartets. The effectiveness of the piece hinges on the audibility of the process. We hear a musical motif suggested in the voice, and enjoy the way its made hard and definite – crystallised, you might say – in the thick weave of the layers quartet parts.”

This piece came out of Reich’s trips on trains in the states during World War 2, also referencing the reality of holocaust trains during the same time period.

To me the piece evokes a sense of moving towards something very fast.  The combination of the strings playing paradiddles, the repetitive presence of the train whistle and speech, and the ever-increasing tempo create this urgency.

I think my current work responds to this and uses the same concept of composition out of non-musical sound as well as musical elements.  I am trying to create a sense of constant movement at one speed throughout rather than an ever-increasing pace a Reich accomplished here.



Live Noise Experiments

This is a series of performances done in the Media Project Space at Wimbledon.  The first was just Billy Paul Rousseau and myself creating banks of texture that evolved over time with varying tone and mood.

The second was Billy Paul Rousseau, Chris Hopkins, Rob Miles, and myself.  The sounds created in this event were higher in intensity and with faster progression as change happened more often with four people working at once.  Material ranged from computer generated synthetic sounds, vocal noises running through delays and effects, distorted YouTube clips and other audio samples.  This session was a bit of a collage of sound media and noise that made a unique form of music.



equipment and setup:

mixer and small pa from Wimbledon College

several laptops running through various pedals

microphones sent through effects chain

computer programs:  Reason, Logic, Density

tape decks/radios by Robert Miles

christmas lights….

Listening at The Horse Hospital

This was a unique and cozy event held in The Horse Hospital gallery right behind the Russell Square underground station.  Around 20 people gathered to sit and listen in the dark to a hour and a half collection of audio clips compiled by Larry Sider of The School of Sound.  The inspiration for this event was the fact that seldom do we sit and strictly listen to sound pieces or music like we sit and watch television or films.

The Light and Shadow Salon: Listening:  Curated by The School of Sound, Presented by Larry Sider,  Attended Friday, 25 November at The Horse Hospital. 

Underground Research

I confess until this point I have not done much research into the history of the London Underground system.  The majority of my work has been collecting material on the current environment of the tube.  In one interview the practicalities of the tube and a few differences from when the tube was introduced in London were discussed.  Without consciously making the decision, I think I was focusing strictly on current, everyday interactions that occur on the tube, rather than stating facts on the history.  I am toying with the idea of dropping a few relevant facts into the structure to give perspective of how the current tube system came to be.

Underground History Website


“Today, London Underground is a major business with three million passenger journeys made every day, serving 275 stations and over 408 km of railway.”     –Transport for London History Page


“The London Underground (also known as The Tube or The Underground) is a rapid transit system serving a large part of Greater London and some parts of BuckinghamshireHertfordshire and Essex in England. It is the oldest underground railway in the world, the first section of which opened in 1863 on what are now the Circle &Hammersmith & City lines and part of the Metropolitan line.[3] In 1890 it became the first to operate electric trains.[4]The whole network is commonly referred to by Londoners and in official publicity as the Tube,[5] although that term originally applied only to the deep-level bored lines, along which run trains of a smaller and more circular cross-section, to distinguish them from the sub-surface “cut and cover” lines that were built first.”    -Wikipedia….



Post Group Tutorial and Friends in Your Field Update

Currently the critical practice body of work is progressing nicely.  I am working on condensing the overall length of the piece from almost 30 minutes of ideas to exactly 10 minutes.  I feel that precise specifications and goals  for the end product will help me define  and push the point.  At times there is almost a sense of rush.  The piece is still focusing on the options of speed in a sound story, with the tube as the main topic.  Separate clips are separated by the click of a tape recorder being turned on and off.  Right now it looks like there will be four clips, the order of which is still being decided.  Real time, fast forward, cuts from real-time similar to film,  non-diegetic music layered in.

John Smith: Unusual Red Cardigan

On  Saturday the 5th of November I traveled to Hoxton, London to the Peer gallery and witnessed John Smith’s exhibition of the Unusual Red Cardigan.  The event is a unique experience as the small gallery is very discrete and tucked away from the busier places of London.  I was buzzed into to an small, almost empty dark room with one other person watching Smith’s The Girl Chewing Gum.  The original short film from 1976 was layered over a more recent reshoot in color of the same topic and scene creating a very interesting collage of two films.  I think it can relate to my work in documentary and critical practice as it deals with everyday situations and  documents life in a very objective way.  This is similar to the way I am dealing with the tube.

“Acclaimed artist filmmaker and lifelong east Londoner John Smith will present a major new multi-media installation. His starting point is one of his best-known works, The Girl Chewing Gum, which he made as a student in 1976. Smith revisits this work, both in terms of its continuing legacy and also in a literal sense, filming the same street corner in Dalston 35 years on.  From this video work, Smith then leads us on a narrative journey that explores ideas around identity and anonymity – both his own (as perhaps underlined by the ubiquitousness of his name), and that of his two main protagonists, the girl who chews gum in his film and an on-line seller of his video containing this work.”


Documentary Progress

Shot above shows that material is being collected.  The main issues now are how to edit down the material and what form the documentary should follow.  The goal being 30 minutes makes it difficult to go in a linear fashion through the lines on a sensible and realistic route.  I am dealing with the changes in perspective throughout and still keeping the listener engaged.

I want to showcase individual sounds from most of the lines if possible.  One way to do this is having a sequence where different lines fade in and out over short periods of time to give contrast and draw attention to the uniqueness some of the lines display.

Also, with the recent extensive closures on the weekends it is hard to get an interview with an individual praising the tube. I am getting a lot of frustration from people, which may give this documentary a one-sided view. I was trying to avoid this and keep to an objective balanced capturing of the network that connects london.