The (Embodied) Experience of Train Travel – Ep 7

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“Nighttime” in the sightseer car of an Amtrak passenger train.  Photo taken by Sam Clevenger.

Sam: Oliver and I are really excited about this episode in terms of what signifies for the development of our Somatic Podcast project.  It’s not that we think this particular episode is some kind of important or insightful piece of audio production, but rather that it marks our foray into experimenting with the podcast episode form and what it offers in terms of rethinking digital storytelling, the relation between music, sound, and experience, and the role of audio storytelling within critical research about all things “somatic” and “active”.  On its own terms, this episode was incredibly personal, and fun to create. 

The episode is not without its issues and problems: the narrative is importantly restrained by the privilege of myself as the narrator and primary “experiencer” of the story’s event.  The white-ness, male-ness, class-ness of my perspective is integral to the story, shaping my experience and those of others around me, and this bias and subjectivity must be acknowledged.  At the level of digital audio production, our purposeful weaving in and use of original, ambient music as transmitters of meaning is an exciting, fascinating approach to digital storytelling, and we hope to increasingly engage with these digital issues and possibilities more as our project grows.

At its essence, this episode is about the experience of traveling west on Amtrak passenger trains in the United States – specifically, the experience of traveling at night, when every passenger on the train begins their own processes of either trying to sleep in their seats or decide how they’re going to spend the next 8-10 hours before the morning arrives. Since about 2008, I’ve personally traveled west on many an Amtrak train, so many that I have difficulty counting the exact number.  Some trips were to visit friends, some were to visit girlfriends at the time (one who, at that time, was living in Northern Montana), some were because I was living out west for graduate school.  But, each trip, the traveling experience seemed so palpably meaningful.   And with each subsequent trip, I became more aware and reflective of each experience: how it relates to the experiences of my fellow travelers, the workers on the trains, but also how the experience was in important ways a deeply affective, emotive, embodied experience.  So, with a recent traveling experience, I recorded a portion of my journey, as the train traveled through the American Midwest at night.  I then created original music (written, played, and recorded by myself) to help convey, complicate, and expand the expression of the soundscape and its meaning.   In this episode, I present this weaving of soundscape and music, and narrate my experience of train travel.  It’s a digital audio story of my train experiences.

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Sitting in an Amtrak train passenger coach seat.  The leg room is pretty spacious, I should say.  Photo taken by Sam Clevenger.

I had a couple general aims when creating this episode and my story.  First, I wanted to explore how the intersection of original, personal, intimate music and soundscape with a spoken narrative impacts not just the crafting of a podcast episode, but the reactions – emotive, introspects, perhaps neither or nothing at all – that are conjured simply from listening to it.  I wanted to use music and sound to try and collapse the distinctions between the podcast as an audial medium of conveying a story, and the embodied experience of actually listening to the podcast itself.  Second, I wanted to deviate from the traditional “informative” nature of the podcast episode.  With this episode, there is no central, revolving “point” to my story: the “point” is my reflection of my traveling experience, and the “experience” of listening to the sounds and music.  I didn’t want to restrict the “meaning” of the episode, but leave it incomplete and audially polysemic.  My hope is that listeners have a multitude of reactions and feelings from listening to the episode, be they positive, negative, or anything in between.  I just wanted to tell a story of my experience, and allow music and sound to be a more pivotal part of the meaning production than simply my words and narration.

 

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I woke up, and looked out my window to the Western Colorado landscape.  Photo taken by Sam Clevenger.

The relation between sound and affect was central to my development of the episode.  Below are a few links to scholarship on this important topic:

  1. Marie Thompson and Ian Biddle (Editors), Sound, Music, Affect: Theorizing Sonic Experience
  2. Michael Gallagher, “Sound as Affect: Difference, Power, and Spatiality,” Emotion, Space and Society 20 (2016): 42-48.

(NOTE: In my making of this episode, I hold no personal, professional, or financial ties to Amtrak.  The opinions expressed are mine alone, and do not reflect the views or perspective of any other individual, group, or organization.)

 

 

 

I wasn’t able to incorporate all of the music I wrote and recorded for this episode.  Below are a couple “B sides” that I still really like, but just wasn’t able to include within the episode.

 

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