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  • Writer's pictureShriya Malhotra

sounds of machines

some say we exist to the soundtrack of creation as sound.

a recent trip on indian railways -- and the platform - had me thinking a lot about tempo and rhythms and the nature of sounds we create. what crosses a threshold into noise is definitely a subjective experience but sitting on the train with its inconsistent speeds, i found my usually effective noise cancelling headphones seemed far too ineffective and gentle.

the mechanical noises of the train which seemed to amplify as it picked up speed and the strain of contained momentum over time slowly became a jarring background noise. imagine an i greased machine carrying a lot of people over distance and slowly screeching.

i think we often forget the difficult environments and situations we create for ourselves but in this case i was immediately glad not just for my music but the ability to blot out what seemed to be jarring noises made by machines -- even though the movement of the train relaxed me and proximity to people and sights was so fascinating, i realized (again) how disruptive noises can be.

but when you don't notice or realize it's a sudden cruelty. in new yorks union square station they say everyone crossing through is exposed to such noise and decibels that are difficult to obscure and cause immediate lasting deafness.

i crossed that station on my commute almost daily and when i realized how hurtful noise could be as weaponized sound exposure over time, i tried to stay above ground. i tried to find quiet places in manhattan and realized it was a next to impossible luxury.

and so trains have always fascinated me as a weird gre exercise to challenge what i know about speed distance and time. what i think i realized about it was the noise of machines is loud and needs to be softened because they cannot become our overlords, simply cos they lack sensitivity enough to know how and when to reduce these jarring effects.

sometimes we cause and expose ourself to noise as a brain defrag, a way of stimulating something else in ourselves. the indian railways reminded me not just that we experience speed time and distance differently but music to one person is noise to another, and pain can be as manufactured as mechanical error. a cacophony of mistakes.

in conclusion: time and sound seem to be the interwoven experiences that are all about balancing decibel, bass and treble.

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