Sunday, November 13, 2005

Listening To The Train

I've never understood people who have to be plugged in to music all the time when they go about their daily life, but then, for some reason, the amount of music I listen to has been decreasing steadily for a number of years. I'm not sure why that is, except for the Lesbian Threat (my next-door neighbors, nice ladies, both of 'em, but insistent that their time is more precious than mine and that if they hear any music after 10pm -- and that means 10:01 -- they won't be able to sleep, so they'll call the police) and the fact that I hate headphones.

But also, there are sounds all around us that sometimes have their own fascination. I discovered this the other night as I got on a so-called Sprinter train from Amsterdam to Utrecht (it's actually the kind we call milk trains, since it takes 15 minutes longer to get there than the other kind) on my way to go see Jon Dee Graham.

As the train gathered speed, I noticed the sound of a cheap electronic organ. I listened a bit harder, and realized I wasn't overhearing anyone's walkman, not unless they were playing something really dementedly minimalist and primitive. What it sounded like was a child messing around with the keyboard, its hands too small to actually play more than a range of just a few notes. The tones changed chromatically, and, busting up the image of the kid, there were occasional octave unisons. And this kept on and on until we got to a station, at which point it stopped until we got going again.

Now, this was baffling me. I remember the sound of the Montreal Metro, which I believe has rubber tires, as it takes off: a tone, its fifth, and the octave, after which it just stays there. That's all easily explained by phyiscs. Seconds, and seconds descending by a half-tone, is a bit harder to understand. But the train was almost empty, there wasn't any kid, or, strange as it may seem, anyone wearing ear-buds (that particularly painful type of listening device preferred by just about everyone, it seems). True, as the train sped up leaving a station, the "organ" would creep up the scale, sometimes by half-tones, sometimes by whole tones, so it was probably related to that. But by the time I found the Muziekcentrum at the edge of the Utrecht train station (right were Alex said it'd be), I felt I'd already had a concert.

I got another one, though: Jon Dee Graham's got a good solo act, and he plays his acoustic guitar so well you don't even miss his band, which, of course, he couldn't afford to bring over. Sounds like some good new material's being written, even if he doesn't have a record company, having had the ignominy of being dropped by an indie for not selling enough records, although he topped a lot of critics' top tens last year. Afterwards, I talked with him and Mike Stewart, who was road-managing this tour of Holland by train with him, and caught up on a bunch of stuff. And yes, I didn't go in to hear Grey DeLisle, because I was able to walk right onto a fast (but non-musical) train back to Amsterdam and make it to Kantijl en Tijger, my favorite Indonesian restaurant, well before they closed, and then, having started the day by waking up an hour late in Berlin and almost missing my train, heading back to the hotel for a few hours' well-deserved sleep before getting up at 7:30 to head to Paris and then to Montpellier.

Which is where I'm writing this from, as a matter of fact, because the great hotel where I stayed this summer has wi-fi in its rooms. In fact, I could probably post to this blog from my new Palm, but I suspect it'd be a pain.

I walked around some today, looking at some neighborhoods I'd been tipped to as being affordable, and it all goes into the database. Tomorrow I meet some locals and start asking stupid questions. And I might shoot some photos, although those will have to wait until I get back before I can post them. But I gotta say, I do like it down here, even though it's been raining like crazy most of the time today. I'll admit it, though: I'm also looking for a few flies in the ointment. Starry-eyed people annoy me, after all.

1 comment:

James said...

At last - someone who shares my hatred of people who block out the wonderful sounds of the world with their musical earbuds :)

There are many such people on the Montréal métro who behave in this way, and you're right - they're missing a unique sound. On the newer of the two métro fleets, there is a distinctive set of three tones as the train pulls out of the station (gizmos moderating the supply of electricity, I think... I read about it somewhere before).

And yes, they do run on rubber tyres. A crazy decision - it costs in excess of $70,000 a year to replace the tyres a single train as the tread wears away...

Keep your eyes on my blog in the new year for a forthcoming ipod/métro project that might be of interest :)