From the Archives: A 45 Minute Journey into Sound

Originally written (not posted) Feb 7, 2009

6:39 AM
The day breaks the dark winter sky with shades of pink and orange. The street lamps in the parking lot cast a subtle glow over the frosty car below.

The train… already 3 minutes late.
The platform … covered with salt.
The air … crisp, mid teens with a wind coming in from the north
Me … cold

I get on the train and sit next to another passenger who’s made himself quite comfortable in the leather two-seater. Part of his thigh is on my square. Making no attempt to give me any room he continues to read his morning paper.

I take out my pass and my 2 gig ipod – (going from a 20 to a 2 gig is quite difficult). I contemplate whether this is the morning of reading or of only listening. I quickly decide to put my headphones on, close my eyes, and ignore the funk my seatmate extrudes. It’s not a healthy smell – it’s not just body odor but I’m very sure he killed a small animal this morning, stripped it and under cooked it.

Luckily for me, no other seats are currently available this morning. So first, I pray to the gods to make sure this stench is not alive, contagious and the scent molecules do not stick to me or my clothes. Life of a commuter.  Then I turn on my iPod.  

Today’s choice of music – the playlist is the same as the last few days, in the same order.

Genre: Asian Fusion / Indian Underground / World Electronica / World Ambient I guess.


1. Noorie – Bally Sagoo

2. A Night in Lenasia – Deepak Ram

3. Kitu – Deepak Ram

4. Its Not Over – Talvin Singh

5. Mustard Fields – Talvin Singh

6. Water Down the Ganges – Prem Joshua

Every so often I’ll listen to other tracks (to name a few):
Sunset – Nitin Swahney
Albonia – Talvin Singh
Fabric – Karsh Kale
Home – Karsh Kale

I press play, close my eyes and the first sound comes through my ears – and with that a visualization (might not be the right word here), but I see an artist creating the song in a studio. Listening to each sound intently focusing on the rhythm and the score. When should this next instrument come in, what about the vocals, is her tone too high? I see the music listen to his final creation asking these questions and eventually a live concert with the singer. Does her voice tell me she’s young / old / fat / skinny ?

Each track is different obviously. At times I close my eyes and see a concert with dancers wearing traditional clothes that are vibrant and bright colors – twirling, jumping, dancing to the rhythm.

Other times… I see India, starting at the majestic snow capped mountains and proceeding south. The snow melts turns into a stream which becomes the Ganges River which flows into the holy city of Varanasi, otherwise known as Banares.

And at other times… a close up of a sadhu’s side face, flowing white beard, eyes closed, palms touching, the orange sky of the large setting sun in the background just above the river below.

I keep my eyes closed for most of the length of the trip until it pulls into the final station or the play list ends, whichever comes first. I tend to repeat songs only to try to pick out the instruments from the most prominent [the sitar, tabla, sarangi, flute, etc…] to eventually trying to focus on the secondary elements [electronic pulses, keyboard, violin, etc…]; those that contribute to the overall song, message, tone aren’t easily identified. That adds a whole new dimension to the track, the track is no longer surface level but deep both in sound and in thought.

Pick out a track, listen to the track first on the surface level and then repeat the track a few times and focus on the various elements / instruments and really feel the track. It’s telling you something, giving you an insight into the mind of the musician – what they were thinking / feeling while making this song or when playing this song. It may even teach you something or open your mind. At times I picture the artist playing their instrument of choice with their eyes closed focused on the music.

“Final stop, Chicago – Union Station. Please remember to take all your belongings with you. Thank you for riding the Metra”

I open my eyes. 45 minutes have gone by in what felt like 15-20 tops. I’d like another 10-15 minutes to sit and listen, but the daily routine has already begun and I have to go to work.

Now… I just have continue to expand my collection, sample new songs and other forms of music. You never know, they just make it onto my what seems to be [for now] daily play list.

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