Public places in the crowded streets of Shinjuku in Tokyo are usually filled with movement, talking and the sounds emanating from shops. Whilst walking through West Shinjuku, I was minding my business walking to my destination. I stopped when I saw a sea of people standing outside Yodabashi camera. There...>>
Late one night, after I had spent an enjoyable evening with a friend in Omotesando and Harajuku, I found myself stuck on the platform at Harajuku Station. The station was currently being renovated, and there was very little standing room on the platform- and the platform was busy. The trains, I soon found out to my dismay, were also incredibly busy, and the first two trains which arrived on the platform were too full for me to squeeze into (not that I didn't try).
I had been recording the sounds I heard on the platform and there were a number of pre-recorded messages being blared out over a number of loudspeakers. Many of these recordings were familiar, the arrival melodies and pre-recorded announcements one is accustomed to hearing on the Yamanote line. Others were new to me, like the constantly repeating recordings warning me about the construction work. These sounds were mingling with the noise of the crowd on the platform and the whooshing of trains as they by-passed the station.
The following reflection comes from my research diary- I am sure my annoyance is conveyed through the tone of my comments.
"At the start of the recording a train pulls up to the station, another flies by on the other side- it is very loud. Also, this late at night (10pm) the trains are packed and I can’t even get on! This happens again at the 2:30 minute mark, notice the sound of the chaku-mero (arrival melody) beeping incessantly. At 0:45 there is a continuous sonic warning about construction, warning us that the platform has become quite narrow and it is thus very dangerous and we must be careful- this pre-recorded message plays over and over again until it loses all meaning and I just let the sounds wash over me. All the recordings, the sounds of the people and the sounds of trains whizzing by (some are express and don’t even stop at Harajuku!) make it quite cacophonous- also, I was getting very annoyed because each train was too busy for me to ride and the recordings never seemed to stop (I was tired!)."
Note how the sounds of the Yamanote line, which I described as nostalgic here are now understood by me (at the time) as annoying and "cacophonous." Maybe others who are listening to this recording do not "hear" the same annoyance that I did (and, reflecting back on this experience, still do). This reminds us that, as sonic anthropologists, we must take into account the situatedness of the sounds we study in the experiences of different subjects. I was annoyed, others may not be- perhaps my reflections are unreasonable, perhaps they are not. This may be a fruitful area for further empirical inquiry.
Recording: Thomas Baudinette Photo: Onnie Koski from Wikimedia, used under a Creative Commons license