(Impulsive Habitat 2011)

People like trains. There is a mythology and a romance built around them. Speaking personally, my first introduction to a record of anything other than music was when my dad brought home a disc called Trains in Spain. I still have it, and it remains evocative of rural spanish stations, billowing steam and childhood.

To escape this sentimental trainishness, Phonic Psychomimesis have extracted most of the outside context from their composition. There is no placement in a geographic sense. No external sounds of the countryside or urban environment. We are instead bathed in the dark heart of the locomotive. It would be tempting to say that this soundwork places us inside the engine, but in fact it attempts to place the train inside us.

Beginning with an approaching deep bass rumble, the creaks of articulated joints and huge forged metal components emerge, clanking in high resolution and producing a palpable sensation of great power and strength. The meeting of hard surfaces and the immense tensions of opposing forces on heavy  structures are explored. It is impossible not to smell oil burning.

As John McEnroe points out in his review of Swiss Mountain Transport System by Ernst Karel elsewhere on this blog, ‘The vehicle is both an instrument to link two geographical places, but it is also the place where travelling occurs’. Being in a state of transit is to be neither at one’s point of departure, nor one’s destination. It is to be, in a sense, nowhere. It concerns being within a vehicle at the mercy of machinery, rails and locomotion.

Dotted throughout are the familiar train sounds of wheels passing over rail ends, the rhythm incidentally that Howard Broomfield* claims is responsible for influencing certain elements of jazz drumming. Occasionally, fleetingly, and very much peripheral to the mechanical world of pistons and joints, maybe snatches of human voices penetrate the trainishness? Or is it an affectation? Is it seeing faces in the flames?

At 15 minutes it is a short journey but never without incident. A beautifully constructed (and very well recorded) abstract impression of the railway locomotive’s soul.

-Chris Whitehead

Phonic Psychomimesis website
Impulsive Habitat website

* From The Soundscape by R. Murray Schafer, page 113

Chris Whitehead

Sound artist.