Talwynn Railway recording in Wales (2013)

It really is funny when I talk to my mates or have an initial chat with people I have only just met. Once they find out what I am doing for a living the same question seems to constantly reoccur: What’s your favourite sound?

Although it seems like a very simple question it’s not an easy one to answer at all. I could go on about how I love cannon and gun shot sounds to sweeten up impacts and big moments, and how I love using whooshes to help transitioning between important scenes etc.. But as you can imagine that’s way too technical and not a sufficient answer for anyone not working in audio.

So I did some thinking..

I think my favourite sound would be a steam train and I will explain how I came to that conclusion. First of all (being quite edgy and non-mainstream and all that) I like the fact, that not many steam trains are around these days, so it’s always kind of a sonic treat to hear one every now and then. Secondly the combination of sounds it generates is amazing, just think about it: It all starts with the coal being loaded into the firebox, generating enough heat to boil the water in the tank and subsequently generating enough steam which then sets the cylinder/pistons into motion. Sounds great in theory doesn’t it? I was lucky enough to record a whole day on the footplate of a steam train in Talwynn, Wales for the movie Snowpiercer and the BOOM Library Trains. An amazing experience to personally record all those sounds I have just described. I can highly recommend pointing microphones at different parts of a steam train, the variety of sounds you can get is breathtaking, one could very much describe a steam train as an all-round sound talent. Just make sure you drop the headphones when they beep the horn, as it’s a less enjoyable experience.

“Chooooo Chooooo” (David Philipp, 2013)

The third and probably most profound reason for the choice of my favourite sound is the historical aspect. I don’t want to go into too much detail but I think it makes sense to everyone that the industrial revolution changed the soundscape of our world significantly. Steam powered machines were invented, one of them being my beloved steam trains, allowing to break the borders between urban and rural environments, “building bridges” between the city and countryside. Back in the day people probably didn’t appreciate the sounds of steam trains as much as I do today, as it had a massive impact on their everyday soundscape. Charles Dickens (1997, 219) describes the impression of steam trains in his book ‘Dombey and son’ in a beautiful way, but subsequently it’s down to the listening individual if it’s perceived in a positive or negative way.

“Night and day the conquering engines rumbled at their distant work, or, advancing smoothly to their journey‘s end, and gliding like tame dragons into the allotted corners grooved out to the inch for their reception, stood bubbling and trembling there, making the walls quake, as if they were dilating with the secret knowledge of great powers yet unsuspected in them, and strong purposes not yet achieved.“