I recently took a bus from my home in the DC area up to where my Mom and Dad live outside Philadelphia. The bus departed from Union Station and arrived at 30th Street Station–two old train stations.

Both stations have huge vaulted main halls that are separate from where the trains actually leave from. These spaces feel like they are from another time (because they are) and never fail to stop me in my tracks to gaze at this peculiar architecture that is at once both open and enclosed on a grand scale.

Perhaps that is their purpose–to impress, or arrest–because the high ceiling doesn’t seem to serve a particular function? Unlike the hall at Union Station, the hall at 30th Street is still actively used as a waiting area, with lots of benches to sit on. Perhaps the high ceilings originally provided lots of air for the many people who found themselves sheltering and waiting there, before air conditioning became a thing?

As I walked into Union Station this early morning I was struck by how different the sound of the space is. So I recorded it with my phone:

Union Station, Washington DC: 8:40 AM

And a few hours later I did the same in 30th Street Station:

30th Street Station, Philadelphia: 1:21 PM

I noticed afterwards that the default audio recording app on my Android phone was set to mono, and the recording volume was set way too high. Both probably added to the sludginess of the recordings, which don’t really capture the silvery and open quality to the sound.

In the Field by Cathy Lane and Angus Carlyle

This morning I was reading a conversation about field recordings, and noticed a recommendation for the book In the Field. Some day I will take my little foundsound experiments to the next level by digging into the practice more as a creator than just a listener. I’ve learned over time by reading liner notes that field recording is a significant component of much of the music I like listening to. It also seems to align with my interest in ethnography as a research method–specifically the art and science of creating field notes.

While sitting down to write this short post I was reminded of John Cage’s 4′33″ which encourages us to de-center our experience by listening to the music of life around us. Similar to the structure of that songs time signature, and its spatial enactment, these two buildings provide an acoustic architecture for listening to life as people go about their day. Stop and listen the next time you are in one!