The Rattle of the Railroad

Courtesy of Concord Public Library

Above is an image, courtesy of the Concord Public Library, of Thoreau’s engraving of his survey map of Walden Pond. When this project is complete, you’ll be able to scroll over different parts of the map to hear the train passing from different distances around the pond. The goal of this project is to listen and measure how long it takes for birds to resume singing after the train passes.

Take a moment to listen to (and watch) this video of a train passing the pond.

Clearly in the video above, the train is very loud up close! You’ll notice I jumped while filming when the conductor blew the horn behind me. I was approximately 10-12 feet from the train. Higher quality footage and sound recordings coming soon!

The Dissertation

The Walden Soundscape project is part of my dissertation on the impact of sound and sonic vibrations on the American Transcendentalists, who were interested in maintaining harmony with nature (in a musical sense of active, reciprocal participation) and who understood music to be an experience not limited to the hearing world.

My dissertation applies Sound Studies to literary works in American Transcendentalism, calling attention to Transcendentalists’ listening practices and their translation of political thought into a literary soundscape. Echoing Salomé Voegelin’s theory of listening as “reciprocal inventive production,” I examine the vibrational epistemologies of these writers and how music–human and nonhuman–played a role in shaping their understanding of humanity’s relation to the global environment and the universe.

I will be turning my chapter on Thoreau into a podcast with sounds from all four seasons interspersed throughout. Stay tuned!

Go for a Walk

Spring at Walden

Listen to the dawn chorus at Walden Pond: hear all the morning song birds welcome the sunrise, the geese landing on the pond during their migration north, the squirrels in the leaves, the wind waving over the tops of branches, and the wings of a blue jay flying over the path. Notice the difference between winter and spring, how Walden comes alive after the snow thaws.

The Pond in Winter

You may wish to watch the video with your eyes open, or occasionally close your eyes and let your ears do the work. Immerse yourself in the quiet winter at Walden Pond. Listen for bird songs competing with neighboring traffic, leaves rustling in the wind, the distant voices of hikers on the trails, and, my favorite, at the end: the sound of a blue jay singing and flying up into the branches of a tree.

Coming Soon: Summer