Abstract: The Underground is one of the noisiest places in London. The sounds of machines, crowds and the music of buskers accompany travellers on each journey through the Tube. Public address (PA) systems have become a central feature in the design of trains and stations. PA announcements inform passengers with a constant stream of information and warn us to ‘mind the gap’. Warning signals beep to tell us to ‘stand clear of the closing doors’. Experienced commuters tune in to these aural markers of the Underground and use all their bodily senses to alter their journey, to alight a train swiftly, or to leap through closing train doors. The act of listening plays a special role in the efficient navigation through the spaces of the Underground and the city.
This paper takes an aural journey to show how PA systems contribute to travellers’ successful negotiation of the Underground. Examining the period from the 1960s to the present day, I explore how the development of PA systems has affected the behaviour and mood of passengers. Drawing on a rich archive of accounts gleaned from social media, I trace people’s responses to the live and recorded messages on the Underground. My paper considers the choice of words and the voices used in PA announcements in order to analyse the Underground’s institutional attitudes to gender and ethnicity. Exploring how sound is a socially and historically produced part of the experience of Tube travel, my aural journey contributes to the cultural meaning of the Underground.
Biography: Dr Jacob Paskins is an Architectural Historian and Research Fellow at Girton College, Cambridge. His PhD thesis (UCL, 2011) was an historical study of construction sites in France during the 1960s. He teaches at the Bartlett School of Architecture and runs a seminar about the relationship between the body’s senses and architecture for the MArch Architecture programme. He is a founding member of the Autopsies Research Group, which examines the obsolescence of everyday objects and places. Developing his research into the social experience of architecture, infrastructure and travel, Jacob is currently working on a history of the hoverport in Britain and France.