The Journey Begins – SoundTracks Manchester


Thank you for joining us!

Welcome to SoundTracks Manchester.

The purpose of this project is to introduce the concept of historic storytelling through music whilst imparting some historical information on the Revolutionary Railways project. The project will be inspiring, engaging through all platforms – both virtually and reality!

Five key movements and stories will be told these include;

  • The history of the passenger railway station
  • The freight service
  • The 1830 warehouse
  • Technical innovations
  • Social effects & personal stories.

We will learn about the significance of railway history in Manchester and beyond. This will be achieved through vivid storytelling and sharing the process of a unique collaboration.

So who are we?

We are a collaborative team which joined forces at the ReaLab project, which promotes and develops interdisciplinary projects with various businesses and charities. The team is made from the Faculty of Science and Engineering and the Royal Northern College of Music. As we continue with the project our stories will be shared.

Please look at the Realab Website for more information.

If you are interested in curation, composition, creative projects, music, railways this is the blog to follow.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” – Lao Tzu

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Making Tracks – End of Stage One

As mentioned in the previous blog post – we have been busy creating some exciting sounds. These workshops have enabled Zakyia to experiment with creating different sounds and to test the material.

The inspiration behind the final piece can be found on here –


The order of the piece is:
Movement 1:
“Demolition” – Sounds of explosions to create instrumental references.
“Shovelling, Raking & Flattening” – Inspiration came from videos of railways being constructed in a documentary that is available online about the Woodhead tunnel to see what kinds of sounds would have been created during this construction phase.
“Laying and joining track sections (hammering & striking)” – Same as above
Movement 2:
“Ceremony, opening” – Considered ‘Pomp and Circumstance’, the very well-known piece that is somewhat contemporaneous to the opening of the line. Considered the musical timbres, textures and rhythms that would allow a musical reference to the time in history as well as the general feeling of excitement and ceremony around the opening of the line.
“Money” – Gathered together coins and tested the sounds they make on various surfaces and against each other. The idea of referencing money as a key element of this part of the history is that it was central in many ways – it costs money to make, it took money in, and only people with money could use it (at the time of opening there was no 3rd class service).
“Talking/chatter & excitement” – The opening of the line generated a lot of buzz, both in the press and within social groups. This part looks at the communication around this new enterprise. Considering the sounds of burbling chatter in a busy room full of excitement, there are lots of moving notes. Investigated extended techniques such as the lip smack on the French horn and tongue stop on the flute to direct attention to mouth sounds, as an allusion to the moving of lips and tongues that the excitement generated.
We hope you are looking forward to the final piece. As stage one draws to a close we would like to express our gratitude to REAlab and NWCDTP as sponsors which have enabled us to create and develop the project.
Over the duration of stage one, we have both learnt about the railways and Manchester, making and connecting with new audiences and the ways in which individuals can work together from different disciplines in a creative manner.

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Music and Motion

Music and Motion – How do they connect? 

As we continue to develop the music for SoundTracks the idea of music and motion is the focus this week –

One of the really interesting transitions in the human experience of travel is the shift to what was felt like an unnatural type of motion. Never before had we moved so smoothly and so quickly at once.

The animal advances not with a continued progressive motion, but with a sort of irregular hobbling, which raises and sinks its body at every alternate motion of the limbs. This is distinctly felt on horseback, and it is the same when an animal draws a load. Even in walking and running one does not move regularly forward. The body is raised and depressed at every step of our progress; it is this incessant lifting of the mass which continues that drag on our motions which checks their speed, and confines it within such moderate limits…. With machinery this inconvenience is not felt; the locomotive engine rolls regularly and progressively along the smooth tracks of the way, wholly unimpeded by the speed of its own motions; and this, independent of its economy, is one of the great advantages it possesses over animal power.

[James Adamson, Sketches of Our Information as to Rail-Roads, (Newcastle, 1826), pp.51-2.]

Music – Ambling gait, juxtaposed against a period of stasis?



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Talking to the Science and Industry Museum about Digital Changes

As mentioned in the previous post we had the opportunity to have a chat with Michael who works at the Science and Industry Museum about how the website and social media is changing the way the museum engages online. This is our conversation;

How has the website changed the way in which the museum engages with different audiences?

The website relaunched last year and the design has attempted to make it more dynamic for the visitor. Before the website mainly consisted of text and image and now there are videos and cross-links with other museums. This enables the visitor to explore more collections and get a good sense of the collection itself before visiting. All partner museums have a similar format so there should be a seamless journey between sites with a similar look and feel.

What is the next step for the website?

The next stage of development for the website is the story we are telling. We have all the basic important information and now we want to develop objects and stories to give depth to the collection and widen the community.

What is their role in exhibition development? When do they get involved with new exhibitions?

For a larger exhibition we usually are involved 2 months prior and a smaller exhibition it can be six weeks before. We develop and create a landing page and link to other parts of the website which has relevant information. It is dependent on the scale and scope of the exhibition!

Through social media and participatory platforms, museums are able to build communities around their collections for collaboration, scholarly research, discussion, and participation. It will be interesting to see how this trend develops further.

Yes, we are always interested in developing community and working alongside the marketing team we like to share and amplify the reach we have. The blog is great because we can share more and there is always a steady stream on content which appeals to many different types of visitors. We always note down key dates and anniversaries for science and industry to share with everyone.

What route would you recommend for a new visitor to take on the website?

It really depends on the purpose of the visit! I would navigate them first to the what’s on the section so they are up-to-date on the programme and then the about us, maybe then the objects and stories so they can get some information about the collection prior to visiting us!

Thank you, Michael, for your insights!

So, let us know, what do you want out of museum websites? What appeals to you when looking at museums online and what would you like to see in the future?




Ways to Explore Museum Collections

This week we are exploring the different ways to explore museum collections online and how the development of online environments has facilitated a change in the way you can access a museum. It can be a real struggle to see items from across a collection! Hopefully, these insights will enable you to share interesting stories and objects.

A museum has the responsibility to be accurate and provide an academic perspective on the objects and pieces they own.  It allows them to share their archives and collections with larger audiences across the world. However, online a museum needs to have perspective on the broad range of users who are not always familiar with the various collections. People can access a collection for private study, research or general interest.

The range of the collection

If you are online; there are many ways to search from general search, advanced search options or searching by museum number. We recommend emailing the archives if the item is in storage and asking further questions, they are experts in the field and can guide you in the right direction. If you are visiting the museum; ask to see the curator’s favourite piece, the most challenging piece to store or the most recently rehoused. Or perhaps pick a cabinet at random.


Getting your bearings

If you don’t have time to idly wander, start your visit with collections online. You can get a sense of the collection and the pieces on display. Nowadays museums have advanced there online websites to include 3D visualisations and sharp imagery of the key pieces in collections. Further, check the museum blog for the latest developments and new acquisitions which may be of interest. If you are visiting the museum; arrive early to avoid the queues and remember you can always ask questions from members of staff.

If you need any more reasons to visit a museum either online or in person check out this webpage –


In our next blog post, we will have a discussion with a web manager who will provide some insights into how the online environment has changed the way the museum share and connects with its audience.

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Everyday Noise and Revolutionary Railroads – Part Three

The ‘revolutionary’ element is vital to this project – how the railway changed the world in some many ways!

Zakiya has been exploring the jazz era this week.


Jazz is of particular interest because of personal influences to Zakiya – she studied it at an undergraduate and played trumpet in a big band for many years. In addition, there are a significant number of pieces written with reference to railways by many great jazz composers.


What is your favourite Jazz piece?

We are looking at four notable pieces performed by the Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, Sleepy Town Train, Slow Freight, Chattanooga Choo Choo, and Tuxedo Junction.

Zakiya explains below the interest in each piece below –

Sleepy town train keeps the feel of a train journey by the steady four-in-the-bar beat of the rhythm section. Without the lilting rhythm the faster pieces we’ve seen before, the sound is less specifically descriptive but the rattling quality to the drum line (likely brushes on a snare) conjures the ambient sound of the puffing of steam and clattering of pistons as they move.

Slow freight is a slight step up in energy and tempo from Sleepy town train, and here the rhythm line has progressed to a more obviously identifiable representation of the distinctive train rhythm and timbre. This is achieved by the opening and closing of the hi-hat between a short-long percussive strike pattern.

Tuxedo junction combines some of the elements of the previous two pieces but with a distinctively evocative horn line. There is a steady walking bass beat accompanied by a rattling ambience of the brushes on the snare. The trombones provide a rhythm that, whilst it is a retrograde (mirror image) of the typical short-long rhythm of the trains, still evokes the feel of that uneven, continuous pulse. Together with the deep timbre of the longer tones, the trombone section sounds almost as if the sound of the trains had been slowed and we are hearing the whistle in a deeper bass tone.

Of course, we cannot overlook the Chattanooga Choo Choo, which was the first record ever to reach gold in the US. There are so many allusions to railway sounds both direct and indirect in this song. The ‘woo-woo’ of the horns and voices is particularly effective and evocative as a recurring allusion to the whistle. The entire opening is very well written to evoke the sounds of a train departing the station, the whistle sound played across both the trombones and then the trumpets, getting higher in pitch to describe an increase in speed whilst the scalic feature of the saxophones presents a ‘starting-up’ and ‘gaining momentum’ sound that reaches an energetic throbbing apex at the climax of the introduction depicting the train rolling out of the station.

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Everyday Noise and Revolutionary Railroads – Part Two

The second stage of the project, Zakiya has started to delve into other artists and creators work to be inspired!

The process begins with Excursions (Barber) and although not explicitly stated the first movement supposedly a representation of a transatlantic train. The musical description of a railway journey is clear however through the lilting rhythm. The speed at which this rhythm is played conjures the sound of trains moving across a track.

We are interested to see how other composers have approached this soundscape and compare the methods by which the allusion to railway journeys is musically described. Zakiya found a really interesting website which has a wealth of information, titles of pieces and connections which can be explored:

Now to listen and explore some sounds:

What was striking to Zakiya was the line isn’t paper’s some say revolution’s bound to come (4:04) – does anything stand out to you?

The article mentioned in a previous post also describes a piano piece (Characteristic Rondo, unknown composer, 1830) for which the sheet music had a picture of the Sankey Viaduct on the Manchester/Liverpool Railway on the cover. The paper states that the music supposedly represents a journey on that line. However, there are no references for this article so we cannot verify this. The work continues…

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Everyday Noise and Revolutionary Railroads – Part One

The purpose of this project is to introduce the concept of historic storytelling through music. The composition will give an even deeper and more exciting insight into the railroads between Manchester and Liverpool. Once you hear these sounds and compositions, you’ll have a brand new appreciation for music of all kinds!


The first stage is research, research and even more research. This involves going through various documents, images and accounts to familiarise with the rich history. In addition, researching past pieces that have used train sounds.

At the moment, Zakiya has decided to split the 20-minute piece into five sections:

  • Passenger service
  • Freight
  • Construction
  • Site
  • Legacy

Whistles, audio samples and sounds of cargo movement are being considered. In part two we will explore the different influences we are drawing on for the composition.

What noises do you associate with the railway and travelling?

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