Other Trains is a currently-ongoing research process, derived from the overlap of two areas of technology — machine learning, and railways. One is relatively new, and the other much older.
In writing about the history of technology in 1999, the philosopher Paul Virilio quipped that “the invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck”—that all technologies not only become more obsolete over time, but they also contain hints of their own future state of disuse and abandonment.
The social and industrial innovation of railway infrastructure was once the radical cutting-edge of human technology. However, it has had the time not only to become mature, but also to develop layers of ruins, disused remnants, and buried vestiges, both physical and social.
At present, artificial intelligence and machine learning are in the process of steadily becoming ubiquitous. For many, they have come to represent the forefront of current technological possibilities. At the same time, these technologies contain their own inherent biases and flaws, and the possible future integral “shipwrecks” that these technologies contain are still largely unknown.
With this in mind, we have been researching the possibilities of using machine learning to generate audio of trains which have never existed, but are generated in software — computationally-dreamt imaginings of non-existent trains. In parallel with this, we are also retracing, on foot, the routes of a series of abandoned, disused, or disappeared railway lines in Berlin and Brandenburg, documenting these walks in video. Our intention is to combine the retracing of the physical routes of these now-absent trains with an accompaniment of nonexistent, computer-imagined sound. This research process is currently ongoing.
The audio that is used in Other Trains is the result of training a machine-learning model, and is generated via TensorFlow running on Colab.
Routes that have, thus far, been part of the research process of Other Trains include:
- Angermünde–Bad Freienwalde regional line, Brandenburg
Dates of active use: 1877–1997
Regional branch line, in use from the era of the German Empire through to the aftermath of the Wende.
- M-Bahn, Berlin
Dates of active use: July 1991
One of the world’s earliest magnetic-levitation train routes, under construction for most of the 1980s but ultimately only in public use for two weeks in 1991. Read more »
- Lichtenberg, Berlin
Dates of active use: 1940s–1990s
A series of traces of routes in central Lichtenberg, Berlin, that formed part of the core of the East Berlin rail network.
- Stralau–Treptow Spreetunnel, Berlin
Dates of active use: 1899–1932
Formerly connected Stralau to Alt-Treptow through a tram line going under the river Spree. The tunnel still exists, but the entrances on both sides are filled in and the tunnel is flooded. Our initial research involved retracing the route by rowboat.
Past news and updates about Other Trains:
- May 9, 2021
- Berlin M-Bahn traces · As part of the research work for Other Trains, we have been researching the route and history of the Berlin M-Bahn, one... | More »
- June 16, 2020
- Other Trains excerpts · Excerpts from the research process for Other Trains were part of the June Virtual Open Studios event at GlogauAIR.... | More »