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"I hear the train a comin', it's rolling round the bend
And I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when."

Johnny Cash
"Folsom Prison Blues"

Ear Training

I live about a thousand feet from a railroad crossing and really don't mind the sound of the trains. Maybe it's because my family has a long history with the railroad. My Papa was a C&O Railroad time clerk for 50 years, starting his job just a few months before Wall Street crashed in 1929. My Grandma's grandfather, a German immigrant, laid some of the first railroad tracks through southern Ohio in the mid-1800s. My hometown of Ironton, Ohio was the terminus of the DT&I railroad, a coal and steel supply line once owned by Henry Ford that connected Detroit, Toledo and Ironton. The DT&I ran along the banks of the Ohio River on one side of our long and narrow town, the B&O railroad hugged the hillside on the other. Like a railroad tie, they connected the two lines with a perpendicular track that ran right through the heart of downtown. My Dad worked in City Hall on Railroad Street where every day at about 4:30, a train would slowly travel from one side of town to the other, sounding it's horn and bell the whole way. It was a sight to see – and hear.

The massive C&O switching yard where my Papa worked was right across the river in Kentucky. At 3 1/2 miles long and 1/3 mile wide, it was one of the largest yards of its kind in the country. Trains chugged, screeched, banged, and blew their horns 24/7. Locomotives coupling loaded freight cars created Domino-like collisions that rumbled like thunder. When a loaded train would get up to speed on its way out of the switch yard, it would subtly rock our house and cause the cast iron window weights to bounce around inside the sash pockets. It sounded like wind chimes, and it would lull me to sleep at night.

When trains sounded their horns, and that was often, we could always tell which railroad they were from because of the distinct tones. They were like familiar voices announcing their arrival. More like yelling their arrival. Train horns are loud, and that's good, especially if one is about to cross your path. A hundred feet away, a train horn is about 110 dB, which is similar to using a chainsaw, or 10 billion times louder than a breath. Diesel trains have multi-toned air horns powered by an air tank, which is pressurized by an electric pump. Earlier steam locomotives used steam already under pressure in their boilers for their whistles.

When diesel engines began supplanting steam power in the U.S. prior to World War II, there was a debate about the sound of the horns. The railroads favored a simple low-toned horn, but these sounded too much like large truck horns and were confusing motorists. By the 1960s, locomotives that ran across public roadways were using multiple air horns, anywhere from two to five. The "chimes" were pitched to higher frequencies and in a musical chord.

So musical, that Nathan Manufacturing Company used a five-chime horn developed in part by U.S. Marine Corps Band conductor Captain Charles Bentor, who was successor to John Phillip Sousa. For you music buffs, it was an A Major dominant 7th chord (C#, E, G, A, C#). It's a chord with a dissonant tritone (C#-G) and usually resolves to the tonic (D), so it has a little tension to it. And the two notes of G and A are only a whole step apart creating more dissonance, something that will get attention. Nathan's most popular horn is also a five-chime, tuned to B Major 6th (D#, F#, G#, B, D#). I think this is a happier chord and sounds like the start of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" to me. Who knows, maybe the Andrews Sisters' golden tones were inspiration for this classic sound.

A delightful tune is not loved by all, however. As a train approaches a crossing, they're required to signal (a sequence of long-long-short-long) up to 15 seconds beforehand, or even longer if traveling over 45mph. This has many residential areas in cities at odds with the railroads. Florida banned the signals at one time, but it was lifted after accident rates doubled. Opponents have also argued that the sound levels are above legal limits, but studies have shown that the horns have been well within the guidelines. One solution to curbing train noise pollution is to install warning horns at the crossing itself. These horns are narrowly directed toward the roadway and are activated at the same time as the gate and warning bell. The sound is contained to a smaller area instead of dominating the entire neighborhood.

In what sounds like a rash of irate silence-loving people seeking revenge, thefts of train horns is at an all-time high. Thieves are plucking the heavy contraptions from parked locomotives for various reasons. Scrap metal is one motivation, but used train horns are showing up on eBay and other places. Frequent buyers are tractor trailer operators or large truck enthusiasts. Railway operators are desperate to stop the thefts, partly because of the high replacement cost, but mostly because a train without a horn can't operate on the rails, and that means the loss of business.

One railway company caught a couple of would-be thieves in the act of stealing a horn from a locomotive, but a little "water" did them in. The company had sprayed a product called SmartWater CSI around the horn area on the engine. It's a liquid that can be seen under UV light if it comes in contact with skin, clothing, or other objects – even weeks later.  Lasting up to five years after application, SmartWater also contains unique microscopic markers that can be matched to its database of clients. When police caught up to the duo, their UV light exposed the SmartWater on one suspect and their getaway vehicle. I can hear that train horn tooting the trombone failure song "Wah, wah, wah, waaaaah."

Trains are here to stay for a long while. Their place in the world of moving cargo and people has been and will be challenged until they run no more. A hundred years ago, cars and trucks took a bite out of their business. Later, buses and airplanes took even more away. Today, long haul self-driving tractor trailers and delivery drones are the enemy. When they're finally gone someday, we'll probably be nostalgic for the sound of a five-chime horn atop a chugging behemoth engine clacking down the tracks. But I don't think we'll ever long for the whirring of an overhead delivery drone.

Dynamix Productions, Inc. is an audio production facility in the heart of thoroughbred horse country, Lexington, Kentucky. Some of the many audio services we provide are: sound-for-picture, corporate communications, advertising, narrations, audiobooks, podcasts, live broadcast, ISDN, location and remote recording, restoration, and tape/LP to digital transfers. 

Since our opening 18 years ago in 2003, we have won or been a part of nearly 100 awards; including more than 75 ADDY’s (American Advertising Federation), 10 Telly's, 2 Silver Microphones, 1 PRSA (Public Relations Society of America), 1 Eclipse Award, and 1 Emmy nomination.

Why do professionals from desktop producers to Fortune 50 companies choose Dynamix for the highest level of production? We Listen.
We are taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously here at Dynamix Productions. We're taking safety measures recommended by health officials. We're currently allowing fully vaccinated people to work mask-free in our building as long as ALL people are fully vaccinated. Our producer desk and engineer seat is more than 6 feet away in each studio, and there is glass between the engineer and voice talent. We're still encouraging smaller groups here, but if all parties are fully vaccinated and agree, we can record up to two people at a time in our VO room A. For recording three people, we can put another person in our second VO booth and link them together via Zoom or Skype. We can also have two producers in our Control Room A as long as all parties are fully vaccinated and agree. We sincerely wish that you and your families will stay safe and secure during these unusual times. For more on our new procedures and options for you, read this special statement.

-Neil Kesterson

Sound Bits

Sound and audio tech news from around the web
  • Good Beer Doesn't Just Taste Better, It Sounds Better Too. Multisensory researchers have found a relationship between sound — like a bottle opening or a can of beer pouring into a glass — and the perceived quality of beer. Read or listen at NPR.
  • Humans Can Learn How to 'Echolocate' in Just 10 Weeks, Experiment Shows. With enough training, most humans can learn how to echolocate, using their tongue to make clicking sounds and interpreting the echoes that come back, reflected from the surrounding environment.  Read about it on Science Alert.
  • Fabian Oefner’s Dancing Colors Puts Sound Waves Into Colors. Photgrapher Fabian Oefner's images capture in unique and imaginative ways natural phenomena that appear in our daily lives, such as sound waves, centripetal forces, iridescence, or the unique properties of magnetic ferroliquids–and that’s the idea behind Dancing Colors. Read about it.
  • Ikea’s $199 Symfonisk Picture Frame Speaker lets you hang your tunes on a wall. Ikea’s third collaborative project with Sonos under the Symfonisk brand is the $199 Symfonisk Picture Frame Speaker, a 22 by 16-inch rectangular Wi-Fi speaker that can be hung in portrait or landscape orientation on a wall, or sat freestanding on a flat surface. Read about it on Digtial Trends.
  • Facebook launches podcasts, live audio service. Facebook is launching podcasts and live audio streams in the U.S. on Monday to keep users engaged on its platform and to compete with emerging rivals. Read it at Santa Monica Daily Press.

Listen to
EASTERN STANDARD
on WEKU-FM


Dynamix Productions, and WEKU-FM, Eastern Kentucky University’s public radio station in Richmond, KY, partnered in 2018 to move primary production of the popular long-running radio program EASTERN STANDARD to the studios of Dynamix. The first program produced at Dynamix aired on July 19, 2018. By bringing the production to Lexington, producers have easier access to Central Kentucky business, healthcare, and education leaders, as well as local artists, entertainers, and other newsmakers. The move underlines WEKU’s commitment to providing the area’s most concise and in-depth coverage of news, issues, and ideas that directly affect Central Kentuckians. The EASTERN STANDARD radio program is made possible from the generous support of the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky and the Appalachian Impact Fund.

Hosted by network news veteran Tom Martin, EASTERN STANDARD is a public affairs program that covers a broad range of topics of interest to Kentuckians. Resources for topics include WEKU’s reporting partner, the Ohio Valley ReSource, a partnership with seven public media outlets across three states; the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting; and National Public Radio. EASTERN STANDARD can be heard Thursdays at 11:00 AM  / 8:00 PM and Sundays at 6:00 PM on 88.9 WEKU-FM, and online at www.esweku.org.

Recent topics and guests on the program include:
  • Cheating apps and learning | What forgiven student loans would mean to Kentuckians and Kentucky | State of Justice Series: Police, violence and accountability | Type 2 diabetes patients urged to get covid vaccine | Helping communities draw up strategies to deal with climate change.
  • Forest Farming: Can it work for Eastern Kentucky? | In service to the public and the environment: the Appalachian Conservation Corps | Solar advocates see power balance between customers, utilities | A history of activism in the coalfields | A "go to" for small businesses in need of pandemic survival advice.
  • Poet Tina Parker discusses her new release, "Lock Her Up." |  Criminal Justice Series: County jails still overcrowded with state prison overflow | How offices are changing, innovating to accommodate a covid-altered world | Southland's Tahlsound Music Festival is back for the summer of '21...and it's live and in-person. A conversation with organizer Chris Smith. 
  • Why the price of lumber is so high | The Hindman Settlement School's new director | What was a Rosenwald School and why is one in Adair County being restored? | Duane Lundy's new series on the creative process in music production | Details of the upcoming Mountain Heritage Literary Festival.
  • The connection between deforestation and flash flooding in E. Kentucky | What's in the water? Results of sampling E. Ky. creeks and streams | State Senator Reginald Thomas on race relations in Lexington, circa 2021 | LexPhil and Hip Hop artist Devine Carama to blend genres in Loudoun House concert.
Did you miss the live show? Listen online.

Notable Recent Productions

Live and Online

Television programs produced at Dynamix Productions


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You Live in What? International

Architect George Clarke is on a mission to find inspiration for his outrageous, space-age concept house. His journey takes him around the world to meet the visionary people who build and live in some of the most unusual homes ever seen.


Watch on The Circle Network
 

Podcasts produced at Dynamix Productions



Vote Worthy helps to inform voters about the issues and challenges surrounding the 2020 General Election.


The Cancer Crisis in Appalachia"
Compelling stories from the next generation of leaders in the fight against cancer in Appalachia.
From UK's Markey Cancer Center.

Tales of American History
"Tales of American History" with Kent Masterson Brown


"The Tyler Gossett Podcast"


GoFundMe podcast "Todd Oldfield and Wendall Gill: A Community Comes Together"



"Embedded" podcast from NPR
Al Cross in a series of podcasts about Mitch McConnell

Audiobooks produced at Dynamix Productions
 

  
    

   

    

  
       
     
    

    
    
    
    
    
    
  

Other projects produced at Dynamix
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