Serial Sound

Ninth Step Station and the intersection of sound design and everyday life

I was taking long walks at night until I began to find them unnerving. I’ll start again at some point. The last time I took one coincided with the first episode of season two of Ninth Step Station (created by Malka Older, serialized by Serial Box). That must have been five weeks ago tonight. I stepped out onto the sidewalk after dark and thought, “Yeah, this is what I need. To visit future-Tokyo – you know, even if it’s one plagued by violence and broken into pieces following a devastating war.” I wondered how the sound design would contrast with my walk.

Within a few minutes, I heard something drop behind me. Fully knowing I was listening to a show (it opens in a bar), I looked around. Then, even though all the more aware of the overlap of everyday sound (I was wearing headphones but not noise-canceling ones) and the serial’s sound, I became conscious of a fight in the distance. I got anxious immediately. And again, it was merely sound design experienced on an otherwise empty street. Actually, not “merely.” The opposite of merely. Viscerally.

As the show proceeded, and my experience of the episodes moved from outdoors to indoors, I came to focus on other elements. Indoors, things like bar fights don’t alert me. Indoors, it’s the ambient electronic noises of devices that make me look up, check my phone, tap my earbud.

Note: This is a slight variation (changed to “tonight” from “tomorrow”) of something I published last night in the This Week in Sound email newsletter, and adapted from something looser I’d posted to Twitter awhile back. Twitter being my public notebook.

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