Other Trains — research documentation excerpt (no audio), June 2020. Angermünde–Bad Freienwalde line [1877–1997], Brandenburg, Germany.
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.” All technologies not only become more obsolete over time, but they also contains hints of their own future state of disuse and abandonment.
Other Trains is a work derived from the overlap of two areas of technology — machine learning, and railways. One is relatively new, and the other much older.
The social and industrial innovation of railways 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.
At present, artificial intelligence and machine learning are in the process of steadily becoming ubiquitous, and 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 unknown.
With this in mind, we have been researching the possibilities of using machine learning algorithms to generate audio of trains which have never existed, but are generated in software — computer-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.
On these walks, we have been playing the machine-learning-generated audio from small battery-powered speakers — thus combining the physical route of nonexistent, now-absent trains with an accompaniment of nonexistent, computer-imagined sound. This research process is currently ongoing.