Life Underground is an immersive audio experience that is designed to take place in the NYC Subway. It transforms one’s daily commute from a mundane blur between two destinations, to a journey through lived moments, missed connections and thoughtful expressions that have taken place along the tunnels.
The final version of Life Underground takes shape as a web application that enables users to access and navigate through a series of audio playlists as they ride the subway, contributing with their personal thoughts and anecdotes along the way. It thus encourages active ridership and invites participation in the creation and documentation of the collective life of the NYC subway.
The audio paints a narrative that relies on the collection of memories/experiences from everyday rides— the good, the bad, and the ugly truths of the system. This initial collection of anecdotes is gathered from my everyday journeys and crowdsourced from multiple online platforms, including Craigslist, Instagram, Tumblr, and Subwaycrush.com.
The audio narratives are intertwined with and juxtaposed by a collection of sounds that contextualize the listener in their environment, highlighting the tensions between romanticized subway experiences, and the current strains of the system. The project is hosted on a web application that allows rider-listeners to not only access the audio experience, but to call in to a designated number and leave their own voicemail message, building upon the project’s ever-fluctuating and transient communal histories.
Contribute to the stories by leaving a voice message here
FOR A SIMULATED EXPERIENCE IN QUARANTINE TAKE A VIRTUAL RIDE
These playlists are meant to interweave personal narratives with a mixture of background ambient sounds - some contextualizing you in the story being told, others hinting at the tensions and struggles of the subway system. This juxtaposition is deliberately designed so as not to cancel out what the MTA would deem as "unfavorable" aspects of the subway's history. Below, you can listen to a prototype designed for the Uptown N, which begins at Cortlandt St. Station in Manhattan and ends at 36th Ave Station in Queens.
The project is hosted on a web application that allows users to not only access the audio experience, but to call in to a designated number and leave their own voicemail message, building upon the project’s ever-fluctuating and transient communal histories. This form of submission serves to simplify the process of updating the tracks in the playlist with newly crowdsourced stories, cutting the costs of recording, and incentivizing people to have their voices heard in the ever-updating playlists.
My goal was to create an intriguing experience out of real life stories, while mapping out these hidden memories along the tunnels they were made in. Ideally, Life Underground would form a connection between subway riders as a community, and their environment as a place, provoking them into considering what it means to take part in a parallel life buzzing under the streets of New York City, and how their existence in the space places them within a moment of its collective history.
Although initially designed for everyday subway riders — New Yorkers with a mundane route and a perpetual dread toward their daily commute — I now see the added value in the experience for tourists who may already arrive in NYC fascinated by the MTA.
To view the whole web app prototype, and contribute with your own voice message, head over to the project website.