Skip to content
CityLab
Design

Telling a City's Story Through Sound

New efforts to document soundscapes, past and present.
relates to Telling a City's Story Through Sound
Courtesy: Chuck Wolfe

As I've recently written, visual urban nostalgia has a place in today's dialogue about cities. Historical photos, videos and reconstructions of a pre-car era are all sources of inspiration for a more sustainable urban future. And they are brought to us, by and large, by the internet.

Click on a link, and the romanticized past appears as a visual analogue to a sound byte about "then and now." But what about the sound byte itself? For example, as I asked last year - amid "street scenes and carriage jams" - what did the social nature of traffic interactions actually sound like in the late nineteenth century? The problem is that sound is amorphous, and not easily reconstructed. Consider the "photoautogram" efforts of Thomas Edison colleague Charles Batchelor in 1872 in an urban setting. Click here for a barely audible recording of New York City's Metropolitan Elevated Railroad, 40 feet away.