This is awesome: Vectors has published an interactive exploration of the soundscape of New York City in the 1920s and 30s, created by historian Emily Thompson (author of The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America (1900-1933)), working with designer Scott Mahoy.
As its introduction promises, the site:
…offers a sonic time machine; an interactive multimedia environment whereby site visitors can not just hear, but mindfully listen to, the noises of New York City in the late 1920s, a place and time defined by its din.
Exploring by noise type leads to an evocative series of complaints about ice plants and a doorman’s whistle, as well as audio clips of the offending sounds, and video of the city’s Noise Abatement Commission taking a reading in Times Square.
Elsewhere, a clickable map allows you to see the reported sounds of your own neighborhood. In Studio-X NYC’s case, this leads to the pervasive roar of the New York Central Railroad trains, which apparently caused Mr. J.A. Bennen Jr. no small degree of distress in July 1930.
Aside from hours of fun exploring the different sounds and sonic environments of New York City in the roaring twenties, the site also offers a thought-provoking author’s note, in which Thompson explains why she resisted producing a CD to accompany her book when it first came out in 2002, but agreed to build this interactive site a decade later:
In the past decade, the meaning of space - actual, physical, inhabitable space - has been so fully upended by a culture built upon interconnected technologies of data distribution that the material embodiment of sound etched onto the discrete surface of a compact disc now seems as ancient a relic as the neo-Gothic statuary within St. Thomas’s Church. People today listen to recorded sound anywhere and everywhere, and many engage in modes of listening that not only dissociate the sounds they hear from their places of origin, but also render themselves oblivious to the spaces in which they are physically located while they listen. The time now seems ripe to deploy these technological tools in a different direction; to use the distribution, organization, and presentation of data to reinvoke a sense of the very specific historical times and physical places in which the sounds of the past were embedded.
Dive in, and let us know what gems you find!