News / Arts & Entertainment

    New York Sounds Live On in Old Recordings

    Times Square area near 42nd Street in New York City in the 1920s. Sounds from that era are now available online.
    Times Square area near 42nd Street in New York City in the 1920s. Sounds from that era are now available online.
    Adam Phillips
    In the hyper-visual world of today’s New York City, where digital video recordings of daily life are constantly made and instantly posted, it can be pleasantly jarring to listen to the everyday sounds of a different era, when audio recordings of everyday people were almost never heard or shared. 

    During the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1929, the wind pushed a huge balloon float down toward the crowd, which scrambled to get out of the way. Almost all those people are now gone, but their humanity lives on in a sound-rich film clip that is typical of the trove of outtakes from Fox Movietone newsreels at the University of South Carolina’s Moving Image Research Collections

    For three years, Princeton University historian Emily Thompson pored over those treasures with University of Southern California web designer Scott Mahoy. The result is their Roaring Twenties website, which they call "an interactive exploration of the historical soundscape of New York City."

    New York Sounds Live on in Old Recordings
    New York Sounds Live on in Old Recordingsi
    || 0:00:00
    ...    
     
    X

    “This isn’t so much the objective, distanced, detailed description that professional historians often write," Thompson said. "But in evoking a world long gone that people have memories of or connect their families to, that kind of personal history, I think sound can provide a kind of emotional element that doesn’t fully come through, certainly in the photographs.”

    One example of that element is a Movietone clip recorded while cruising down “Radio Row,” a stretch of Cortlandt Street crowded with shops selling vacuum-tube wireless radios and phonograph players, both high-tech gadgets at the time.      

    “And to advertise their wares, these shops had loudspeakers mounted either over the front door or on the sidewalk," Thompson said. "So imagine 10 or 12 shops all within earshot all doing this at the same time and you can get a sense of why it was considered by many to be the noisiest place in New York City.”

    Thompson says that fire engine and ambulance sirens from the era seem much louder to her than those in use today, as do foghorns from the city’s still-bustling port.

    “When you hear the volume at which those things actually let out on some of our recordings of them, you can hardly imagine what it must have been like to hear that hundreds of times every night as you’re trying to sleep,” she said.

    Movietone crews often recorded the growing city at work. They captured pile drivers digging into Manhattan’s sandy soil to make way for skyscrapers, and the elevated trains and subways that connected the city's five boroughs.

    And they recorded indoor sounds, such as the clatter of an ultra-modern office building cafeteria of the time patronized entirely by female clerical workers.

    But New York during the Roaring Twenties was also a city at play. An itinerant kazoo seller entertains a crowd, and in another clip, children enjoy a ride on a small horse-drawn merry go round.

    On Coney Island, the fabled urban amusement park by the sea, a young man amuses his friends with a ukulele and barkers lure customers to try their luck on a Luna Park pig slide.

    Thompson hopes these narrow slices of life from long ago will broaden our awareness of the world we inhabit today.    

    “And perhaps something you can take away from that experience is to direct that same kind of mental energy at our own sound world and really don’t just hear what’s around you but listen to it, and think about what it means and celebrate the parts that you like and complain about the parts that you don’t.”

    No one knows for sure which New York sounds will be heard by people in the next century, but one thing seems certain: there will be plenty of complaint and celebration in the mix.

    You May Like

    Self-doubt, Cultural Barriers Hinder Cambodian Women in Tech

    Longtime Cambodian tech observer Sok Sikieng says that although more women have joined profession in recent years, there remain significant factors hindering women from reaching tech potential

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    New in Music Alley

    Take It From The Top: Stanley Jordani
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    May 17, 2016 5:01 PM
    Jazz fusion artist, Stanley Jordan is known for his touch technique which allows him to play melodies and chords simultaneously. He can also play two different guitars or a guitar and piano at the same time.

    Jazz fusion artist, Stanley Jordan is known for his touch technique which allows him to play melodies and chords simultaneously.  He can also play two different guitars or a guitar and piano at the same time.

     

     

     

     

    Blogs

    African Music Treasures