4 Pieces Based on New York Sounds

Sounds tell us about places.

In fact, field recording can be loosely compared to photography. Loosely because it's harder to point a microphone than it is to point a camera. Yet they are similar in that the art is based on selection as well as the quality of the result. To hear recordings by Francisco Lopez of the Amazon, for example, or David Monacchi's recordings of rainforests, or Annea Lockwood's recordings of rivers, is a beautiful experience, partly because the subjects of the recordings are so fascinating and partly because they are done with such sensitivity and expertise.
My primary focus in environmental sound is New York. And what follows here is a gateway to four diverse approaches. The first approach is the recognition of a good New York sound when we hear it. The second is a search for sounds that together comprise part of an audio picture, as if in answering "What are some of the particular sounds in Staten Island?" The third suggests the level of energy and diversity in cities, not only in New York but also in New Delhi, as if from New York pointing to the major cities of the world and thinking, "There's a lot going on here." The fourth is about perception and reflection, we listen and then step back to think quietly, "What have we heard?"


To Manhattan

A little harder to call it beautiful, yet very impressive especially since it was unintended, I recorded a trip, about 30 minutes, on the Staten Island ferry from Staten Island to Manhattan. Joe Kubera, pianist, was the navigator. I carried the recorder. I followed him from the entrance hall, onto the boat, around the boat, and then off the boat in Manhattan. Well, we pulled the lever and hit the jackpot. The sounds are not pretty (but who cares about pretty), yet with no editing, no mixing, no anything, they're fascinating in their complex timbres and in their structure. It may have been luck, but To Manhattan, as I titled it, is a beautiful example of documenting a place in sound.

To listen to To Manhattan, go here


Staten Island in Sound

Staten Island in Sound is also about documenting a place in sound. As we've learned, one of the important precepts of acoustic ecology, and the defining concept of a soundscape, is that a sound be associated with a place. Indeed, Staten Island is a complex place. As I followed Joe through the boat en route to Manhattan, here I drove while he navigated, and the sequence of sounds (which can take any form), as they are performed, can give a hint as to any route through the island. This was an exceptional piece for me, a one-time shot, where the individual sounds are left completely unprocessed, simple, individually recognizable, and it's in their combinations that the creativity occurs.

To listen to Staten Island in Sound, go here


One World 1

Actually, I prefer to develop sounds that tell us about the special qualities of a particular place. I see New York, for example, among many cities, as a remarkable model of the world, a complex interaction of different nationalities, religions, cultures, and politics. There is no simple sound in New York.

One World 1, based on sounds from New York and New Delhi, is about complexity, energy, turbulence, as if the world were a large crowded city, its space shared through a common human bond, even if at this moment in history the idea of sharing one world through a common human bond is a utopian goal rather than a current reality.

One World 1


Different Cities

The concept here is simple. We hear the cities we live in. We step back and think about what we've heard.

A short version of Different Cities












To Manhattan was recorded as one of the sounds in Staten Island in Sound, which was composed for the Ear to the Earth Festival in 2011.














One World 1 was composed for the first Ear to the Earth festival in 2006.

The field recordings from New York were done by Benjamin Chadabe.

The field recordings from New Delhi were done by Shankar Barua.




Different Cities was first composed as an installation for the inaugural show at CMCA (Center for Maine Contemporary Art), Rockland Maine, titled Many Times Times Square.