Obscura Day 2016: Lost Sounds of the West Side - Atlas Obscura
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New York, New York

Obscura Day 2016: Lost Sounds of the West Side

Discover layers of city history through an exploration of the sounds of yesteryear.

Join writer, sound artist, and linguist Jed Shahar for a walk through the sonic history of Manhattan's west side.

Explore your urban surroundings with expanded senses and enriched understandings on this tour focusing on the sounds of the 20th century that have by and large disappeared from the city. We will start on the northern edge of what was once called Postal Zone 19 - home to one of the most important documentarians of the 20th century, Tony Schwartz. Schwartz documented the soundscape of the city for decades, focusing on his own neighborhood exhaustively. His recordings capture the songs of unsupervised children in the streets, the horns and rumbles of mid-­century traffic, the crowd at the intermission of an afternoon matinee, the sounds of a coal delivery. Then we will proceed north through what was known as San Juan Hill, the neighborhood in which Thelonious Monk lived and developed his unique piano style. The neighborhood was one of the poorer areas of the city, and was documented by Schwartz before it gave way to its current existence as the high-­culture development Lincoln Square. Schwartz’s recordings from this neighborhood capture the mid­-century immigrant’s struggles of life with interviews, church songs, and juke­box recordings. We will then continue through Riverside Park up through the West ‘70s and ‘80s covering sounds like the elevated subway line, pinball machines (banned from the ‘40s­ to the ’70s), the old commercial pathways of the West Side Elevated Highway and the unexposed New York Central line. The tour ends at the house of Julia Barnett Rice, perhaps the first sound pollution advocate, who successfully initiated a campaign to ban the “unnecessary” steam whistles that blew regularly from the North (Hudson) River. A 1904 study initiated by Rice estimated some nights there were over 3,000 instances of steam whistles being blown from the river. Sample recordings will be provided for those on the tour. 

Be prepared for walking and listening.

Meet at W 57th and 10th Avenue

All ticket sales are final.

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