Modern-day Manhattan has a distinct soundscape, a din of car horns and sirens and overheard cell-phone conversations and trash trucks. Once upon a time, however, the dull roar was dominated by frogs, at least at night: “They frequently make such a noise that it is difficult for a person to make himself heard,” wrote naturalist Peter Kalm in 1748.
The New York Times draws our attention to the debut of “Calling Thunder,” a project attempting to recreate what the island might’ve sounded like when Henry Hudson arrived in 1609. The work of Bill McQuay, an audio producer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and David Al-Ibrahim, a grad student at the School of Visual Arts, it blends the work of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Eric W. Sanderson in Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City with audio from Cornell University’s Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds.
They’ve taken specific spots and, with an eye to Sanderson’s reconstructions, produced clips where the modern-day noises slide into what they think the natural landscape might have sounded like. You can listen to straightforward audio on the site Unsung.NYC, or you can check out 360 videos at YouTube or the Times.
They’ve done spots like the Collect Pond, once the city’s water source, and the High Line. But perhaps most striking is the lobby of the Natural History Museum, because it stresses the ways in which the massive building interiors where New Yorkers now spend their days were once open spaces full of birds and other creatures. The effect is profoundly soothing and now I need a nap, preferably outdoors under a tree in the sunshine.