Alexis Madrigal on his quest to find the first recordings of the urban soundscape:
Could I go back a hundred years and listen to New York or Paris?
When it comes to film, you can see all kinds of old places. Sometimes even in high resolution, thanks to the work of archivists like Rick and Megan Prelinger. These films are incredibly important records for historians and citizens alike. They give us eyes in the past.
There’s an amazing film sequence of San Francisco in 1905. A camera was placed on a streetcar and driven down Market Street, the diagonal that cuts through the city’s core. Pedestrians, cars, carts, horses, the whole dizzying array of urban life before electricity and the automobile turned our cities inside-out. We recognize our buildings, but not our city. Similar recordings exist of most major cities.
I figured that there had to be similar documentation of the metropolitan soundscape, or any soundscape really.
But there isn’t.