'Calling Thunder' Documents History Of New York City Before Europeans Arrived
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
When is the best time to visit Manhattan?
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
How about the beginning of the 17th century?
SHAPIRO: You can now take this virtual journey online using only your ears. A new project attempts to present what Manhattan sounded like before Europeans arrived 500 years ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF OCEAN WAVES AND BIRDS CAWING)
DAVID AL-IBRAHIM: You will step through portals of today and go into 1609.
CORNISH: That's David Al-Ibrahim. He's a co-creator of the audio project. It's named "Calling Thunder: The Unsung History Of Manhattan." The team that worked on this used the best scientific evidence to precisely replicate the creatures that used to inhabit the island.
SHAPIRO: So you hear the sounds of busy, present-day Manhattan before gliding into the bucolic sounds of yesteryear, when it was known to its early inhabitants as Mannahatta.
(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CAWING AND CHIRPING)
CORNISH: What we're listening to now is a recreation of the sounds of a freshwater pond that used to be on the island's southern tip.
AL-IBRAHIM: This park is located now not far from city hall, but once, it would have been a freshwater basin, 5 acres in size, a freshwater basin that would have sustained life in lower Manhattan.
(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING)
CORNISH: The audio tour also includes a stop at the Highline, the elevated park built on the bones of an old rail line.
AL-IBRAHIM: And as we step back into time, we hear the water and the shore come to life.
(SOUNDBITE OF WATER LAPPING AND BIRDS CHIRPING AND CAWING)
AL-IBRAHIM: There's ring-billed gulls, a long-billed curlew, Canadian geese taking flight above.
(SOUNDBITE OF WATER LAPPING AND GEESE CAWING)
AL-IBRAHIM: I think just the juxtaposition that one experiences between the shoreline and the Highline is a striking experience in terms of how New York has been physically changed in such drastic ways.
(SOUNDBITE OF WATER LAPPING AND BIRDS CHIRPING)
SHAPIRO: The sounds that Al-Ibrahim and his co-creator, Bill McQuay, used draw on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's audio archive. Al-Ibrahim says they saw it as an opportunity to bring data to life.
AL-IBRAHIM: The exciting part of this project was - for us was to explore the history of Manhattan with a look at its future and use technology that asks you to close your eyes and imagine a past, but really to then use that experience to see the wonder in the small natural environments that New York has today.
CORNISH: This soundscape was shaped by the Wildlife Conservation Society's Mannahatta Project. The man behind that, ecologist Eric Sanderson, once wrote that if Mannahatta existed today as it did then, it would be the crowning glory of American national parks.
SHAPIRO: You can listen online on the website unsung.nyc.
(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING AND CAWING) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.