Saturday, February 21, 2009

New York Sounds

Yes, it is true that New York City generates plenty of noise. It is especially evident to visitors or those who have just moved to the city. A senior colleague commented that when he first moved to a room in the seminary on 10th Avenue as a student, he simply couldn't sleep for the sounds that went on all night--the railway yards, the loading of freight, the rumble of subway trams from the 9th Avenue El, the docks on the river, and the traffic. The first four of course have long since disappeared. Other sounds have taken their place: overhead planes, even more traffic and street noise. And localized drilling projects. Yet as I sit here at my desk this morning, this is what I hear:
  • sparrows and starlings in the bush outside my window
  • music from the radio in the living room
  • an occasional car
  • people talking on the street
  • a police siren in the distance
Its not that I live in a secluded haven. True, Chelsea is quiet on Saturday mornings. Sundays are even quieter (once people in the clubs leave in the early hours). When you live in New York City, your brain filters out a good deal of noise so that after a while, you simply don't hear it. This allows you to maintain regular patterns of sleeping and waking. Of the five sounds I listed above, I didn't register the last three until I put my mind to it. There are other sounds which float about in my semi-conscious awareness: movements of other household members (particularly the cats and our dog) which allow me to register almost unconsciously where they are; and the clock chimes.

We recently bought a set of noise-canceling headphones. I used them on a plane trip recently and they work effectively by creating a cocoon of sound. There's something magical about being enveloped by music that you love. But I haven't worn them when out walking because I want to stay in touch with my dog and what goes on around me. I want to be part of the throbbing energy of the city. Otherwise, why live here?

2 comments:

Rev Dr Mom said...

I totally agree with your last bit! Actually I often found a bit of noise at night sort of comforting. And I am a good sleeper so it never kept me up.

Christina said...

I stayed in the Tutu Center a few weeks ago and found the noises as comforting as they were when I lived in Dodge Hall. If I could afford the City I would still be living there. I agree, however with not walking with earphones if only for safety. You not only hear the City noises but also whatever noises you need to hear to "duck" on time!