Boston

I was in Boston from September 15 to 20th. I wandered a lot. Boston is lovely and is a relief from the speed and scene of New York. The streets conform to the river and have real names. I somehow could find my way around much easier than all the streets and avenues of the Big Smoke. Sonically, the city is quite banal. Nothing jumped out at my ears to say “This is Boston!”. But that’s not to say there are no interesting sounds to be found!

a market in Boston

Below is the Quincy Market on Sept. 18. There were mainly fruit and vegetable vendors that would call out sales or “NEXT”. There are also plastic bags rustling constantly; the vendors would hand these out to customers. There were many different languages being spoken all around me. It was like walking through the whole world on one colourful happy city block.

In the North End of Boston is their Little Italy, and it was very Italian. More so, it seemed than New York’s, which was hard to distinguish from NY’s Chinatown. There was a bocce game happening nearby, and in the track below you can hear 4 Italian gentlemen playing a card game they called “Sweep”. They were wonderfully animated and you can hear the slap of the cards, the creak of the chairs and their cries of victory or shouts of accusing a cheater.

Below is a sound that many cities have in some form: the sound of water moving. The sight and sound of water seems to be a universal attraction for people, in cities or otherwise. Most commonly in fountains in urban centers, water gives a sense of calm, of constant motion, of cleanliness. It’s strange how traffic provides almost the same sort of broadband noise that water does, but who loves to listen to traffic all day? This fountain was in the North End.

Here is another fountain, this one on the Boston Commons. The first track is using my hydrophone and it sounds quite predictably like a fountain would sound underwater. The second track is the fountain from above just using the built in mics on the Zoom H4n.

I walked along the Charles River and recorded the clip below. The traffic noise is dominant, but when there is a lull you can hear the sound of insects and birds that were quite loud in the brush along the shoreline. This natural soundtrack is always going in most places in the city with some green space, but it was only when the transportation raucousness was dulled that it was audible. I often find myself imagining what it would sound like if all motion in the city stopped completely. (Inspired by the excellent children’s book ‘The Cricket in Times Square’). I think it would be lovely.

Below is my favorite track from Boston. On the Boston Common, a large green space in the city, I came across a group of Marines-in-training who were doing group exercises. A nearby church began tolling and the two make an interesting combination. The simple counting in a group seems almost childlike and innocent and the hymn has a comforting feel that belies the intent of the training of these very young cadets.

Below are two samples of the street crossing sound signals on Massachusetts Avenue. The second goes for a long time (sometimes they count down from 60!) and there is an interesting cross-rhythm created when the opposite signal starts while the other is still going. Yes, I do get some strange looks standing under a street light with my gear.


I am conducting short interviews with people I meet, and ask them simple questions. I especially liked interviewee in the track below – wait for his last answer.

Here is a sample of the typical subway in Boston. In the track below, the train arrives, I board and the train speeds off. I’m noticing a pattern in the sound signals of subways. For the closing of the doors, there is one tone repeated twice, often quite rapidly. And then for the opening of doors, a descending major third is played. There are lots of patterns and musical qualities to subways, but it all blurs together when you ride them every day.

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