What did a typical day in Manhattan sound like 400 years ago? Designer David Al-Ibrahim wants to help you imagine. Al-Ibrahim has created Calling Thunder: The Unsung History of Manhattan, a virtual reality experience that illuminates how the bustling isle of Manhattan might have felt before the Dutch arrived, back when it was a Lenape territory named Mannahatta, or “Island of Many Hills.”
As CityLab reports, Al-Ibrahim worked with Bill McQuay of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to source sounds from the lab’s Macaulay Library, an archive of wildlife audio. To get a sense of the geography and biodiversity of 17th century Manhattan, they also reached out to landscape ecologist Eric Sanderson, whose Welikia project is studying and mapping New York City as it looked in 1609.
This 360-degree video juxtaposes the Manhattan of today with the wild sights and sounds of the old Mannahatta, where you would hear black bears, crows, and trickling streams rather than delivery trucks and honking cars. To represent the area with as much historical accuracy as possible, there are no sounds from extinct animals, so you won’t hear any passenger pigeons (which went extinct in the 1910s) or other animals that the creators could not obtain original recordings of. But you can hear bullfrogs, osprey, red-tailed hawks, and other creatures.
On the project website, you can listen to binaural soundscapes (meaning you can hear different audio in each ear, so you’ll need stereo headphones) of places like Inwood Hill Park and the American Museum of Natural History. The 360-degree videos on the site, imagining the soundscapes of specific areas of Manhattan, all feature descriptions of the different animals that can be heard in that clip.
If you’re in New York City, try listening to the clips on your phone as you walk around Manhattan.