Spotify playlist brings New York noise to a world silenced by coronavirus

Honking, cabs, subway musicians, baseball games. These lively audio clips replay the urban soundtrack that's gone missing with so many New Yorkers staying at home.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
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Leslie Katz
2 min read

Not the sort of bustling scene spotted in New York City at the moment. 

Caitlin Petrakovitz/CNET

"Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?" Joni Mitchell's classic song Big Yellow Taxi could be an anthem for our strange, upended times. So many of the little day-to-day interactions we take for granted -- hugs, handshakes, crowded trains, a morning chat at a co-worker's desk -- remain beyond our reach right now.

With this nostalgia and yearning in mind, the New York Public Library compiled an immersive playlist, called Missing Sounds of New York, to bring quintessential sounds of the city to the social-distancing masses who might be longing for the familiar urban bustle. 

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New York Public Library

The eight tracks, between one and three minutes each, use a combination of audio to create familiar, ambient soundscapes that tell little stories of everyday life in the now eerily quiet metropolis. 

There's the honking, the hollering and the subway musicians of rush hour; cheering fans at a baseball game; noisy neighbors; a passenger getting into a cab, closing the door and directing the driver where to go: "110th and Third Ave., please." 

There's even a recording of New York Public Library life. Listen closely and you can hear a guide with a thick New York accent giving a tour, a visitor asking a librarian for help and a reader leading toddler story time. 

"This album is a different and creative way we can help," the library says, "providing an entertaining distraction that allows New Yorkers access to something we are all missing: many of the quintessential sounds of the city we know and love."

The library created the playlist with creative agency Mother New York. It's publicly available to stream on Spotify and the New York Public Library website

The library calls Missing Sounds of New York an auditory love letter to the city, and comments on its website suggest it's being received as one. 

"This gives me such comfort during quarantine," one listener wrote. Wrote another, "I close my eyes and I am there." 

Whether you're a New Yorker or not, the city's cacophony is, ironically, a soothing balm for the world's widespread sounds of silence. 

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