Brighton Beach Makes (Sound) Waves

To most of us, the idea of walking around the neighborhood and listening to its sounds is about as boring as, well, walking around the neighborhood in a totally aimless, pointless way.

So when I first saw Gothamist’s interview with Todd Shalom, founder of the artist-led walking tour company Elastic City, I closed the window and mentally filed the story in the drawer labeled “hipster hooey.” But I recalled a conversation I was having this weekend, about my all-time favorite day in Sheepshead Bay: August 14, 2003.

I’ve mentioned that date before on this site. It was the day of the Northeastern Power Outage, in which some 55 million people in the U.S. and Canada lost electricity. There are many reasons why it’s a favorite: people came together like I’ve never seen before, the stars were visible at night, neighbors took to the streets to beat the heat.

But the top reason has to do with sound. As the electric current cut out, so too did the buzz of signs, the hum of air conditioners, the endless one-sided chatter of pedestrians on cell phones. The only sounds made were totally organic; the neighborhood felt like a movie set. It was at once spooky and beautiful.

I’ve become more aware of the sounds around me, and that awareness often helps me find stories (and a level of zen, when the sounds are right). I’m also less likely to be hit by a car.

So I returned to Shalom’s interview, a well-timed piece that goes along with the above WNYC video clip and this news story. Shalom is running sound-based walking tours of Brighton Beach in an exhibit named after Ukranian-born Futurist Aleksei Kruchenykh’s poetic ideal, Zaum, where the sounds of words themselves are holier than the things they represent. The interactive tour costs $25,  and puts participants more in tune with their environment. Just like music, the sounds of the city can evoke emotion and fill you with appreciation for one of the most under-appreciated of the five senses.

But, back to Sheepshead Bay, what sounds do you think are unique to our neighborhood? I can think of a number, but I’ll let readers weigh in first.

Elastic City’s “Brighton Zaum” is scheduled next for August 12 and August 23.