A multi-disciplinary designer’s journey in field recording, sound design, and music.

San Francisco’s Quiet Surprise

Posted: October 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: field recording

On this day, the City was quieter at 1pm than it was at dawn.

I work in San Francisco. It’s one of the world’s great urban centers. Imagine my surprise when I took the subway to the financial district and walked for two full blocks and heard…well, not much.

It was 1pm just off the Financial District on a weekday, and I heard almost no talking, no horns, and very few “hard sounds.” All that came to my ears was the occasional footsteps of a non-talkative passerby, the sound of a water jug being put on a hand truck, and of course traffic. There was plenty of sound, sure, but it was a wash of hushed tones, very diffuse and distant voices, nothing jarring like you’d expect near one of the great cities of the American West. On lunch hour, no less.

Here’s an example. I’m walking this whole clip, but wearing my quietest shoes (my sweet camo Chuck Taylors, if you must know), so any footsteps you hear are passers-by. This kind of hushed background ambience would be a great layer to which more specific hard effects could be added to achieve a certain mood.


[Zoom H2 recorder]

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3 Comments on “San Francisco’s Quiet Surprise”

  1. 1 Colin Hunter said at 2:04 am on October 3rd, 2010:

    Interesting stuff Nathan. It’s amazing how quiet it is. Was that a weekday or during the weekend? Funnily enough, I just posted a similar article yesterday on my blog about my feelings of the relative calmness in Paris. If your interested, you can find it at http://audioloungesound.com/blog/2010/10/noise-pollution/

  2. 2 Nathan said at 5:26 pm on October 3rd, 2010:

    @Colin, great recording! Almost a relaxing hush, for a city, anyway. Very cool that this came up at the same time. In answer to your question, this was a 1:30pm on a weekday, hence my surprise..!

  3. 3 Colin Hunter said at 4:58 am on October 5th, 2010:

    @Nathan, yeah it’s funny that both recordings of San Fransisco and Paris seem almost alien to what we associate as ‘urban’ ambiances. There are elements which tell us straight away that it’s a city (footsteps on concrete, distant traffic etc.) but both recordings are eerily quiet. Great stuff!


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