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Lockdown Brings a Post-Apocalyptic Silence to Major Cities

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 quarantine orders across the globe, many major metropolitan areas and popular tourist destinations have been left looking like a scene out of I Am Legend. But while the footage of those now relatively empty places is eerie in its own right, hearing them without their normal chatter and cacophony of movement really seals the post-apocalyptic vibes. Just listen to these audio samples collected from people in places like London and Los Angeles for a sense of what the world would sound like after the departure of humans, but before the arrival of nocturnal mutants.

Sounds of relative silence in Times Square in New York City. 

Boing Boing picked up on these silent spot soundscapes within major cities, which were captured by colleagues of nature sound recordist Gordon Hempton. Hempton, who refers to Earth as a “solar powered jukebox,” specializes in recording “steadily vanishing natural soundscapes” such as “Nature’s Largest Violin in Washington State’s Olympic National Park and the especially chirp-tastic Pipestone Canyon. But thanks to the quarantines, Hempton has turned his attention to the newfound silence in cities.

Sounds of a mostly empty LAX airport in Los Angeles. 

According to a recent article Hempton wrote for Atlas Obscura, he says that “It seems like there’s nothing that hasn’t been affected by this [COVID-19] crisis, including the way the entire world sounds.” He adds that this is due to the fact that “Passenger air traffic has declined dramatically, streets are almost empty, and most people are staying home.”  Above, for example, we hear Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)—which saw more than 88 million people pass through it in 2019—as being nearly devoid of human interaction.

A soundscape marked by a near total lack of human interaction in Covent Garden, a shopping and entertainment hub in London. 

After reaching out via social media to his sound recording colleagues around the world for samples of newly quieted urban areas, Hempton says he received 50 submissions. The ones posted in his Obscura article—the same ones posted here—are those that he felt stood out as especially interesting. (We checked Obscura’s and Hempton’s Soundcloud pages to see if there’s an additional archive, but as of this writing, we could not find one.)

Sounds of very chirpy nature near India’s Chandra Bose International Airport.

Looking (and listening?) forward, it doesn’t seem like Hempton wants these recordings of relative urban silence to continue, despite their delivery of once-in-a-lifetime soundscapes. This is because the nature recordist wants the world to return to normal. “While I’m fascinated by this new quiet that has swept the globe,” Hempton writes, “I’m looking forward to the time when quiet is again hard to find.”

A once-bustling Grand Central Station in New York is now mostly silent except for announcements over the public address system. 

What do you think about these relatively quiet soundscapes from major metropolitan areas around the globe? Have you heard any soundscapes in your ‘hood that have been particularly eerie? Tell us what your corner of the world sounds like in the comments!

Feature image: Prayitno