Thursday, July 23, 2009

Five New Ways to See New York

Photo courtesy of Mikeleeorg, via Flickr.

Even if you live in New York--actually, especially if you live here--you know there are parts of the city you haven't seen. Or, you might have seen them, but not like this.

Founded in 1998, Soundwalk creates New York walking tours, but not the cheesy, touristy kind. These are works of art: Sound-sculpture audio tours you can slap onto your iPod while you wander the streets solo. As the producers put it, they're "cutting-edge audio guides in which the listener is able to step into the life of a narrator as they guide you through their neighborhood streets and local hang-outs. Soundwalks mix fiction and reality in a cinematic experience, giving the listener the impression of actually being in a film." Best of all, you can get them cheap (or sample for free) on the Soundwalk Web site. My favorites are the Bronx Graffiti tour, an award-winner, and the Times Square tour, led by Timothy "Speed" Levitch, who happens to be the subject of one of my favorite documentaries, "The Cruise" (1998).

Here are the five Soundwalk tours you should take while it's warm! (Descriptions are from

1) Times Square
"Relive Times Square's golden era, stroll through the neon lights of Broadway with a backstage pass to West Side Story and the VIP rooms of the once glitzy restaurants and jazz clubs. Enchant your ears with music while feasting your eyes on billboards and marquees, feeling the cultural clash and fickle mood of this iconic landmark. Dare to venture in the sleezy world of peep shows and sex shops, but be careful, you might like it."

2) Bronx Graffiti
"For some, it is called vandalism, for most, it is art, yet graffiti art has cemented its place in urban culture, our culture. Appreciate it, recognize the styles, learn what tagging really stands for, where it comes from. The 5 train will lead you to this neighborhood, which was once avoided. Walk past old-school music stores and barbershops and indulge in art, graffiti art, your own street museum."

"Fade in. Glistening cobblestone streets flow between factory warehouses and huge artist lofts. Our protagonist walks through this discreet and empty neighborhood, observing Manhattan's skyline, the silence deafened by a train on the Manhattan Bridge. The sun is trying to hide behind Manhattan, causing long, oblique shadows. Through a crack in a boarded window is a sculptor, passionate about his work..."

4) Ground Zero
"Forever synonymous with courage, solidarity and resilience, Ground Zero is the nickname of the area formerly occupied by the Twin Towers. Voicemail messages, interviews, eyewitness accounts, live music, audio artifacts... this intense, not-to-be-missed memorial tour will take you through the lobby's revolving doors to the piano bar at Windows on the World to St. Paul's Chapel... Old and new stories from the World Trade Center and its neighborhood."

5) Women's Hasidic Walk (For all the dudes out there, they also have a Men's Hasidic Walk)
"Shalom and welcome to the Jewish quarters of Brooklyn. Hipsters have brought a new interest to this neighborhood but had it not been for the faith and tradition of Hasidic Jews, it would barely exist. This fascinating walk will give you the opportunity to see their customs up close and personal..."

P.S. If you're headed to China, France, India, or Germany, Soundwalk also has some sweet tours for those. Next, I'd like to see some for Italy...

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