The Chicago Atmosphere

Chicago is a very interesting city. The 2.72 million people that populate it are very versatile. Depending on which section of Chicago you are in, the language and general soundscape changes drastically. This makes for a very unique sound library that draws out the great and unique elements of Chicago that are not found anywhere else. At the same time, these sounds can certainly be used to create any city soundscape to help tell any urban story.

Millennium Park

Millennium park consists of people that are most likely traveling and just visiting the city. While recording for about an hour in Millennium park, I heard Arabic, Spanish, English, Chinese, Korean, French, German, and many other languages that I did not know. This group of people certainly demonstrated a happy vibe that was not found everywhere else in the city. Aside from the crowd populating the iconic 'Bean', the park radiates with distant city sounds from Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive.

The Loop

Moving further into 'The Loop' of Chicago, you start to hear more of the business crowd. Lots of people, not much talking. Everyone is either on their phones or they are simply trying to get to where they need to be. The shuffle of feet on the gritty sidewalk inhibit most of the sidewalk noise. Aside from the people in this location, the traffic also reflects a rushed atmosphere with much more honking horns. 'The Loop' is the heart of the above ground El Trains. So naturally, this area contains one of the most signature sounds of Chicago... The El. Aside from the clickety-clacks and metal screeching sounds of the train passing over your head, the El always tends to make this one nasty screech (about 1.3kHz) right before it stops and when it starts up again. This screech, in my opinion, is really the most signature sound found only in this city. Northwest Memorial Hospital is located by the Old Water Tower (off of Michigan Ave.), just north of Millennium Park. Because of this, sirens can be heard in a close vicinity bouncing from skyscraper to skyscraper creating an ominous feeling.

North Chicago - Near Old Town and Lincoln Park

This area is inhibited by mostly the younger generation. The life here, therefore, is more populated and loud at night. Sports bars and clubs radiate into the rumbles of the city. Given that Depaul University is located in this area, college kids are the most seen type of people on the El as well. 

West Chicago - Logan Square

The outskirts of Chicago can alway get kind of sketchy... certainly later at night. I managed to venture over the the West Side around 9:00pm one night. There is actually not much to be heard in a close vicinity. Most of the sounds here are compilations of distant sirens bouncing from building to building, distant screams and yells, untrained vicious dogs, and a generally dark sounding city. Low income housing in this area draws in the shadier crowd, which actually reflects in the soundscape much more than I anticipated.

Lower Wacker Drive

An underground freeway... interesting concepts make for interesting sounds. This takes the average tunnel to a whole new level. Cars, trucks, and ambulances plummet through this cement passage at 50-60mph. This creates a blaring mess of sounds that is almost indiscernible. Wacker drive also facilitates the need for fast deliveries to the skyscrapers above. Along side the highway, there is a side street where an endless line of trucks are stopped. These trucks are dropping off deliveries, picking up trash, and distributing mail that comes from a multitude of large elevators form the buildings above. Again a very unique sound for this as well. 


From rich to poor, loud to quiet, close to far, and trains to cars, the Chicago Ambience library was certainly a unique experience. I have found this extremely useful for my own editorial and design and hope that it can be useful for others as well!



Technical Note:

For this library, I used a stereo pair of the Schoeps CMC6's with the MK2 H capsules for all of the the atmospheric sounds. I typically gear toward a wide spaced pair to capture a nice wide space that usually translates the best on the stage. All of these recordings were recorded at 24bit, 192kHz then mastered at 96kHz.