A new audio walking tour of the World Trade Center site calls on some surprising guides: the men and women who built the twin towers, worked in them or, in some cases, died in them during the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Ground Zero Sonic Memorial Soundwalk, released this month, melds 51 minutes of interviews, music and other "audio artifacts" into a self-guided tour. The goal is to give the public a way to connect with the site's history and pay its respects.
"After the attacks there was no 'there' there," said co-producer Davia Nelson. "You had all this emotion, all of this sorrow, but physically, what you were looking at was just a big, gaping hole." Nelson and her partner Nikki Silva are better known as the Kitchen Sisters, Peabody Award-winning producers of National Public Radio's "Lost and Found Sound." They co-produced the tour with Oversampling Inc., which has developed Soundwalks of nine other New York neighborhoods.
Among the recordings they've assembled here: a worker ruminating on how construction of the 1,360-foot-plus towers lifted him "in this air that nobody's ever been before"; the creaking of steel and glass as the buildings swayed in the winds of Hurricane Floyd in 1999; and wrenching phone messages left by a New York firefighter, a husband aboard hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 and an employee trapped on the 101st floor of the south tower as it burned.
Nelson acknowledged that the Sonic Memorial walks a fine line between preserving history and "exploiting people's deepest pain." Thus producers have gone to great lengths to show reverence for the site and respect for 9/11 victims and their families — both increasingly rare at ground zero as trinket hawkers, street musicians and camera-toting tourists descend upon the place as though it were any typical Manhattan attraction.
The tour, narrated by writer Paul Auster, tunes out such distractions. Interviews with historians, structural engineers and victims' loved ones are interspersed with music: folk-blues great Odetta singing "Let It Shine" in the World Trade Center plaza, pianist Ernie Scott at the Windows on the World restaurant and, in what serves as the main score, Stephen Scott and the Bowed Piano Ensemble playing a haunting piece at the Winter Garden.
The walk starts at St. Paul's Chapel and covers three sides of the site with clear directions, frequent stops at benches and excellent audio synchronization. Just as listeners pass through the revolving doors of the World Financial Center, for example, a former World Trade Center employee recalls how the thump-thump of her building's revolving doors was like a beating heart.
The Sonic Memorial Soundwalk is available on CD with a map ($24.95) at stores and museums in New York, plus at http://www.amazon.com and http://www.barnesandnoble.com . The audio can be downloaded from http://www.itunes.com for $12.95 or from http://www.audible.com for $13.97. Information: (212) 674-7407 or www.soundwalk.com.