This month, MoMA opened “Soundings: A Contemporary Score,” its first major exhibition of audio art. It’s caused quite a buzz, reminding us that New York City is just as full of sounds as it is of sights. For those eager to start listening, we’ve rounded up three experiences that will help you do just that.
Elastic City: The Lesser-Known Sounds of Times Square
Brave the tourist-saturated plaza most New Yorkers avoid religiously for a unique chance to hone your listening chops. On this 90-minute ramble, multimedia artists Nina Katchadourian and Andrew Zarou invite you to tune in to the more subtle sonorities often lost in the locale’s blaring cacophony (for example, semi-melodious church bells and chatter from costumed characters). While the full itinerary is a surprise, Attendees can expect to traverse the hallowed musical ground of the Brill Building, where Burt Bacharach and Marvin Hamlisch penned some of America’s most beloved tunes. And if you’re aching to exercise your pipes someplace other than the shower, you’re in luck: Katchadourian and Zarou will lead the group in vocal response to the melodic menagerie at various points throughout the walk. Meet at 1515 Broadway and 45th St (347-829-7779, elastic-city.org). Tue 20, Thu 22 at 7pm; $20.
If you’re not one for crowds or schedules, plug in your headphones and strike out solo with a self-guided sonic tour of the Manhattan, Brooklyn or Bronx ’hood of your fancy. Founded in 2000, Soundwalk recruits local experts to share factoids and anecdotes about the Gotham haunts they know best. It now boasts an array of 14 audio guides, combining field recordings with musical selections that capture an area’s personality. Stroll through Bryant Park to soak up the sunshine and the musings of native New Yorker Matthew Broderick, or head to the Bronx River, where Def Jam Recordings cofounder DJ Jazzy Jay delivers a history of hip-hop, punctuated with early samplings of the genre. For a more sobering experience, opt for novelist Paul Auster’s tour of Ground Zero, which memorializes the September 11 attacks through voicemail messages, eyewitness accounts, interviews and music. Visit soundwalk.com for MP3 and iPhone downloads; $1 each.
Max Neuhaus, “Times Square”
To experience world-class audio art without paying MoMA ticket prices, look no further than the pedestrian island on Broadway between 45th and 46th Streets. The concrete oasis is home to an audio installation—originally built in 1977, removed in 1992 and returned in 2002—that’s a boon for anyone who tingles at the thought of a good secret. Traipse across one particular subway grate and you’ll be swaddled in an electronic hum that mimics the after-ring of a church bell, generated by a computer system hidden directly below. You’ll need to listen carefully to catch it: Neuhaus, the late, pioneering sound installation artist, designed the piece for “people who are ready to discover,” noting that many passersby will miss the low-pitched sound as it’s absorbed into the intersection’s general roar. Broadway between 45th and 46th Sts (diaart.org). Free.