A Virtual Jaunt Through Sound Art in New York

If you happen to be in City Hall Park at noon on any day of the week, you'll be treated to an unlikely sight: someone will unlock a glass vitrine near the fountain, pull out a shiny chrome bullhorn, and shout into it "It's never too late to say sorry." Your mind might reel with pangs of guilt, confusion or curiosity. Don't fret as this odd intrusion on the workday is just Elmgreen & Dragset's contribution to the exhibition "Common Ground," which explores the nature and function of municipal monuments, and gives a burst of optimism to a crowd of lunch-eating busy-bees.
Intended to initiate a series of chance encounters with visitors the The High Line, this 1992 composition presents a film—a series of abstractions of light that move across the screen—along with a sound work. Of the sound installation, Cage wrote, "10 is an orchestral work. It is divided into seventeen parts. The lengths of the seventeen parts are the same for all the strings and the percussion. The woodwinds and the brass follow another plan. Following chance operations, the number of wind instruments changes for each of the seventeen parts." You can see this work daily from 1-11 p.m. at the west 14th street passage.

Photo: Austin Kennedy, courtesy High Line Art
This installation by the late sound artist Max Neuhaus, who coined the term 'sound installation,' is one of 14 of his sound works currently installed around the world. On a pedestrian island in Times Square between 45th and 46th Streets, it kind of sounds like the whir of an airplane's engine, but more harmonic. It's hard to find though since, as with all of Neuhaus's installations, it is unlabeled. You may feel odd making the effort as everyone is rushing around you, but the discovery of the sound will give you a small thrill.
The halls of the Clocktower Gallery are lined with electronical units that look like old phones that have been defaced, with their interior circuitry exposed. These objects, or what the artist and musician Peter Edwards calls "NovaDrones," emit droney sounds, which you can change by fiddling with nobs on each unit. And if you set your iPhone to its 'film' mode and hold it up to the small light at the top of the work, the phone's screen will fill with colorful striations that move according to the soundwaves. These are par for the course for Mr. Edwards, who received his BFA in sculpture from The Rhode Island School of Design in 2000, and explores experimental music and instruments through his outfit Casperelectronics. You may see him around the gallery as he's currently in residency there, but feel free to experiment with these gadgets. Discovering these instruments on your own is kind of the point, and the magic, of the show.

Photo from NovaDrone: Rozalia Jovanovic
"The spider, the bat, the tapeworm," said a disembodied voice as we sat on this bench at The High Line. The voice, which had a British accent, was reading off a list of "bad animals" in Uri Aran's sound installation near 25th Street, a one-and-a-half minute recording that thankfully also lists good animals like the swan, the elephant and the mongoose. If you miss the bad animals, or the good, stick around. This odd little recording plays on loop and just might make you stop in your tracks.

Photo: Rozalia Jovanovic

If you happen to be in City Hall Park around noon, you might hear someone shout through a bull horn, “It’s Never too late to say sorry.” If you step on the right grate in Times Square, you’ll hear a harmonic whirring that has nothing to do with Con Ed. Those colorful blobs on the benches of Madison Square Park? They’re not just weird visual candy. Go near them, touch them even!, and they’ll emit an eerie hum. With these and other such sound-filled works popping up in parks around New York, as well as seemingly random locales, the city has never seemed more abuzz with sound art. Because we don’t want you to miss out, here is a brief virtual jaunt through some of our favorite works currently on view. But we suggest you opt for the real thing as what’s missing in this slideshow is, well, the sound.

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