Location of Max Neuhaus’ sound installation “Times Square.”

Some would accurately describe Max Neuhaus as a “sound sculptor.” His installation, “Times Square” below the subway ventilation grates on a slab of land between Broadway and 7th Avenues (45th & 46th Street) has been a little-known attraction since 1977, emanating huge sound to the select few who purposely or accidentally experience it. We previously covered the work in our roundup of subway art along the 1/2/3 lines, but thought it was worth a separate highlight.

The late percussionist had this to say about his installation in 2002, “The piece isn’t meant to startle, it’s meant for people who are ready to discover. In fact, I never do a work where everybody stops and notices it in a public place. I want at least 50% of the people to walk through it without noticing it, without hearing it.”

Depending on where you stand on the grate, you have a different experience of his work. It is made from a machine installed below the surface, which amplifies the sounds of the chambers of the subway vent. Neuhaus said:

What delighted me was in fact these short tunnels over here because each one has its own resonance and is a little different in length. The sound that is heard on the surface isn’t just the sound that I’m putting in here, it’s what the sound does to this chamber.

This intricate and understated work of art uses Times Square as an instrument, while adding an interesting and unique column of sound to the jumbled cacophony around the lit up intersections. The location in question seems to be a mere isolated sidewalk, with an uninteresting subway grate above it; how many times have you been there without noticing the sound? The next time you’re in Times Square, take a second and become distracted by Neuhaus’ installation.

In his 2009 obituary, the New York Times ran this quote from him: “Traditionally, composers have located the elements of a composition in time. One idea which I am interested in is locating them, instead, in space and letting the listener place them in his own time.”

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