There’s an art installation in Times Square that’s meant to be found by accident. It has no labels anywhere, no explanation, it is merely an experience meant to be stumbled across in the middle of one of the most sensory-heavy, chaotic intersections in America.
It’s nicknamed “the hum” and it’s installed under a metal vent grate in the pedestrian island on Broadway, between 45th and 46th streets. It’s been there since 1977, out of commission for most of the 90s and restored in 2002. Created by Max Neuhaus, it’s the only survivor of his various sound pieces from the 1970s.
It was Neuhaus’s idea that the work never be labelled. He wanted visitors to find it themselves, to imagine that they’re the only ones to ever have found it.
The noise draws you in once you are on the traffic island. It’s a combination of low, droning tones, calming and loud enough to be heard over the hubbub of the place at any time of day. And it is a permanent installation, maintained by the city since Neuhaus’s death in 2009. For most of 2015, it was inaccessible as Department of Transportation construction surrounded the island, but it was never turned off, and as of the beginning of May, access has been restored. Once more, visitors to New York can have their moment of revelation in one of the most unique art installations in the city.