Part art installation, part social experiment, this strange sound in the middle of Times Square is not to be missed—even though it’s missed every day.
Times Square has a few very noticeable features. Bustling crowds, bright lights, honking car horns and shouting vendors. The sights, sounds and sensations have long pleasantly overwhelmed unaccustomed visitors to the world landmark, even as they make local eyes roll.
But one feature is known for being unknown.
It’s a hum—a strange, hard-to-identify sound resembling a distant moving and clanking of heavy machinery or some other technological machination not found in natural settings. It’s deliberately concentrated on a singular pedestrian island in the middle of the busy intersection, and the most observant of passersby will undoubtedly notice it.
In fact, the noise is deliberate. Rising up from what seems to be beneath the street, the hum was originally an art installation by Max Neuhaus, called Times Square, created in 1977 without signage or notification essentially to see if anyone on the world’s busiest street would notice. And like any piece of unmarked art meant to catch the attention of the public, almost no one did notice.
The hum has since become a tradition, and the stuff of legend, as almost anything that lasts for decades with little formal marking does. It was finally removed by the artist in 1992, only to be restored once again by a collaboration headed up by the Dia Art Foundation.
And thus there it remains: The strange, unavoidable, barely noticeable humming noise heard by thousands of people each day with only a minute portion of them actually noticing.
Some people say art isn’t art unless it makes a statement. Times Square fits this criteria, even if its statement is a constant stream of nothing, noticed by no one.