Compass Song

Mendi + Keith Obadike

Turn your walk through Times Square into a journey through a song. Artists Mendi + Keith Obadike have stretched fragments of music, poetry, stories, and myths across the pedestrian plazas and surrounding blocks in all four cardinal directions, for visitors to discover whether they’re exploring the neighborhood or simply on their way to work. The result is Compass Song, an app-based public sound artwork inspired by Times Square’s rich history as the Crossroads of the World. Compass Song was commissioned by and created in residence with Times Square Arts.

As you turn on the app, plug in your headphones and walk through Times Square, a voice will accompany your wanderings with poems about searching for freedom, reflections on navigating the city, and cross-cultural myths about the cardinal directions, woven through with quotes from and reworkings of Walk With Me, the African-American spiritual turned Civil Rights freedom song. The voice in Compass Song is always underscored by a drone, a unique harmony that translates the latitude and longitude data for Times Square into sound and modulates as you walk north, south, east, or west. Interspersed with this are vocal performances of the sounds of Times Square, as if the city itself is singing to you.

Compass Song is centered at Duffy Square, with sounds spread between 49th Street to the north, 42nd Street to the south, 8th Avenue to the west, and 6th Avenue to the east. Let the map guide you within the active soundscape to seek out more of the audio experience, or wander through the district using only the app’s compass to happen upon divergent sonic elements.

A special kick-off performance exemplifying the Compass Song experience will take place on Wednesday, July 12th on the Broadway Pedestrian Plaza between 45th and 46th Street. Sixteen performers will vocally recreate the city’s sounds as they hear them and then begin singing the freedom song Walk With Me as they divide into four ambulatory groups, each group walking off in one of the cardinal directions. The audience is encouraged to follow whichever group they choose, finding their own individual viewing and listening experience across the landscape of Times Square. Like the app itself, it is an invitation to meditate on the process of finding yourself at a crossroads and choosing your path.

Image courtesy of Mendi + Keith Obadike.