New York City’s mayoral primaries were held last week, and I was apparently the only person in my electoral district to get on board for the great populist uprising… but, no matter. The rest of the city took care of everything for me.
For this primary (and only this primary), The Board of Elections wisely decided to bring back the vintage, 1960s-era, 900lb lever voting machines, which had been mothballed in 2009 after a decades-long effort to modernize the state’s voting machines. Why? The Board wasn’t confident of their ability to perform a recount using the new optical scanners, in the event that a runoff election would be called.
The largest manufacturer of the lever machines, the Automatic Voting Machine Corporation of Jamestown, NY, went bankrupt in 1983, the same year that the City of New York started to consider replacing the then-20-year-old machines with computerized models.
In an effort to upgrade antiquated voting technology and avoid a replay of the 2000 presidential election donnybrook, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act of 2002, sealing the fate of the Shoup and AVM lever voting machines. New York’s paralyzed legislature was still unable to act, though, so the Justice Department sued New York in 2006, and the optical scanners were finally introduced in 2009.
And now, after only 3 years, the lever machines are back en vogue. I’d meant to record the dying sound of voting via these machines, but got distracted by the hubbub of the voting process. Fortunately, my girlfriend was willing to help out!
I visited Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Voice Tunnel, a site-specific installation created as part of the NYC DOT’s annual Summer Streets program, which closes off Lafayette Street and Park Avenue to vehicular traffic from the Brooklyn Bridge up to 72nd Street for three consecutive Saturday mornings each August.
Voice Tunnel consists of 300 theatrical profile lights and 150 loudspeakers, set up in the Park Avenue Tunnel each morning and broken down every afternoon before it can be reopened to traffic. There is one microphone in the center of the 7-block-long tunnel, where visitors can record brief greetings, which then get replayed in a loop via the individual loudspeakers. Each loudspeaker plays a different voice recording, and each profile light displays in brightness that’s proportional to the loudness of the recording. Every 30 seconds or so the lights go dark and the recordings fall silent, and then the sound loops move down the tunnel by one loudspeaker, until they are gone.
Voice Tunnel, an extension of Lozano-Hemmer’s earlier Pulse Park in Madison Square Park, has been extremely popular. At 8:35am, I stood in a line that went from Park Ave and 32nd St all the way to Lexington and 34th. The fast-moving line vibrated with excitement.
What dawned on me only later (around, probably, 36th Street, underground) is that I was already part of the installation. From the moment we were allowed into the tunnel, visitors started snapping portraits and excitedly chatting with their friends as they slowly ambled through the tunnel. As the lights and recordings fell dark and quiet at regular intervals, I realized how hard it was to distinguish the voices of the crowds from the voices in the recordings. As I walked past each loudspeaker I could isolate the sounds (“I need a pie”, “My love to Lauren”, “New York is super incredible”), but they quickly faded into the din.
As we walked back into the open air and my fellow visitors continued yammering about their days, about Citi Bike, about Starbucks, I remembered, with a grimace, that unlike the recordings in Voice Tunnel, our cicada’s song is never hushed.
I started thinking about a new project recently — a personal database of environmental sounds. I started with a classic tune that will one day be unrecognizable (unless, of course, it becomes the only way we ingest nutrients in the future): the desperate, deeply tragic scraping sound one hears upon reaching the bottom of a Chipotle bowl. I’ll have more on this soon.
XOXO is billed as a “celebration of disruptive creativity.” And, jeez, it looks to be about as lovingly handcrafted as a festival can get.
Conference tickets sold out on Kickstarter in two days. XOXO and Kickstarter are upending the festival world in exactly the same way that Louis CK gracefully evaded middlemen and overhead by selling his own $5 comedy special online.
In honor of the fifth season of Mad Men, here’s George Segal’s unforgettable graveyard soliloquy from Bye Bye Braverman. Segal waxes rhapsodic about life in New York in the late ’60s — and it’s a pretty good primer.
If you aren’t familiar with Sidney Lumet’s masterful 1968 flop about four Jews who squeeze into a Beetle and drive all around Brooklyn trying to find their friend’s funeral, check it out now. It’s finally available on DVD.
I learned something fascinating from this video of Chuck Jones drawing Bugs Bunny: the studio’s budget for each film sometimes caused Bugs Bunny to wear two whiskers on each side of his face, instead of three.
I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been utterly consumed with Block Factory since Thanksgiving. (We’re hiring!)
As thanks for your patience, I’m super excited to introduce you to a thing we’ve made. Say hello to your new best friend, Considerating! Considerating is a quick, simple and effective way to get some peer review of your questionable human instincts. With Considerating, you can finally find out whether it’s okay to adjust someone else’s exposed sweater tag (spoiler alert: it’s not), comment on your roommate’s undergarments (nope), or roll into someone’s rural driveway with your headlights off (apparently okay!). You can even ping the universe about missionaries and grown adults in dog costumes.
New York has always enjoyed a unique fascination with the underground. There’s a lot of infrastructure down there, and over time more and more of it has become forgotten or obsolete.
Much of the mystique of the underground is focused on New York’s subterranean transportation, naturally. (Once you spend enough time waiting in a subway tunnel, your mind inevitably begins to wander.) The explosive early growth of the subway system would probably never have occurred without private investment and competition. Before the system was unified in the 1940s, three separate companies (the IRT, BMT and IND — acronyms still in use by most grizzled New Yorkers) developed distinct networks. (Sometimes, it seems, they even built tunnels out of spite: rumor has it that the abandoned lower level of the IND’s 42nd Street station, seen below, was built only to prevent the 7 train from extending further west.)
One neat thing you can do with abandoned subway stations is turn them into art! Frequent riders of the B/Q trains in Brooklyn will be familiar with Bill Brand’s Masstransiscope, a sort of inverted zoetrope installed along the northbound platform of the erstwhile Myrtle Avenue station between DeKalb Avenue and the Manhattan Bridge. With a traditional zoetrope, a user sees the illusion of motion by looking through the slits of a spinning cylinder at individual frames on the cylinder’s interior walls. With the Masstransiscope, the subway car does all the work, while the static frames are plastered on the platform walls and the slits are cut out of a wall installed at the platform’s edge. It makes for a stunning effect.
You can also turn abandoned stations into parks, apparently. A group of “urbanist entrepreneurs” is trying to develop an abandoned trolley terminal below Delancey Street into a cavernous park, which has been nicknamed the “Low Line.”
If you don’t care to wait for projects like this to come to fruition, you can always take a self-guided tour of the incredible original 1904 City Hall station by staying on the 6 train after its final downtown stop at the current Brooklyn Bridge — City Hall station:
If you’d like a more in-depth look, do not miss the New York Transit Museum, which is housed in the IND’s abandoned Court Street station. It showcases vintage subway rolling stock (seen below), turnstiles, tokens, porcelain signage and more. (If you’re more into buses, check out the New York Bus Festival, which accompanies the annual Atlantic Antic every September.)
Until recently, you could join a group of railfans, pop a manhole cover and descend into the long-lost Atlantic Avenue rail tunnel, completed circa 1844 and sealed off in 1861. Long abandoned and even considered apocryphal, the tunnel was finally rediscovered by Bob Diamond in 1980. Sadly, access to the tunnel was shut down by order of the NYC DOT last year.
For now, if you’d like to see most of New York’s hidden delights, your best bet is to flirt with the PATRIOT Act and take advantage of some good old-fashioned late-night B&E, like Andrew Wonder and Steve Duncan did in their urban spelunking video “UNDERCITY”: