This sonic tour of Times Square begins with what sounds like a wave of sonic booms – the clacking machinery of an ancient factory maybe, or an old diesel locomotive…until you realize: Oh, that must be Pamela Z singing. She’s the composer of “Times³ (Times x Times x Times),” which is an opera; or at least, it is one of the six works presented this month as part of the ninth annual Prototype Festival, which showcases what it calls “visionary opera-theatre.” To the uninitiated, Times3 might not sound like an opera. It doesn’t much sound like Times Square either.
Written with Geoff Sobile, the show offers 30 minutes of audio on Soundcloud. The astute listener can pick up odd tidbits of history, culture and geography – “it’s not really a square; it’s more of a bowtie shape”; there are four streams that converge beneath 45th Street — voiced by nearly a dozen New Yorkers who know what they’re talking about: historians, city planners, a journalist, a choreographer. But they sometimes speak all at once, or compete with a trumpet, violin and cello and a chorus of “Times Times Times…” or “Rumble Rumble Rumble….” And the New Yorkers are just as likely to offer random sentences as erudite observations — giving somebody directions or making a food cart recommendation.
This is not audio drama, or audio documentary; it’s aural impressionism, and it grew on me. I wound up listening to it twice. I suppose the jumble of sounds and voices reflects some of the radically eclectic energy of Times Square, pre-COVID.
No audio could fully capture Times Square the way it is now, though. The Elmos who dominate the streets there now are silent.
Times³ (Times x Times x Times) is available on demand for free through January 16.