Arriving at night you step out into a world surrounded by huge concrete cliffs and filled with teeming masses of people who are all unique, all have their own stories and all part of a colossal organism. Blood vessels in the veins and arteries of the city they swim in the same direction, bicker at the fact the guy in front’s going slower, laugh, scream, dance and move, constantly building and rebuilding the city through their thoughts and words. This is the world on a grid, this is information distilled and fired straight at you and when you get to Times Square, and it seems that everyone here, eventually, does, that you realise what it really is;
Time Square has a deep bass note of history, which, appropriately, lies at the bottom of it. The news tickers on One Times Square told the city that Apollo 13 was home safe, that President Kennedy was dead, that Obama had won. They stream constantly, liquid graceful LEDs that set the tempo for the rest of the city, news, sport, gossip all flash by at the same speed, the information super two step that on it’s own would be hypnotic but here, is just the start.
The billboards come in next, high, wide notes of color and aspiration that tell you the lies they’ve told you for years. That this TV show will change your life, that these dangerously skinny supermodels actually drink Pepsi Max. They play with motion, one series showing a single dunk shot executed by five different players, each stage a different man, each stage a little higher, a little closer. Aspiration is hard coded into every image, each one reaching and encouraging you to reach, to try, to tune in, to buy something. Different themes, different notes bounce and roil around each other, all built on the constant, liquid bass of the news ticker. Information. Information, In-for-May-SHUN.
Above them, New Yorker’s faces are projected on a screen six storeys tall as part of a Toshiba promotion. Above that a parade of manga cartoon bombs, all shiny black iron and lit fuses cascade down a screen over and over again. Next to them the Glee cast prepare to graduate, above them the Louvre lights up over and over. This is the New York Ode to Joy, a tenor dripping in neon and concrete amplified by a square where information runs so deep and so fast you feel like you could swim through it. Music that’s miles wide and sixty storeys tall, music that you’re a vital part of and one of millions of identical notes, all crammed into the right place on the page. A million stories in the naked city and they all contain each other, a hotel room in a hotel on a street on a square on an avenue on a grid on an island. An urban fractal, every element contained within every other. A piece everybody plays and everybody listens to.
That’s why so much of this feels so familiar; because it is. Looking out of the 41st storey window, it’s impossible not to map the city into the obscurity of fiction. Somewhere out there, Detective Mack Taylor’s CSIs are working a new case, whilst at a nearby precinct Detectives John Munch and Finn Tutuola spend another shift dealing with the worst humanity can do to itself. Go up a few blocks and the last place Jack Bauer was officially seen alive echoes with gunfire and the promises of silent, dutiful vengeance.
Across town at Central Park, a time lost Disney princess leads residents in song whilst not a mile away, the original Will Graham runs down the Guggenheim spiral away from the original Dr Hannibal Lecter, a modern artist of murder contained in a museum of modern art. Across on the other side of the park, Peter Venkman talks to the thing that has taken up residence in Dana Barrett whilst a few buildings over, Tony Stark turns to Pepper Potts and asks what she thinks about a mansion instead of a tower. She suggests they talk about it over dinner and on the way they pass through Hell’s Kitchen. A red suited figure plays among the rooftops, keeps pace with their limo for a while, an unofficial honour guard. He hands off to a scrawny motormouth dressed like a spider who dances across the rooftops as Pepper and Tony drive on, past the Cloverfield memorial, past the coffee shop where six new people are starting to come together, past the site for the proposed new Baxter building. All fictional, all fake, all information and all utterly, completely New York. Spidey’s town, Sinatara’s town, Batman’s town, Gershwin’s town. All here, all unique, all apart and all connected, all woven into the movements of concrete and steel, yellow cab and squad car, residents and visitors, fiction and reality. Notes on sheet music, words hammered out on an old typewriter, the endless liquid stream of information at Time’s Square One. This is a symphony in Avenue Major. This is New York.