We certainly try, but capturing the sound of the city is a tall order, even and especially for those of us who are usually most concerned with these things. To most regular New Yorkers—those more likely to spend their Friday evenings in a park than at a concert, for example, or those who take the 7 instead of the L—panhandling doo-wop singers and clarinets echoing across Bleecker are a much bigger part of the sonic texture of NYC, as important as the street vendors and traffic din. And yet these musicians have often been ignored, largely because many of them don’t have publicists and fancy album release shows, nor web sites and YouTube accounts. In some cases, they don’t even have safe homes to return to when they’re done performing.
Either way, enough is enough. Welcome to “Cast In Concrete,” a new series in which Sound of the City publishes recordings and commentary focused on a traditionally under-served population of musicians: the buskers playing their hearts out for your pocket change deep down in the subway stations, surrounded by trees in the park, and on dirty street corners all over New York. I’ll come find you, musicians; just grab your instruments and get out there. Leads are welcome.
The cast of characters you’ll read about here can usually found in places like the plaza at the south end of Union Square or beneath towering skyscrapers in midtown, but that only partially explains the title of this series. More importantly: these songs could just disappear into the ether forever if nobody pays attention. I view this undertaking in much the same way as a folklorist, an archivist, or an anthropologist, in that posting the songs here solidifies them and turns them into something tangible and approachable for the rest of the world, perhaps saving a killer solo long after the fading sound waves from the saxophone that emitted it finally disappear completely somewhere over the East River. Here we hope we can preserve them, and even help them find the audiences they deserve.
That’s where you, the audience, come in—this will only work if you actually download the songs, and listen, and think carefully and critically about them and add them to your music library. Even though they might come from a guy playing for tips in front of an open guitar case, there’s no reason you can’t treat them exactly like the treasures you might discover anywhere else. This series can serve as the connection between your headphones and the finest impromptu performances in Washington Square and on Bedford Avenue, most of which you probably can’t be physically present for. So I’ll be out there wandering around with my microphones until further notice; stay tuned for the results.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 7, 2011