Keith Obadike, associate professor of communication at William Paterson University, and his wife Mendi have teamed up with Times Square Arts to create a free, app-based public sound artwork inspired by Times Square’s rich history as the Crossroads of the World. The app, Compass Song, officially launched Wednesday, July 12.
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. All of this is interwoven with quotes from “Walk with Me,” the African-American spiritual turned Civil Rights freedom song.
“We kind of anchored Compass Song around this,” Professor Obadike says. “It’s about trying to find your way, and asking for spiritual guidance … We broke up that song in different ways, and I really like that about the project – it’s literally, ‘walk with me,’ but also a deeper call.”
Keith Obadike specializes in integrated media art as well as the design and study of sound. The professor and his wife perform under the stage name “Mendi + Keith Obadike,” and they have previously exhibited and performed in The New Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitechapel Gallery of London, and the New York African Film Festival, to name a few.
Mendi Obadike’s 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.
“We hope that people will hear the space in a new way,” Professor Obadike says of Compass Song. “We tend to think of Times Square as a visually driven place.”