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David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (Burning House), 1982, spray paint on paper, 24 × 17 7/8". © The Estate of David Wojnarowicz.

NEW YORK POST-PUNK was not a sound. It was sounds—plural, and loud enough to be visceral. The music of this polyglot city spoke in tongues: forked tongues in cheek, the alien admixed into the familiar, like something too slippery for language and better conveyed in the furtive, desperate gestures of absurd and random sonic violence. Yet the silence that descended on the city at night with the hush of a criminal was in turns haunting, liberating, and scary as hell. From deep inside this absence rose new kinds of music in the late 1970s and early ’80s that at once caught the quietude in the rustle of some perpetual insomnia—making more of John Cage’s silence than could be imagined—and echoed the din of the dying day. If there was an “aesthetic,” it was happenstance: the sum of neighbors arguing, car horns screaming their urban impatience, trucks downshifting, a chaotic

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