Steven Vitiello: More Songs About Buildings and Bells

Sound Art Installation at Museum 52

By: - Jan 20, 2011

World Trade Center Studio Window Good Stuff Diner Secondary Bell City Hall World Trade Center Studio Window

Steven Vitiello
More Songs About Buildings and Bells

Museum 52
January 12 - Feburary 12, 2011
4 East 2nd Street at Bowery, New York City

The haunting and serene sounds of city bells recorded and arranged by sound artist Steven Vitiello remind me of life's poignant and beautiful moments. I have been encountered by these sounds as long as I have been conscious of my experiences walking the streets of the city, yet never from the atmospheric perspective that the artist presents in his work More Songs about Buildings and Bells. This new installation is the result of the artist's culmination of two previous recordings, A Bell Every Minute that is the artist's field recordings of New York City's bells and a video taken from his residency in the World Trade Center's Tower One in 1999. The video and the new sound piece both edited by the artist, will be seen for the first time at Museum 52 in the Lower East Side of New York City.

The city of New York and its boroughs are full of chiming bells not only from churches like the sampled Trinity Church, but from the last call bell at McSorley's Old Ale House, bicycle bells, the starting bell from the Aqueduct Race Track, and other variations of ringing bells, 120 of which were recorded by Vitiello. Through hearing this composition I know I missed something previously in my experiences exploring New York City, my current home. The spiritual feeling that came over me was apparent the moment I sat down to view the piece. The hustle and bustle of the city is removed and all that is left is the tonality and lingering of the ringing bells.

A beautiful yet chilling feeling enveloped me, bringing my mind to an altered state of consciousness. I closed my eyes and was swept away by the beauty and subtly of the numerous tones and textures created by the chiming of the church bells. How many people miss the opportunity to take in such tranquil sounds in their daily lives? As a sound artist and trained musician, I am always looking and listening for layers in my daily experiences, finding a deeper connection between what we hear and how that affects our experience. By singling out specific frequencies and ranges we can change our patterns of hearing, thus altering the shape of our perspective.

This is exactly the feeling I got from Vitiello's sound piece. I was promptly enticed to close my eyes and get swept away towards a dreamlike environment with familiar audio archetypes arranged in completely novel ways. With the bells Stephen Vitiello creates an alternate experience to our previous connotation of ringing bells. It is hard to believe that all these sounds are coming directly from New York City and it is amazing how constant the ringing of bells are in the city. And then about 5 minutes into my trance, a siren from a fire truck outside the gallery reminded me where I was, on the Bowery.

The video installation in the back gallery shows the contact microphone and audio equipment placed on the window of the World Trade Center's Tower One and a calm and chilling documentation of the cityscape, now existing only through this video a decade after 9/11. Viteillo was the recipient of a WorldViews residency in 1999 where he set up a contact microphone on a window facing the water, and explains that the first sounds he heard were of church bells of in the distance. The video work primarily focuses on the sounds that are projected from the Hudson River and the city across the river. The contact microphones affixed to the window on the 91st floor result in a unique recording that combines the building's consistent humming of electronics with outside noise. From the video we can see the images that juxtapose the cacophony of sounds.  

In many ways this project is a memorial to the towers and the city, hoping for a peaceful harmonic perspective in an urban environment overburdened with throngs of commuters, sirens, pigeons cooing, and car engines roaring. These sounds are truly beautiful and holistic; it is a triumph over industrialization and contemporary depression and anxiety of post-9/11.