Stephen Vitiello

New York

at Museum 52


Stephen Vitiello’s show “More Songs About Buildings and Bells” drew on two earlier projects by the musician and sound artist, both made in New York. In the gallery’s front room, five wall-mounted speakers emitted a composition of bell sounds. Church bells, bells from the Aqueduct Race Track, bicycle bells and cat collar bells are mixed with environmental sounds like birdsong and traffic. Titled Bell Study #2 (2010–11), it comprises some of the 120 “field recordings” Vitiello made in and around New York for A Bell For Every Minute (2010), his long-term installation on Manhattan’s High Line. Vitiello offers some visual accompaniment: at the very front of the room, a pair of photos taken at the Good Stuff Diner (showing a counter bell next to a receipt pad) and the New York Stock Exchange (a bright red “secondary bell” button with a gavel alongside it) provide the most direct clues as to source material. It is up to the listener to identify the rest of the bells, allowing the work to be colored by memory of past sound experiences.

The show’s other major work, in the gallery’s back room, was the video piece World Trade Center Recordings: Studio View (1999–2011). In 1999, Vitiello was an artist in residence for six months as part of the World Views program of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Over six months, Vitiello, from his studio on the 91st floor of Tower One, took videos of the views and made sound recordings that captured the crack and thrum of the building’s movement (including those caused by the strong winds of Hurricane Floyd in 1999). Shot through the tall glass windows—where Vitiello affixed contact microphones for his recordings—the video shows lower Manhattan, the Hudson River and adjacent New Jersey as day fades into night.

In the series of edited clips on view, varying from several seconds to a few minutes in length, the camera charts the sunset bleeding into the water, zooms in on a water taxi bobbing at the dock and follows the traffic on the New Jersey side of the river. On the soundtrack, one hears the droning vibrations of the building itself, layered with city sounds and traffic.

Vitiello has said that his World Trade Center project was on his mind when he prepared for the High Line work. As installed at Museum 52, Bell Study #2 informed the piece made from the WTC recordings of more than a decade ago, though not intentionally: from the back room, the strongest tones of bells could be heard through the thick curtain that divided the small space. Considering Vitiello’s relationship with the towers, World Trade Center Recordings: Studio View carries a deeper poignancy—enhanced by the emotional connotations of ringing church bells—now that the buildings are gone.

Photo: Stephen Vitiello: Secondary Bell, 2010, C-print, 16 by 20 inches; at Museum 52.