September 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
In the boiler house at Mass MoCA, you can hear the detritus of the building’s industrial past cry out to visitors. Thanks to sound artist Stephen Vitiello, that voice will become more audible.
Vitiello has crafted a sound installation for the space, utilizing the talents of local author Paul Park for a spoken word component that features the voice of former Sprague Electric boss John Sprague drifting in and out of the aural experience.
The piece, “All Those Vanished Engines,” opens on Sunday, Sept. 25 at Mass MoCA.
“The text was really important to making the piece, but when you hear the piece and you walk through the building it’s not front and center,” Vitiello said. “Just every once in a while a voice will come from different places, sometimes very expected places like big speakers, but other times comes out of little pipes or tubes or a broken tank.”
Vitiello devised his portion of the work out of sounds that he gathered in order to match up the experiences in the text and create a kind of timeline that he could work off of. His approach saw him considering the building, with its tubes and pipes, as a dormant, giant instrument begging to be played.
“A lot of the sound are soft, warm, muted percussion sounds,” said Vitiello. “But actually what they are is me walking through the building with a rubber mallet and tapping and playing parts of the building and recording that and playing it back in various forms in the installation back into the building itself.”
The complete piece is a 16-minute long loop, sent out through 20 audio channels into 30 speakers, almost all of which are invisible to the eye.
“Every speaker is a distinct channel so as you move close you might be hearing something that’s very different from what somebody’s hearing a level above you,” Vitiello said. “It really does change as you move through the piece and the piece is always changing, so you could come three times and experience it very differently each time.”
Vitiello gathered his sounds almost entirely from North Adams, which include recordings of trains and voices. He also utilizes analog synthesizers that create a bed of electricity within the piece, as well as manipulated voices. Sometimes Vitiello would use a high tech mic system designed to work like a stethoscope, picking up sound from vibrations as he touched the surfaces in the building.
“I don’t tend to tap into a library as much as create a library for each project,” he said.
Vitiello thought of himself primarily as a musician until 1999, which saw a residency in the World Trade Center that introduced him to the power of sounds wrought by a partnership of wind and human structures. He found himself concentrating on and recording the sounds of the building creaking and swaying with the furious wind, the sounds of airplanes in the background. It was an artistic awakening for Vitiello.
“That was a big milestone for me in my career,” Vitiello said. “For the 10 years leading up to that residency, I had been doing a lot of soundtracks for video artists and choreographers and filmmakers and having that residency at the World Trade Center was really this time where my whole practice changed to becoming my own artist rather than being a collaborator, and to dealing with site-specific approaches to sound rather than always responding to somebody else’s project. And so having that studio and listening to the building and listening to the building as an ongoing field recording really set up the future of everything I do.”
When the buildings were destroyed a couple years later, Vitiello was living near them and his relationship with them grew deeper long past their end.
“All the rescue workers entered and left every day, my daughter being newborn at that time, so it’s beyond the larger impact — the personal was there as well,” he said.
Vitiello made a conscious choice not to record any of the sounds during that period despite ample opportunity. His gut reaction was also to decide that he would never use the sounds he recorded during his residency ever again, and even ignored publicity calls seeking them out.
A month later, however, a number of the artists who had held residency at the World Trade Center came together at the performing arts center The Kitchen in order to share their work inspired from their time there. Vitiello decided to share his recordings there with the plea that they not be shared or exploited in any way.
“The way the audience responded was overwhelming,” said Vitiello. “They said ‘you’ve got to keep those out in the world, but you have to be careful how you put them out there and how you contextualize it.’ ” In 2002 Vitiello presented a recording from the building made after Hurricane Floyd broke as part of the Whitney Biennial and it became the first work of sound that the Whitney had acquired in three decades. The piece will be included at PS1 in New York City as part of a show commemorating the 10th anniversary of the destruction of the towers.
One of Vitiello’s most recent works involved a trip to Australia, where he combed the Outback for sounds that became part of an installation in Sydney. Vitiello utilized his recordings with three abandoned kilns and 13 tons of red earth from the center of the country to create a symphony of wind, wildlife and water.
“When I was there it was purely to work on field recordings,” Vitiello said. “Other projects will integrate more language or other kinds of instrumentation, but field recordings have definitely been a large part of my work for about 12 years now.”
With his sound work occupying such a personal space in his life, Vitiello must work to pull himself out of soundartist mode and keep himself in a human one, not analyzing sound, but taking them naturally.
“Sometimes I can slip and let that happen just in terms of knowing a lot about music production and a lot about sound design for cinema,” he said, “and suddenly finding that I’m listening to a record but I’ve stopped paying attention to the song and I’m paying attention to how cheesy the reverb is or I’m really aware that those people are not singing together. And that spoils the illusion of enjoyment, and I don’t want to interfere with my own pleasures at times.”
“Hopefully when I do listen really carefully — or listen for work or listen for pleasure or listen to make sure there’s no rabid dog chasing me through the park — my ears have been attuned maybe more so than others who haven’t paid attention to sound as much as I have.
February 19, 2010 § Leave a Comment
As part of the Amazing Acoustaphotophonogrammitron at MCLA Gallery 51, artist Christy Georg has contributed “Monitoring The Dunes.” Like much of her other work, sound is but a component within a work that gathers various styles of sculpture — both kinetic and otherwise — to create items that evoke a history that they perhaps never had.
“Monitoring The Dunes” stems from a residency in New Mexico, during which Georg created “Instruments of Calibration and Ascertainment,” which showed at the Roswell Museum and Art Center. It was created from video shot at the White Sands National Monument, the world’s largest gypsum dune field — a 275-square-mile desert — and a missile testing site for the military.
“There’s hardly any life out there at all when you drive out in the heart of it,” said Georg during a recent interview. “The only thing that you experience is the sound of wind, and it’s constantly shifting the sand dunes around — that and the super bright sun. I swear that the bottom of my chin and the inside of my nose got sunburned out there.”
Georg’s apparatus in the piece works like a stethoscope and is meant to listen to the sounds of the shifting sand dunes — some of the dunes move as far as 30 feet annually — while they are utilized also like a pair of forearm crutches. Georg is literally walking on sound in the performance.
“The stethoscopes connect to my ears, and I have to lift my body up over them, so I’m using the endurance of my body and the ability to hold myself up on them and wobble around a little bit to engage them,” she said.
Sound was originally incidental in her work, which early on involved the creation of kinetic sculptures.
“It wasn’t necessarily the driving force behind it,” she said. “It would be a sculptural activity, and one of the byproducts would be sound.” « Read the rest of this entry »
February 7, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Sound artist Lesley Flanigan might build her own electronic instruments, but the resulting work is more of a partnership with the equipment she has configured. She has moved into a different type of sculpture, one that seems intangible but in her experience is wrought through the very physical medium of circuits and resistors.
As a sound artist, Flanigan began her journey by fashioning a new musical instrument but eventually transformed that into a electronic choir that she not only conducts but also collaborates with.
Flanigan is a graduate of the ITP program at New York University, which afforded her the opportunity to work with analog electronics for the first time. It was this experience that allowed her to see electricity as a physical thing.
“When I started building little amplifying circuits, I was able to actually hear what would happen when I used a resistor or I used a capacitor,” she said during an interview this week. “It’s so much more of a direct relationship between this invisible electricity and what was actually going on.
“One of the ways that I would test these little amplifying circuits — really basic little amplifying circuits — was to take the piezo and the speaker and get sound out of them. At first, it was like hitting the piezo with my hand and just hearing it come out of the speaker. At some point the piezo touched the speaker and this crazy sound came out of it, which was feedback — but it was more than the sound of feedback, it was that the piezo bounced on the speaker and I could really play with it. Suddenly this whole cerebral experience became a very tangible, physical experience that was something that I related to instantly.” « Read the rest of this entry »
July 11, 2008 § Leave a Comment
From his work with his band The Books to his own creations, artist/musician Nick Zammuto pursues the idea that you can see sound. Zammuto’s upcoming installation at the Williams College Museum of Art, “Laser Show: Six Perspectives on a Chaotic Resonator” is the latest incarnation of this pursuit. In it, Zammuto employs six lasers, a screen, a hand-fashioned mirror, a speaker and low frequency soundwaves to create a collaboration that has the lasers put the soundwaves into visual form.
For the piece, Zammuto has mounted six lasers onto the speaker. The sounds from the speaker cause vibrations that move the lasers, which are aimed towards the oddly-shaped mirror that he has create from flexible mirror material that you can get at any auto parts store. Different frequencies cause different types of vibrations — when the beams bounce from the mirror to the screen, it creates patterns to be viewed from the other side.
“It draws pictures in a screen, a rear projection, so when you walk into the gallery you see a screen with fixed laser points and they’re all moving,” said Zammuto. “When you look at these six pictures relative to one another, you can tell that they’re related, they’re looking at the sound from different perspectives.”
Zammuto has found that he can predict pictures, it just takes research and testing to figure out what sounds make what movements — from there, he’s moved onto combining sound in order to get more complicated imagery, as well as create patterns that will change. He then uses audio software to catalog what visual each sound causes in order to create a rhythmic, visual composition.
“If I’m just using sine waves, I can get circles or figure 8s, pretty simple lines, depending on the frequency,” said Zammuto. “If I put another sine wave on top of it, say two octaves or three octaves or two and a half octaves above that, then I can get a second frequency riding on top of the first one, so there’s a flower-shaped thing, that’s the combination of two simple frequencies. I can change the volume over time to create pictures that are either growing or shrinking and I can ramp the frequencies up and down so the pictures change over time.” « Read the rest of this entry »
July 7, 2005 § Leave a Comment
The Contemporary Arts Center is presenting its Berkshire Biennial Art Exhibition this Friday through Aug. 11, gathering several area artists — including Samuel T. Adams, Linda Mieko Allen, Edward Cating, Paul Chojnowski, Peggy Diggs, Peter Dodek, Julie McCarthy, David Ricci, Barbara Groves, and Adam Zaretsky — under one roof.
Several of the artists took the time to speak about their work.
Holding a mirror up for America
Williams College student Meleko Z. Mokgos pulls from his former home of Botswana and the world at large for his work. The two paintings he is showing pull from his social and political concerns and constitute not only a concern that he wishes to pass on to people who might not be aware of the depth of despair in parts of the world, but also an expression of what he has witnessed living in Africa.
“This work deals with the atrocities occurring in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Israel and Iraq,” said Mokgos. “I cannot try to feel or rationalize how that 13-year-old Sudanese girl feels or thinks as a consequence of being raped or having witnessed her mother being raped and abused. I cannot say I have experienced the sensations of not eating for four days in a row, nor can I vividly see with firsthand experience what Robert Mugabe (president of Zimbabwe) has done to his people. But I try to communicate these events and some of the emotions to change something”
Mokgos takes raising social awareness as his major artistic goal, not by instructing people’s thoughts and beliefs, but by holding up a mirror to the world, one that reveals the ugliness that has defiled human countenance — especially to the citizens of his current residence, who he feels needs to connect better with the tragedies infecting the rest of the world.
“A majority of the American masses have become consumed by mass culture, by Cadillac and the Red Sox,” said Mokgos. They lack awareness what is going on around them and even in their own country. By not addressing Robert Mugabe with the same urgency that he addressed Saddam, Big Brother showed that he really doesn’t give a s–t about anything he cannot benefit from.”
Mokgos’ paintings portray hurt faces and abusive routines that are common in the countries he takes as his subjects. He hopes that being exposed to the raw faces of the world beyond our borders will awaken something in Americans that goes beyond an economic system of self-preservation at all costs.
“Economic self-interest is undoubtedly the backbone of capitalism, the American dream,” said Mokgos. « Read the rest of this entry »