Time Out New York / July 29–Aug 4, 2010

Stephen Vitiello
THE HIGH LINE

Public art regularly loses the battle for attention to competing attractions and distractions, but the persistent din made by construction workers’ drills, West Side Highway traffic, oblivious passersby and a hundred other sources adds to Stephen Vitiello’s project by making listeners more sharply aware of the complex aural patchwork that then becomes the urban soundscape. Occupying the least prepossessing section of the High Line currently open to pedestrians—a tunnel between 13th and 14th Streets—Vitiello’s disarming audio installation does exactly what its title suggests: Every 60 seconds, speakers broadcast the sound of a different bell recorded somewhere in or around New York City. A map locates each one and lists it by start time, from 00.01 GOOD STUFF DINER COUNTER BELL to 00.59 NY STOCK EXCHANGE CLOSING BELL.

Vitiello once made a recording of the World Trade Center creaking as it swayed in high winds, sounding rather like a galleon at sea. Here, he again makes the modern metropolis seem oddly antique. Each bell rings out for a few seconds, its overtones then fading away until the next chimes in. And at the top of every hour, a bell chorus echoes through the space, bringing those present to a delighted standstill.

This might be the ultimate test of the hard-core New Yorker: Can you pick out McSorley’s rhythmic last-call clatter, or correctly identify the resonant clong of the Coney Island Dreamland bell? But even visitors and newcomers will respond to this sensitive and engaging transformation of site through sound.

Image: Stephen Vitiello, A Bell from Herald Square (photo: Jason Mandella)