Stephen Vitiello’s Bells

Since opening just over 16 months ago, the High Line has transformed New York City life – providing a middle ground between bustling New York street life and the city’s skyscrapers. It’s a place to reflect, full of interesting sights – and since June – new and interesting sounds.

These new sounds are courtesy artist Stephen Vitiello, whose sound installation A Bell for Every Minute, will be in place through June 2011. It’s part of the park’s Public Art initiative. Vitiello says that inspiration for the bells came from a trip to the High Line before the space had opened.

“I was approached by Creative Time, one of the commissioning organizations,” Vitiello says. “They brought me up to the High Line a couple of times before the park was open to the public.”

Once up there, Vitiello, who lives and works in Richmond, Virginia, allowed himself to daydream – something many great artists do. He found himself wondering what types of bells he would have heard when the meatpacking district was for meatpacking and not a lot more.

“As my mind wandered,” he says, “I thought ‘Why not record bells from all over NY and create a piece that mapped the city through bells?'”

I visited the High Line to check out Vitiello’s work one recent crisp fall night – the perfect time to wander around the portion of the High Line where the sound installation can be heard. A Bell for Every Minute consists of recordings of iconic New York City bells – everything from the New York Stock Exchange bell to the United Nations Peace Bell. More mundane bells are included, too, such as the bike bells most pedestrians have heard as they step off a curb.

The bells chime together, hourly, and throughout park hours one or two at a time. There’s also a “sound map” that allows visitors to see where the sounds they’re hearing originated.

This all happens in the park, in a space between 13th and 14th streets reminiscent of a cathedral ceiling. After thanking me for checking out the piece, Vitiello went on to say that it feels great to be involved in such an iconic project such as the High Line. He’s definitely a fan of the space that he’s co-opted for the installation.

“The light is so nice coming off the Hudson River,” Vitiello says. “The High Line always feels lively and well used, and still special.”

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