Sound Art @ High Line

While visiting High Line, we stopped to listen to the new public art installation – STEPHEN VITIELLO, A BELL FOR EVERY MINUTE

It is basically sounds recorded across the city (photo: map showing the locations), and each sound echoes in the underpass at a certain time.

Via High Line – Artist Stephen Vitiello presents a multi-channel sound installation entitled A Bell For Every Minute for which he has recorded bells all over New York City and beyond. Sounds range from the iconic rings of the New York Stock Exchange bell, the historic Dreamland bell (recorded days after it was discovered in the water off Coney Island), the United Nation’s Peace Bell, and more everyday and personal sounds of bike bells, diner bells, and neighborhood church bells. During park hours an individual bell rings each minute from speakers placed throughout the tunnel space where it is installed, the overtones fading out as the next bell begins. A chorus of the selected bells play at the top of each hour, filling the space. The sounds are represented on a physical sound map that identifies the location of each bell, allowing the listener to follow the geographic journey of the recordings. Collectively, the bells are a microcosm of the urban landscape as they relate to the sounds captured throughout the daily life in New York City. The site becomes activated by the composition, and invites the passerby to engage with the High Line and its connection to the city around it

It made me think  SOUND is an element of the cities that people might not really be aware of and it’s impact.  The white noise of cities disturbs me at times.  I think it adds to the stress – there is a reason people “escape for the peace and quiet”.

  • I remember someone proposing the question “what would happen if cars were quiet??”  I distinctly remember walking on Ann St in Brisbane (4 lanes of traffic) which was a planned boulevard and thinking it is not just the width, but the noise that makes it especially not nice to walk on.
  • One upset day I found myself in my favourite space in High Line, which is the grove of trees near the wooden stairs that over 10th Ave.  After awhile I left with frustration, noticing the giant air-conditioning vent on the building beside me.  I wanted peace that day.
  • While taking a break and killing time on Gold St (Financial District), it was generally quiet with no traffic but I also got that same annoying hum of air conditioning
  • In Toronto, my apartment was a condo building.  I remember I had once been in the bath, slide down to sink my head in the water wanting the quiet.  Suprising it was noisier.  Submerged underwater the building’s central air and vibrations echoed in my ears.

Sound and noise as nuisance is something I have seem get addressed in infrastructure/road projects and in relation to music venues, but to further look at sounds of cities could be an interesting urban planning exercise.   How about the idea of quiet cities? Passive buildings with air conditioning whirls.  Streets with bikes not engines.  Water features to create calming white noise. I remember in Toronto how much snow deaden sounds – I use to love the moments I found that in.

I think it was my friend Paul K, who recorded snippets of sound as a way to document a vacation once which I found a fascinating thought. Urban design feels like it is often a lot about “sight” (looks) but deconstructing, mapping and analyzing by different senses would be interesting different way to think about cities.







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