Stephen Vitiello’s Collage Enviroment (MP3)

All field recordings are alien, even the most familiar. A close-up recording of a bug or an ice cube has sonic resonances, inherent threat, surprise facets, that are utterly apart from daily experience. To bring a microphone close to something is to witness it at an unprecedented level of detail, and to listen to it closely is to hear things that one simply doesn’t associate with the object at hand.

This is no less true of environments than of objects. As an experiment, record your daily commute and listen back to it later; you’ll be astounded by the sounds you hadn’t noticed. In many ways, the more familiar the place or object recorded, the more dissociated the experience, because as time passes we take sound for granted; we listen through the familiar, and our ears focus on the occasional unfamiliar.

Stephen Vitiello, the musician and sound artist, frequently employs field recordings in his work, both sonic and visual. For an exhibit earlier this year at the Davis Museum and Cultural Center in Wellesley, Massachusetts, he took sounds from three diverse locales — “Australian outback, the Canadian wilderness, and New York City’s streets,” according to the museum, as well as “Virginia marshes” according to a story in the local newspaper — and created an installation score that is all of those places and none of them. Elements of the real world are ever-present, from rough noise to ambiguous jangling to industrial whines to what may be moving water andor traffic, but they’re less snapshots or documentation than they are just that: elements, parts of a whole given meaning through manipulation and context. The work is a collage lent a semblance of constancy thanks to what appear to be added effects, tones like those from a dying organ, and whirring buzzing like the sound design of a science-fiction film.

The idea of sound design is central to the score, because it served as part of an immersive environment, titled “Something Like Fireworks.” The Vitiello music was composed to be played in a lit space designed by artist Jeremy Choate (see the photo above). Theirs is a staged place, an unreal place, a fictional reality created by artists.

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