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Professor Enhances High Line with 'A Bell for Every Minute'

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The High Line on the West Side of Manhattan attracts a relaxed, good-natured crowd to its winding, elevated pathways. Built in the 1930s as a railroad track designed to route freight trains through the city above busy streets, it was transformed last year into a public park with wild flowers, concrete pathways and benches. The park, which has proved popular with locals, takes visitors on a path that affords both majestic views of the Hudson River and New York skyline and intimate views of the narrow neighborhood streets that it runs above. The natural landscaping and lofty remove from the city bustle below creates an easygoing, winsome atmosphere.

Stephen Vitiello, a New York native and associate professor of kinetic imaging at VCU, has added a new note to the experience. Vitiello, a renowned sound artist, devised “A Bell for Every Minute,” a new site-specific work that opened at the High Line in June. Vitiello, an admirer of the High Line, is excited to be a part of the park.

“It’s one of the coolest places I could ever have an installation,” said Vitiello, who has installed works around the world.

Vitiello’s project, which will run for one year, involves the sound recording of 59 bells taken from across New York City and beyond. The bell sounds emanate from speakers placed throughout a semi-enclosed tunnel on the path that runs between 13th and 14th streets. At the beginning of each hour, all of the bells ring simultaneously, creating a sort of “chaotic joy,” Vitiello said. Then, an individual bell rings each subsequent minute, so that all 59 bells are heard each hour.

The bell sounds include famous rings such as the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, the United Nations Peace Bell and the historic Dreamland bell, and less celebrated but still familiar ones such as a bicycle bell, a diner bell, a neighborhood church bell and the bell on a cat’s collar. A map identifies the origin of each sound while it rings.

The response has been positive. Vitiello said he has been hearing from old friends and students in the city who have experienced “A Bell for Every Minute” and let him know that they enjoyed it. He also gave an artist’s talk when the installation opened and was surprised to find hundreds of people on hand. 

When Vitiello first visited the High Line, before it had been opened to the public, he was struck by the location’s history as an industrial area and reflected on “the sounds that once inhabited the space.” He saw bells as a way to convey that history, while integrating the wider city and its many sources of sound. He knew bells could be a subtle addition to the High Line that would enhance the experience without being intrusive.

Vitiello said he also saw bells as an accessible, easily identifiable sound that would be a good fit for a diverse public. The variety of bells allows people to make their own individual references and associations. And the wide use of bells enabled Vitiello to represent a range of cultures in the piece.

“Their sounds speak to all sorts of people,” Vitiello said.

“A Bell for Every Minute” is a project of Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and City of New York Parks & Recreation.