STEPHEN VITIELLO: I often baulk at this idea of being a composer—not coming from training or not working with a score, I feel a little presumptuous. But then there are things I that I know are very composed, even a selection of collaborators. So much of my own training is really through being a collaborator with visual artists. Now if I make a record and I bring in Pauline Oliveros and David Tronzo to play, who are in sort of different camps, I’ve already heard their sound in my head in relation to my sound. I present them with parameters or structures or maybe just certain instruments or pitches that I know they will respond to. So for me it’s not that I compose a work for slide guitar, accordion, and photocells, it’s that I composed a work for David Tronzo, Pauline Oliveros, and my own setup. The person who’s pulled a musical quality out of me more than anyone else is Pauline Oliveros. The experience of working with her since 1998 has really changed my ears as well as confidence as a player and as a creator, an awareness of sound overall. She’s someone who’s missing from a lot of the history books.
MARINA ROSENFELD: I was on a panel with her last year at Hampshire College about Women in Experimental Music. There were seven or eight people. She was the sort of eminence gris of the panel and it was great to hear her talk openly about her coming up and what she did as a young artist because she has a very established and very particular place today and doesn’t have any need to defend her position at this point. She’s certainly carved out her own territory. It was great to hear her talk about forging forwards under hostile circumstances in the ’50s and ’60s.
STEPHEN VITIELLO: She’s been at it for so long and she knows her place in history. I think it needs to be rewritten to the point that she gets properly acknowledged. A lot of my favorite artists and the artists who moved me most, it’s almost more because of the personality that comes through a body of work. So, it’s not like there’s some classic piece of hers for me; it’s more what’s she’s done overall, what she’s given. When I met her at this festival, we were flying home, I asked her if I could study with her. And she said, “No, but I have a concert next week with Joe McPhee and you’ll play with us.”
MARINA ROSENFELD: That’s trial by fire!
STEPHEN VITIELLO: It really is. She networks people in a way that she knows they’ll profit from and she’ll profit from: there’s a sound that will be valuable to her and there’s an experience that will be valuable to me. Any other time she’s set up one of these trios, it’s almost always because she actually has this idea that the other artist and I will go off and work together afterwards.
I guess that’s where I connect to music. The part of me that still connects more to music and is distinct in my head from sound art is in collaborative concerts, records… It’s so much about the dialogue. I just finished this record with David Tronzo. He had been my guitar teacher in the early ’90s and I deeply admire him. This was a way to do something together and speak to each other through two very different techniques. And this is what is most enjoyable to me, rather than working isolated in a room, which for the sound art actually makes sense, but I find it antisocial when working on music.
MARINA ROSENFELD: Music is not fully activated as music without more than one body there. We have increasingly solitary experiences of music because of the Walkman and headphones…
STEPHEN VITIELLO: …and laptops…
MARINA ROSENFELD: …but there is from antiquity the notion of music as social, as well as mathematical and intellectual. Another artist that I to cite is Marina Abramovic, someone whose works were totally about experience, and much more about experience than some of the composers working contemporaneously with her, especially the duo work she did with Ulay. I think I learned more from those pieces than—I’m not going to trash any particular composition—hyper-systematized serial work that was the equivalent avant-garde at that moment. I was really missing a certain point to it, as far as my own relationship to it goes. But Bruce Nauman, Marina Abramovic—Merce Cunningham in a different sense—all were very much engaged, not just with experience, but with systemizing of elements that I think of as composition. So for me the leap back to composition from these different places was very immediate and quick and made sense.
STEPHEN VITIELLO: They’re all really dealing with physicality as well as structural ideas which I think connects both of us and how we approach sound art.