Stephen Vitiello and Marina Rosenfeld

Audiences

MARINA ROSENFELD: I think it’s great when there are people in the audience who are members of the cognoscenti and who are keyed into these historical currents. But it’s just as important for me, if not more important, to reach the non-cognoscenti. I just don’t see what the point of it is unless you do. The kind of anti-populist argument I think is that you have to tone down what you do or in some way provide some sort of tempering aspect to it to appeal outside of a certain audience and I truly do not believe that’s true.

STEPHEN VITIELLO: Me neither.

MARINA ROSENFELD: One strategy for me has been if you’re not ready to be part of the audience for that piece, do you want to be in the piece? That’s a whole other level of engagement with a non-new music specific audience or a non-contemporary art specific audience. But that’s certainly not the only way. I think it’s extremely desirable that a work contains multiple avenues of entrance, that multiple doors are open.

STEPHEN VITIELLO: Otherwise we’re in our same little small group forever.

MARINA ROSENFELD: And who cares! I’d love to have you in my audience but if the whole audience is you…

STEPHEN VITIELLO: Then it’s useless…

MARINA ROSENFELD: Yes.

STEPHEN VITIELLO: One of the greatest breakthroughs with audience for me was having these two installations in Marfa, Texas, last year which is definitely a place that has a deep art history but also a local Mexican history and a local ranchers’ history. I had this large space, an old Judd space and had gone out with these cowboys and recorded coyotes. What became really interesting to me was actually the coyote calls—these little whistles with a picture of a smiling bunny [on them]—that actually made the sound of a dying baby bunny or a woodpecker with a broken leg screeching which would then attract the coyotes. I ended up trashing the coyote sounds and just making a piece out of reprocessing these calls in this really big, big room. I left and when I came back, this young guard, who was really this kind of sweet heavy metal kid, hunched over and said “Let me show you something.” He was searching through pictures of people that came in and there were Mexican cowboys laying on the floor with their cowboy hats tilted

Stephen Vitiello's Four Game Calls
Stephen Vitiello
Four Game Calls (for Fredericka Hunter), 2002
installation view at the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, TX
Photo by Markus Karstiess

over their faces listening… If anything, I expected to go there and connect to this known quantity of an art crowd, and I think this is what’s given me a lot of momentum to move forward.

Curating the project at the Whitney I really expected it to be important to influence the museum and connect for the curators the idea that sound does have a connection to contemporary art. That a work like Steve Reich‘s Come Out directly influenced Lip Sync by Bruce Nauman. There’s been this dialogue.

MARINA ROSENFELD: I think it did influence at least one curator at the Whitney, Debra Singer, to take sound and the performance of sound, even strictly speaking music, seriously in the context of the museum. And it’s been beneficial for ourselves and quite a number of other artists.

STEPHEN VITIELLO: What was surprising to me was how much it connected to a larger audience. It was a week-long show, and there was a really good article in The New York Times that talked about it and contextualized it. A lot of what was happening was you’d have this group, it seemed like there was a whole group of Bard graduate kids who sort of knew what they were coming to listen to, and then the door would open and there’d be an older couple wearing suits who looked like they’d either come from work or were on their way to work and they saw this room full of people laying down and they sat down. There was such a distinction. You’d look around the room and there’d be people from all sorts of different places who were listening. It was very much a communal environment that I never expected. I sort of thought that if I was very lucky that group of graduate students would take it to the next level, you know listening to John Cage would take them to another step. But what I didn’t realize was that it would help build a larger audience. I’ve seen this with video art over time too. In the mid ’80s, if you’d go into a room where there was a video art show, there’d only be a couple of people there and one of them would be sleeping. But over time, it was put out more and more and more and a large audience came to it that either found it and knew it was interesting or had such exposure to it over time that they got into that language. My hope is that with all the things coming up in New York this spring—the conference at Cooper Union, the stuff at The Kitchen and the Sculpture Center, Diapason, Art in General—it’s going to do that again. They’ll be a home for people who are interested in this but also people will be caught by off-guard or by stumbling to the wrong room, or go because they’re interested in an architect and then not only get exposed to that architect but to connections between architecture and new music which is what the Cooper Union conference is specifically about. It will just keep growing.

MARINA ROSENFELD: I hadn’t put it all together that all these things were happening at the same time. It’s very encouraging. I think also it’s also such a bad time because of the political situation right now. There are so many reasons to stay home; perhaps, in the spirit of paradox, that’s why there seems to be a renewed interest in going out. And that’s always good for music because one thing about music is that it still has one foot in the world of going out and being something special. Now, we can have music everywhere…

STEPHEN VITIELLO: But it’s a very different thing to enter an immersive environment or something that you’re working on which has a performative quality and a very striking visual. It’s just not the same taking that CD home into your private shell, or even worse putting it on an mp3 in your iPod.

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