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A Bell For Every Minute

Barbie on the High Line

Sarah Sze’s “Still Life with Landscape” is one my favorite exhibitions on the High Line. As readers of this blog know, I tend to get sentimental about certain exhibits, notably Stephen Vitiello’s “A Bell For Every Minute,” which I still miss. But the point of the public art program is that new works continually appear, and in order for that to happen, old favorites have to come down.

Sze’s work has been attracting birds, butterflies, bees, and humans in huge numbers since it debuted on opening day of section two last year. Even the occasional dog stops by to have a sniff (see photo gallery). Barbie selected Sze’s piece from all of New York City’s landmarks as the location for her latest fashion shoot.

I’ve been photographing “Still Life” all year, jostling amongst the many tourists who stop, in surprise and delight, as soon as they reach it. I love the architectural quality of this piece; it makes the perfect bird feeder, but it also frames several standout buildings with its boxy pattern of steel girders:  London Towers, General Theological Seminary, the Empire State Building, the Guardian Angel Church.  Most wonderful of all, it brings the birds up close. Even New York’s pigeon population — normally happy to perch on a prosaic lamppost — has discovered Sze’s work, along with the sparrows, mourning doves, and other feathered friends.

Mourning Dove

The piece comes down at the end of June, so be sure to pay a visit between now and then. To learn more about Sarah Sze and her work visit SarahSze.com. Check out the gallery to see more photos.


Pollyanna Pitches a Fit

My friend Tom says “don’t be a hater” (he has teenagers) and normally I agree but I can’t play Pollyanna any longer. I have to say it: I hate the “talking” water fountains on the High Line. The first time I bent over to take a sip of water I practically smashed my camera when the fountain barked back at me. If it quoted Shakespeare’s Cleopatra (“I dream’d there was an Emperor Antony…”) I might feel differently but this stuff is ridiculous. Honestly, what is this all about? Hydration? Really? I hope no one with a heart condition gets thirsty on the High Line.

I can’t remember a time I was critical of the High Line. Maybe I thought my encomiastic posts would last forever; that is was impossible — or at least really, really hard — to find fault with a place where they manage, day in and day out, season after season, section after section, to get things right. But we lost Stephen Vitiello’s “A Bell For Every Minute” and this is all we get in return?

I’m bringing a water bottle from now on. And I’m dreaming of winter when it’s so cold that the audio track freezes. Or the whole frackin’ fountain is just shut down. “Condemning shadows quite.”



Goodbye Bells

I went to a wedding yesterday that was held in a field just a few miles from the Ashokan reservoir. The gentleman who officiated spoke of the Ashokan  — the deepest of several upstate reservoirs that provide water to New York City — as a metaphor for the reserves that each of us needs in a marriage. It’s the source we can always turn to, if we’re lucky to know that it’s there.

Of course I thought of the two bells from the Ashokan Center, a place dedicated to teaching about nature, history, farming and the arts in the Catskills, that ring every day on the High Line in Stephen Vitiello’s “A Bell For Every Minute” exhibit. The first bell rings at eleven minutes past the hour and it’s a sleigh bell. The second is the dinner bell, and it rings at thirty-nine past.

Tomorrow Vitiello’s exhibit goes silent. It’s been a great gift to visitors on the High Line, an audio map of sounds from all over New York City and slightly beyond. All that’s left to say is thanks to this artist for his wonderful sound track, and to the Friends of the High Line for making a home for it this past year.

I’m sad that Vitiello’s exhibit is coming down — for me it has been a defining part of the High Line experience — but there are a million sounds to hear in the big city and what this exhibit did was remind us to listen. There’s no more artistic narrative — 59 bells every hour, with a chorus at the end — just the noisy cacophony of this great city.

To learn more about Stephen Vitiello, visit his website here. Or check out his sound cloud here.


Readers of this blog know that I have been mourning the impending loss of Stephen Vitiello’s “A Bell For Every Minute” exhibit, which comes down on June 20th.  But you can be consoled by a very cool exhibit in the new section of the park — at around 21st Street — by the artist Sarah Sze. There’s a way in which this is a “living” exhibit: there are trays with seeds to attract birds and orange and apple slices to attract butterflies. And the little bird houses in the sky make a nice contrast to the sturdy human abodes that you can see in the distance, through the exhibit — the stately water towers of the Lincoln Towers apartment building and the Empire State Building.

I caught this fella, a house wren, early this morning. If you were a bird, isn’t this where you’d want to be?



Stephen Vitiello’s Bells From the Hudson River

Today is the first day of the Atlantic hurricane season, and this afternoon New York City was under a tornado watch. This made me think about a story I read about the Frying Pan lightship that’s docked at Pier 66a just a few blocks from my home and in view (I think, but won’t know for sure until next week when section 2 opens) of the High Line.

The Frying Pan was stationed at Frying Pan Shoals, 30 miles off Cape Fear in North Carolina. The boat, a lightship, was designed to be a floating lighthouse that would guard other ships and help them avoid running aground on shoals or submerged rocks. On the Frying Pan’s website you can read an account by a former captain of how the anemometer was literally blown away by Hurricane Donna. The boat and crew withstood 50 foot waves and a roll of 70 degrees. Someone else on the website describes life on the Frying Pan — which was launched just a few years before the elevated railroad we know today as the High Line opened for business — as “filled with months of boredom followed by minutes of pure fear.”

For a short time — until June 20th — you can hear the Pier 66 Maritime bell at 31 minutes past the hour, every hour, in the 14th Street Passage of the High Line. It’s part of Stephen Vitiello’s wonderful “A Bell for Every Minute” exhibit which I am so sad to remind you will close later this month. Get there a bit early and you can hear the bell of the noble John J. Harvey, a retired NYFD fireboat that steamed down to lower Manhattan on September 11th, 2001, to try to help put out the fires at the World Trade Center; the Harvey assisted the NYFD in evacuations and then returned to pump water from the Hudson River because the water mains downtown had been damaged by the terrorist attacks. That boat has a stately history too, which you can read about at fireboat.org.

So much New York-ness, present and historical, to be heard in Vitiello’s exhibit. Get there while you can; once it comes down it’ll be gone for good and won’t exist in any form on the web. The pdf of Vitiello’s “sound map” is here and won’t go away, but it’s silent. The bells are glorious. I wish they would become a permanent part of the High Line.


It’s a marvelous day for a bird bath

Tonight is the big bash that Friends of the High Line is hosting to celebrate next month’s the opening of Section Two. For the past hour or so ladies and gentlemen in black tie have been parading past our little patch on 22nd – 23rd street. Ho hum. More interesting: even the birds decided to clean up their act for the big night. These little guys were having a lovely bird bath in the sun deck area.

And did I mention that it’s 7:13 and Atlantis, a child’s toy phone, is sounding in Stephen Vitiello’s exhibit A Bell For Every Minute. See here for the sound map.

Note to the Friends of the High Line: can’t you find a way to keep this wonderful exhibit in the park?


The Bells, The Bells Are Calling…

I’m trying not to be obsessive about this, but I have a feeling that many people will look back on the early days of the High Line when the bells rang, minute by minute, and remember that these were the glory days. Or, as Aretha Franklin might say, “the good old days, the good old days.”

I started this post at 7:46, consulted Stephen Vitiello’s “sound map” and discovered that at this moment the bells of Kettles & Co. are sounding.

I didn’t know what this meant so I Googled them and came here, to a website that explains that Kettles & Co. is “New York City’s leading percussion, timpani and celesta global rental service.” This company rents out instruments that I couldn’t possibly describe — “3 octaves of almglocken,” “5-octave Schiedmayer Celestas, Estey Harmonium, Jenco Keyboard Glockenspiel, Pedal Glockenspiel, Bass Chimes for Mahler, Shostakovich and Berlioz,” and many others with equally inscrutable names. On the company’s website you can watch YouTube videos of orchestras using Kettle & Co. instruments.

When I began this post — now ten minutes ago — a “Swiss cowbell” was ringing.

Where else are you going to find this????

The High Line is set to open its new section next month and the blogosphere is clanging. (See 0:54: New York Transit Museum, subway bell.) But no one is talking about what we will lose in the process.

You have six weeks to enjoy “A Bell For Every Minute.” It’s hard to imagine that the good people who run the High Line can come up with anything even close to this remarkably wonderful exhibit.

Go now. It’s 8:10. The bell of Gracie Mansion’s historic clock is ringing.




It’s 5:03: time for the Coney Island Dreamland bell…

Stephen Vitiello’s wonderful exhibit, “A Bell For Every Minute,” goes silent on June 20th.  For me the The Bells has always been a central, defining part of the High Line. Every walk I’ve taken has had the accompaniment of New York’s orchestra of sounds, courtesy of Vitiello. So get there while you can and enjoy it; next month it ends for good.

The artist was kind enough to share with readers of LivinTheHighLine.com his “sound map” for “The Bells of New York.” You can download the pdf here. It lists each bell by name and minute and includes a rough map of New York to indicate the place where the original bell is located.

And now it’s 5:32: not only are the Delacorte Park bells ringing but the animals are spinning ’round the clock, playing their instruments for all the kids to see. Of course the city’s sounds will always be here to enjoy, just not on a schedule that has been organized by an artist.



It Tolls For Thee…


Sad news that Stephen Vitiello’s marvelous exhibit, “A Bell For Every Minute,” will close later this Spring. The folks who run the High Line have a robust program of art exhibits and they’ve created a one-year rule for themselves to keep the programs fresh and new. That makes (some) sense, but it’ll be hard to say goodbye to the Bells.

The exhibit has occupied the 14th Street Passage since June of last year, and it was one of the High Line’s original art projects. “A Bell For Every Minute” is a sort of audio map of New York City. Every minute, on the minute, a different bell from around town rings, from the familiar opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange to the 500 pound bell that welcomed visitors to the Dreamland Pier in Coney Island until it was lost in a fire in 1911. Divers retrieved it from the ocean floor in 2009 and Vitiello recorded it for his exhibit. There’s also a little girl’s bicycle bell, which I always love to hear.

The site of the exhibit – a bleak concrete tunnel – reminded the curator, Meredith Johnson, of a bell tower. While the enclosed space makes a perfect “auditorium” for the multitude of bells, it’s also an open space with all the day-to-day noises of the busy city that surrounds it. Every hour on the hour all fifty-nine bells ring at once.

I emailed Stephen Vitiello to ask if he’s planning to create an online home for “A Bell For Every Minute” and he’s not. The length of the piece plus the fact that it’s so site-specific make it very challenging, if impossible, to reproduce with integrity on the web. He passed along a link to a French website, Palais de Tokyo, where you can listen to a podcast of his “Bell Study,” which Vitiello describes as “a very quiet, processed bell piece that plays in between the louder hits each minute.” So once the exhibit closes this, alas, is all that will be left of “A Bell For Every Minute.”

For me this exhibit has become an integral part of the High Line. Every time I visit I hear a different series of bells, and of course every trip is a new experience because the ambient noises from the city — car horns blasting, kids screeching in joy, cruise ships bellowing, dogs barking, motorcycles roaring, cellphones ringing, rain falling, pneumatic drills howling — constantly reinvent the soundscape. Every minute, in fact.

So make sure you visit before June so you can get those bells in your ears at least once more before they go away.

And if this exhibit causes you to become interested in Vitiello’s work, as it did for me, you can find his website here and a very cool gallery of his audio works here, at “SoundCloud.”