Stream Artist Interview: Stephen Vitiello


Stephen Vitiello, September 2020.

Stephen Vitiello is an electronic musician and media artist. CD releases have been published by New Albion Records, Sub Rosa, 12k and Room 40. His sound installations and multi-channel works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Lyon. Exhibitions include a site-specific work for NYC’s High Line, “Soundings: A Contemporary Score,” at the Museum of Modern Art; the 2002 Whitney Biennial; and the 2006 Biennial of Sydney. Over the last 25 years, Vitiello has collaborated with such artists and musicians as Pauline Oliveros, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Taylor Deupree, Joan Jonas, Julie Mehretu and Steve Roden. Vitiello has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for “Fine Arts,” a Creative Capital grant for “Emerging Fields” and an Alpert/Ucross Award for Music. In 2012, Australian Television produced the documentary, Stephen Vitiello: Listening With Intent. Originally from New York, Vitiello is now based in Richmond, VA where he is a professor of Kinetic Imaging at Virginia Commonwealth University.


Hi Stephen. Where in the world are you right now? Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

Hi there. I’m in my studio, in my garage, in Richmond, Virginia. I’m an electronic musician and sound artist. I’m also a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, in the department of Kinetic Imaging. I do a lot of different things that all overlap. A lot of my work focuses on site-specific sound installations. Field recording has been a big part of my work for the last 20 + years. At the same time, I’ve released countless CDs, LPs, etc for labels including 12k, Room 40, Sub Rosa, New Albion. The installation work is generally presented as my own work. A lot of the music releases and performances are collaborative, including working with artists such as Steve Roden, Taylor Deupree, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Robin Rimbaud (Scanner), Molly Berg, Michael Grigoni, Pauline Oliveros, and many others I feel incredibly fortunate to know or to have known.


So, you have been working on a collaboration with Scanner recently? Can you tell us about that and where people can check it out?

I started working on two records when the pandemic began. One, with Robin (Scanner) which is guitar-driven and finds influences tracing back to Seefeel, PIL’s Second Edition and Krautrock. The other is more ambient, a project with slide guitar player Michael Grigoni and Japanese sound artist, Chihei Hatakeyama. The record with Mike and Chihei will come out on White Paddy Mountain, once shipping eases up from Japan to the U.S. Robin and I still need to look around for a label. Malka Spigel and Colin Newman premiered one track on their Swimming in Sound radio show this summer.


How has your creative routine changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

I’ve had a few co-existing overlapping careers for many years, sound/music/art + academia. In the past, I went into the office and then I got creative work done in the evenings and from home Friday-Sunday and over the summer. Now, everything is being done from home and I’m sitting in my studio, conducting class via Zoom but also inches from mixing board, a table full of pedals, a modular synth behind me and a stack of papers rested on a binaural head microphone case. The blurring has actually been great as I get more time to be creative and somehow can compartmentalize in the moments I get. I’ve also been playing guitar more consistently since January than I had in a long time.


Are you performing music remotely at all?

I participated in one performance event, organized by poet, Edwin Torres. Performance isn’t as big a part of what I do as much as sound installations and recordings. I’ve been finishing a sound-based public art installation for the city of Seattle that is meant to go up on the waterfront development on Elliot Bay very soon. In theory, it’ll be installed in October. That said, the project has been in-progress for 7 years and deadlines are slippery. Also, considering not only Covid-19 but the smoke that is infiltrating that city from the wild fires, I’m not sure.


We heard you used our plugin, Stream, on some of your most recent productions. How did you use the plugin? What instruments or samples did you process using Stream?

I used it on guitar on the project with Robin but also the one with Mike and Chihei. For the project with Robin, I also used Stream on shortwave radio, mangling whatever sounds came up in the moment.


What’s your favorite Stream feature and why?

I’m not sure about feature as much as accessibility and quality. As much as I work with and teach art and technology, I’m not incredibly technical. I like when I can work intuitively and start using a plugin without a deep dive into a manual or endless Youtube videos. I found the Capture – looping and overdubbing – to be immediately clear and fun and useful.


What Stream features would you hope to see in future versions?

I enjoy going from one envelope setting to the other – particularly to the Noise setting at times but I wonder if there could be a way for smoother transition or morphing from one envelope setting to the next?


Can you share some of your social links with our blog subscribers? Where can they check out your creative output?

“Electronic musician and sound artist Stephen Vitiello transforms incidental atmospheric noises into mesmerizing soundscapes that alter our perception of the surrounding environment. He has composed music for independent films, experimental video projects and art installations, collaborating with such artists as Nam June Paik, Tony Oursler and Dara Birnbaum. In 1999 he was awarded a studio for six months on the 91st floor of the World Trade Center’s Tower One, where he recorded the cracking noises of the building swaying under the stress of the winds after Hurricane Floyd. As an installation artist, he is particularly interested in the physical aspect of sound and its potential to define the form and atmosphere of a spatial environment.”

Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain catalog for the exhibition
Ce qui arrive/Unknown Quantity, 2002


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