Illustrations by the author, screen printed by J. Gomez
On the 91st floor of World Trade Center Tower One, musician Stephen Vitiello recorded the sounds of the tower’s swaying as nearby aircraft passed, as well as the onslaught of a hurricane. The musician used contact mics adhered to the windows. Two years later as the towers came down the recordings would become possessed by the ghosts of the events of Ground Zero. Suddenly, the sound document, a mostly banal work of day in the life of a State sponsored Monolith would be converted to a coveted, spiritualized historical document-–a pre-911 reality of better times.
The magic of circumstance now cloaked the artist, transforming Vitiello into a seer, or, sound-sage. The “musician” now turned “sound-artist.” There appeared something of a third-eye, but only ever written about, never actually seen –sage of the “emerging” medium of sound, and yet, all the result of a grand accident. In Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), the character of Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), an expert in surveillance, accidentally hears more than he should. The possibility of murder weighs heavily on Caul’s conscience. How should he proceed with the document? Listening to the violence through walls, through pipes, he records –he acts, though, inevitably he fails-–tortured by guilt, responsibility and fear. Powerless, he crumbles. He finds solace in his tenor sax.
And how does the sound-artist proceed? In art one continues to make art or turn things into art. But in this case, “accident” is never uttered, for neither audience nor artist dare tear asunder that through this death-document art is life, is hope for trivial gods and masters. Thus, rise ye Sound Pope, whose hat antennae may communicate with god. There is no critical engagement with the accident; there is no conversation, no discussion of art as terrorism or terrorism and art.
Vitiello’s document is a sound-vanitas after-the-fact, transformed by the art-world into history (in support of its relevance) and therefore in service of political-reality. Political-reality may impose itself upon all in cataclysmic haut fashion: commodity, style, #911, hipster, red & blue, post and pre historicizing, and the dreaded loop, with supporting characters and leading “men.” There are no images of falling figures, just a meditative perfect past, in order to form the narrative of some “better” future.
The well-publicized critique of Damien Hirst stands in stark contrast. Often the critiques of his diamond skull, his dismembered parts, and other projects have less to do with aesthetics and more to do with the personal embarrassment the art-world feels when face-to-face with the honesty of these new-nihilist vanitas. There is no big difference between Hirst’s skull and the best of the Dutch, centuries before. We see the timelessness of our condition, anxieties, pathos, but critiqued through the lens of a post-hyperreality and the artist’s own honesty:
If being a nihilist, is carrying, to the unbearable limit of hegemonic systems, this radical trait of derision and of violence, this challenge that the system is summoned to answer through its own death, then I am a terrorist and nihilist in theory as the others are with their weapons. Theoretical violence, not truth, is the only resource left us. But such a sentiment is Utopian. Because it would be beautiful to be a nihilist, if there were still a radicality – as it would be nice to be a terrorist, if death, including that of the terrorist, still had meaning. ~Baudrillard
Coincidentally, Vitiello, like the fictional film crew of Cannibal Holocaust, also visited the Amazon in search of myth. He too would breach the “untouched” with the goal of documenting its sounds, then later, use them, mix them, exhibit them. Even the Yanomami are present in Vitiello’s story, but there are no accidents, no violence or classical cannibalism of the Westerner by the Yanomami as a defense against their own consumption. They are powerless. Unlike the film, there is no criticism left, instead there is just an attempt at documenting the walking dead –for what else are the Amazon, and the Yanomami, and the idea of undiscovered geography if not already written off? One day, the sound-artist will be remembered once again for his prescience, for documenting the dead of the Amazon: romance, nature, the primitive, all gone, but, that day may portend an even bigger end.