Stephen Vitiello: Soundtracks
SMTG Limited

If Soundtracks is hardly the most striking title that could have been given to a collection of video and short film collaborations involving Richmond-based artist Stephen Vitiello and a host of visual artists, it's more than compensated for by the captivating works captured on the DVD. For maximum impact, the six pieces would be screened in a gallery space with a large visual display accompanied by surround-sound—in other words, in a presentation that would exploit their dynamic potential to the fullest degree.

The DVD content provides generous degrees of contrast. The entrancing opener “Bouy Remix” combines Seoungho Cho's gemetrically treated footage of sun-scorched desert terrain and Vitiello's whistling tones and gentle lapping percussive background. Matt Flowers' “Imago Dei,” on the other hand, offers a more tranquil and peaceful experience in pairing vibes tinkles and toy whistles—pretty music box-like sounds one associates with childhood—and dream-like images of snails crawling on glass (as Flowers filmed them from below, their mouths and undersides are visible). Soundtracks includes short pieces of four- to five-minute duration (Kevin Gallagher's “Green Tunnel,” which guides the viewer on a rapid hiking trek through natural landscapes) and longer settings that run as long as eighteen minutes. Éder Santos's “Cinema,” for example, threads flickering outdoors footage throughout its thirteen minutes, with footage of a street lamp and birds flying synchronized to Vitiello's explorative meander of electroacoustic sounds (bass-throbbing pulsations, electronics, electric bass guitar, Molly Berg's clarinet and guitar). There's only one questionable move to speak of, specifically Andrew Deutsch's “Balance Inquiry,” which overlays colourful animated shapes onto static, old-style illustrations—musically its loose improv of bell tones and assorted sounds (creaks, chirps, etc.) is interesting enough but perhaps not so much as to warrant fourteen minutes of it. The concluding “Trifornix (Take Two)” by Nic DeSantis succeeds better in pairing kaleidoscopic image overlays—so rapidly they're hard to decode—with a relentless industrial churn by Vitiello that resembles some early electronics or kosmische musik jam.

Taken on its own terms and judged in accordance with its own presumed aims, the collection succeeds in giving the viewer-listener an experience that's sometimes trippy, certainly immersive, and, for the most part, engaging. Probably the best thing that can be said about these video art works is that they really do come across as symbiotic creations rather than pieces where music has been grafted onto visuals, or vice-versa.

June 2010