An audio walk by Justin Bennett & Matthea Harvey

Stillspotting nyc is a two-year multidisciplinary project that takes the Guggenheim Museum’s programming out into the streets. Site-specific commissions in all five of New York City’s boroughs identify moments of urban quiet and stillness and respond to everyday issues of noise and anxiety. For stillspotting nyc: staten island, the fourth edition in the series , sound artist Justin Bennett and poet Matthea Harvey present Telettrofono, an audio walking tour that braids history with fantasy along and around the waterfront.

Antonio Meucci, a Staten Island resident of Italian birth, was the unacknowledged inventor of the first telephone (or telettrofono), conceived in 1849, when he accidentally discovered, while administering electrical shocks to a man suffering from rheumatism, that sound could travel along electrical wires. Many of his inventions – a marine telephone, a lactometer, flame-retardant paint and smokeless candles – went far beyond the imagination of his contemporaries.

For Telettrofono, Bennett and Harvey meld ambient sounds from the borough with invented noises, such as pianos of stone and glass, or a bone-xylophone, with a poetic script for an audio walking tour that weaves Meucci’s tragic true-to-life story together with fantastical elements. Bennett and Harvey envision Meucci’s wife, Esterre – a mermaid who leaves the water for land because of her love for the sounds above ground.

The walk in search of this storied couple meanders along the waterfront, past salt mounds and industrial sites, through historic residential neighborhoods and into places of discovery. The route is designed as a spiral to lead visitors out from the coast into the land, while the recorded story transports listeners out from the external urban environment into a state of introspection. Participants listen to the narrative soundscape through an imagined present-day telettrofono, a phone that is “smart” in the sense that it can enable listening under and across the water, dialing into fairytale and fact, mermaid choruses, and real and invented patent applications. The telettrofono guides the listener through changing perspectives on sound and place within the tale of the Meuccis from Florence and Havana, as well as the stories, sights, and silences distinct to Staten Island

A visit to Telettrofono consists of a self-guided soundwalk where participants engage in a walking tour around Staten Island, guided by the pre-recorded sounds transmitted through borrowed iPods. Visitors begin at a stillspotting kiosk located at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal in St.George.

Stillspotting nyc is organised by David van der Leer, Assistant Curator, Architecture and Urban Studies, with Sarah Malaika, Stillspotting Project Associate, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.