Within a 10-mile radius, a trio of artists looks for creative connection
From left, Jonathan Giteson, Weston Olencki, and Diana Whitney, the people behind “Sonic Blanket.”

Within a 10-mile radius, a trio of artists looks for creative connection

A yearlong project links the literary arts, the performing arts, and the visual arts, bringing it all together on the airwaves of WVEW

BRATTLEBORO — As Dec. 18 turns into the 19th - at the stroke of midnight - the creators of Sonic Blanket invite us all to tune into WVEW, 107.7 FM, as three local artists launch a yearlong multimedia collaboration designed, according to a recent media release, to address pandemic-spawned “themes of isolation, community, history, and place.”

Conceived by Brattleboro artist Jonathan Gitelson and including poet/writer Diana Whitney and composer, performer, and sound artist Weston Olencki, Sonic Blanket sprang from pandemic living.

The idea came to Gitelson on contemplating the dichotomy between the warmth felt walking his quiet, dimly-lit neighborhood street and the inevitable melancholy that COVID-19 had engendered beneath such iconic warmth.

“When feeling isolated and seeking a unifying way to connect,” he recalls, “I liked the idea” - and the challenges - of initiating artistic and community collaboration within pandemic-defined boundaries.

A multi-faceted photographer and chair of art and design at Keene State College, Gitelson first grew fond of the area when he was a student at Marlboro College, from which he graduated in 1997.

A decade ago, he returned to Brattleboro from Chicago with his wife and three children and has deeply rooted here.

His CV notes works exhibited at a range of institutions, from the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) and the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

This project, though, is all local.

Thus the name, Sonic Blanket, which describes the signal of Brattleboro's nonprofit community radio station, WVEW, whose radius is 10 miles, give or take, from town's center.

Gitelson's collaborators work under that blanket, too. Whitney is a writer and poet whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Kenyon Review, among publications.

A Dartmouth alum with an advanced degree earned as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, Whitney has won the Rubery Book Award for her anthology You Don't Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves, released by Workman Publishing to critical acclaim.

Early on in the gestation of Sonic Blanket, Gitelson, through Epsilon Spires, an emerging arts venue downtown, connected with Olencki - yet another local artist with chops who has presented work internationally at venues that include the Borealis Festival, the Gent Jazz Festival, the Blanton Museum of Art, and the American Academy in Rome. He has recorded with a wide range of cutting-edge labels.

An artistic synergy over the airwaves

Gitelson, Whitney, and Olencki have created an artistic synergy that may be unique in our midst.

At the midnight WVEW launch this Saturday night - “just after the December full moon,” Whitney observed on Facebook in a public post on Tuesday - listeners can expect to hear the developed interweaving of these three artists' creative intentions.

Opening with what the Sonic Blanket media release calls “local field recordings,” the listener will hear a range of environmental sounds, from running water to steeple bells, which yield an aural pastiche - sometimes eerie, sometimes soothing - in front of which soon emerges Whitney's inaugurating poem “Sonic Blanket,” spoken by many voices, all of them from Brattleboro.

These voices uncover the nuances afforded by Whitney's work, sometimes fading, then building, often overlapping.

A visual element of the launch comes with the artists' urging listeners to take a photograph from their windows, from their yards, or from wherever they happen to be at that time.

The resulting images can be posted to social media with the hashtag #SonicBlanket or emailed to [email protected]. Images sent via email will be posted to the Sonic Blanket website and displayed in one of its forthcoming exhibitions.

As the project website's language invites: “Let's connect through the sky and the radio waves which hover above us, aware that in this moment there are other people in our community sharing in the same experience, that we are not alone.”

Throughout the upcoming year Sonic Blanket will encourage, design, and produce community-inspired and -driven arts events, installations, and collaborations.

Modeling on their fruitful work of the last year, the Sonic Blanket trio will further delve into the relationships among the literary arts, the performing arts, and the visual arts, generating what Gitelson calls “a collaborative back and forth, a dialogue throughout the creative process” which affords optimal integration. Aimed at nurturing community, the project will depend on Brattleboro's participation for both its content and its form.

Plans to date include monthly midnight listening parties, installation of forest signage under the WVEW sonic blanket, and advertisements in local print media using “newspaper as a local forum,” Gitelson notes, as “showcases for Brattleboro art.”

Sonic Blanket can be applauded not only for tapping into the rich and varied local arts scene, but also for calling on community involvement in such an essential way.

As the media release puts it, “All of the participants in this project live beneath this sonic blanket. The sound recordings were made here, the poem was written here, and the voices in the piece are those of community members who call Brattleboro home.”

”Each event will be held within the boundaries of the blanket, encouraging people to celebrate our interconnectedness and resilience as a community, despite the isolation we have endured during the past year-and-a-half,” they said.

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