Photo by Andy Hardman
All That is Solid, Lea Bertucci’s new album for NNA Tapes, begins with a breath and a whine, a slow distant emergency smothered in smoke and hiss. Throughout the course of this first side—entitled “The Cepheid Variations”—a troika of live tape collage, viola, and cello unearth a massive sound. From the churning tape reels to the Pendereckian wails of the strings, this 28-minute opener is only outdone by the immensity of Side B, a 33-and-a-half-minute closer called “Double Bass Crossfade.” Two double bassists weave dolorous tones through a fabric of feedback recorded in a 50,000-square-foot former glass factory—their sound can be as deep as whalesong in the abyss, others times treading vibrations imperceptible as infrared.
Bertucci’s compositions are stark, resonant, and certainly something to behold in person. I was able to catch the original performance of “The Cepheid Variations” at Brooklyn's ISSUE Project Room in 2015, where her live tape collage was accompanied by Leila Bordreuil on cello and Jeanann Dara on viola. Hearing the music again immediately thrust me back into the old ISSUE Project Room theater at 22 Boerum Place, where the cream moulding was moldy and peeling and a good part of the vaulted ceiling was ripped apart, the HVAC guts spilling out like cables. It was an incredible show, so I was excited to speak to Bertucci about it’s "second life" on the new album. Of course, she’s been busy since 2015 with a variety of projects—including a collection of experimental graphic scores as well as a composition involving a 20-child children's choir—so I had to ask her about those as well.
All That is Solid is out March 24 via NNA Tapes. Catch Bertucci at Pioneer Works with GRID, Greg Fox, and Multa Nux on March 28.
AdHoc: Can you talk a bit about "The Cepheid Variations"? It is a few years old now—how does this piece fit within your larger sound and your practice? Is this a track you find yourself coming back to often?
Lea Bertucci: I wrote this piece in 2014 as a way to approach my interest in harmonics and resonances. At the time I had just been selected as an ISSUE Project Room artist-in-residence and had free access to their space, which is an amazingly resonant McKim, Mead & White building in downtown Brooklyn. The resonant nature of the room was the perfect excuse to write a piece of music specifically for that space. Because my background as a musician is as a woodwind player, string instruments have always held a particularly exotic appeal to me. I was also interested in writing a piece that combined live acoustic instruments with pre-recorded collage material in a seamless way, where the two elements obscure each other. I am constantly questioning the boundaries of what I do as an artist, and am always looking ahead to challenge myself, whether it's doing sound design projects, composing for large ensembles or working with unfamiliar instruments.
If I recall correctly, "The Cepheid Variations" is played partially using reel-to-reel tape. What are some other cool pieces of tech you're using or have been wanting to use in your work?
Lately I've been working a lot with multichannel sound systems, in both compositional and collaborative sound design contexts. For the past year and a half I have been developing a piece in collaboration with the experimental theater director Mallory Catlett called "Dead Time of Plenty," which will premiere in 2018. It's a durational performance piece based on a Doris Lessing novel, and it's staged in a raw subterranean industrial space in the West Village, within a spatialized sound system. I use text, field recording, and live voice processing to creatively interpret the Lessing text. It's pretty wild. I am also working on a piece for 20-voice children's choir titled "Oracle," in which the voices of the children are processed with an amazing Eventide reverb plugin to create the sound of an artifical acoustic environment as the composition develops. That piece will premier in June at Madison Square Park and is presented in collaboration with Blank Forms.
"The Cepheid Variations" is very "crystalline" to me. It projects a clear image in my mind of a soundscape. I understand you are working on a book of experimental graphical scores called the Tonebook. Can you talk more about how you relate image and sound in your own work?
I have always suffered from the uncanny experience of visualizing sound. For some reason, my mind understands abstraction in a big way, so the idea of correlating a visual representation to a sound (especially an abstract sound) somehow always seemed natural to me. Tonebook (in collaboration with Inpatient Press) is a compendium of about fourteen artists' approach to creative notation, whether that is text-based, graphic or expanded staff notation. The responses to our prompt has been super inspiring.
Besides the personal creative work, it seems like involvement in the larger community is a crucial part of your practice. Agree? Disagree? I know you have done some organizational work lately and are a member of a DIY space in Brooklyn, the Sunview Lunchnet. Can you tell us a little about that?
I strongly believe in the importance of creating the world we want to see—as outliers, weirdos, intellectuals, and leftists. I guess part of that for me is booking shows and trying to be supportive of people whose work I like. I started putting together shows in my loft in 2011 and since then have done all sorts of other curatorial projects, some more elaborate than others... My involvement with Sunview is as a casual member of a collective that is dedicated to events which eschew normal modes of capitalism. It's a very DIY space in the truest sense—a no-profit organization that is spontaneous and authentically dedicated to doing weird readings, screenings, shows, and activism.
You've been playing a lot of shows lately and even toured Europe a few months ago. What's the craziest experience you've had on tour?
My last European tour was pretty intense. I think it was something like twelve shows across eight countries. I am slightly insane and plan all this stuff myself, so sometimes I'm a bit optimistic about the logistics of things. I took a train at 4:30am after playing a gig in Berlin to Vienna, with three transfers in Germany and the Czech Republic along the way. I remember being half asleep and stumbling out of a train in Brno frantically trying to find my connection to Vienna. It was some serious Eastern European shit! Things just looked a bit more jagged than in the very "civilized" western part of the continent. A grizzled-looking train conductor was smoking between cars, looked at my ticket, and he waved me on board the rusted train car.