NNA097: Lea Bertucci 'All That Is Solid Melts Into Air'
‘All That Is Solid Melts Into Air’ is a collection of new compositions from New York City-based sound artist, performer, and composer Lea Bertucci. As a performer, Bertucci has worked primarily with amplified woodwind instruments, creating enigmatic electro-acoustic soundscapes with bass clarinet in conjunction with electronic processing. Her latest release on NNA, however, explores her work as a composer, which investigates extended acoustic resonance on classical instruments and their potential to powerfully occupy physical space. The two sides of this cassette contain two different pieces that exist around a common concept - the live performance of extended technique on stringed instruments, and the otherworldly way that the resulting sound exists in the space in which it is created.
The first piece, ‘The Cepheid Variations’, is a new piece for viola, cello, and magnetic tape collage, premiered in January 2015 as the first performance of Bertucci’s 2015 ISSUE Project Room Residency. Born out of an interest in the timbral and acoustic possibilities of harmonics, these pieces combine extended techniques for cello (performed by Leila Bordreuil), viola (performed by Jeanann Dara), combined with live concrete sound generated from magnetic tape, performed by Bertucci herself. Drawing upon the natural acoustics of ISSUE’s 22 Boerum Place theater, ‘The Cepheid Variations’ examines the movement of sound in space through the use of dissonance, wide dynamic fluctuations, and particular sonic textures. Beginning with a pensive, ghostly landscape, the viola and cello explore glassy, fragile frequencies to their most powerful capability. A variety of bowing techniques are utilized by the performers, from slow, meandering pulses to frenetic scraping. Each subtlety in the physical manipulation of the instrument reveals new variations to the overall tension of the piece. The introduction of tape collage expands and adds dimension, introducing new frequencies into the sound field that cleverly juxtaposes the live instrumentation with pre-recorded sonic material.
The second piece, ‘Double Bass Crossfade’, positions two double bassists (James Ilgenfritz and Sean Ali) at opposite corners of the Knockdown Center’s 50,000 square foot main room. The instruments are wirelessly amplified, allowing the performers to slowly move across the room over the course of 40 minutes, meeting in the center and then crossing to each other’s original starting positions. Using the space’s unique 10-channel sound system, the sounds of the performer’s instruments are dynamically routed from speaker to speaker according to their physical position, creating in their wake a mutable, engulfing sound field. The piece begins with the hypnotic, gentle bowing of the bass in its upper registers, but gains intensity as the piece progresses, finding its most powerful moments with a loud, rumbling low end that showcases the incredible acoustic power of the double bass. Tremendous depth is achieved through the layering of contrasting harmonics from each player, as the two performers engage with each other in focused technique, listening intently and creating a symbiosis through sound. Condensed from the original 10-channels to the stereo field for the purposes of this release, duality is the emphasis of this piece - in the musicians, their physical positioning, and their location in the stereo field. But as they eventually reach the lower ends of the register, the sounds they produce blend and fuse together into one raucous, engulfing whole.
The two pieces on this cassette demonstrate the incredible amount of dynamic diversity that can be achieved by the phenomenon of vibrating metallic strings. Resonance and frequency are thoroughly explored with thought, care, and dedication. These works reveal a fresh voice in new music, while also championing the pioneers of the 20th century avant-garde - recalling the tonal curiosity of Ligeti, the emotional power and sensitivity of Arvo Part, the strident minimalism of Tony Conrad, and the unflinching violence of George Crumb. Bertucci exhibits a keen and perceptive ear for nuanced acoustic sound, and a passion for focused musical investigation is made evident through her compositions. Stepping aside from the role of performer, ‘All That Is Solid Melts Into Air’ shows us a different side of Bertucci’s repertoire - that of the writer and composer. This album reinforces her talents not only as a player, but as an imaginative explorer of music’s more cerebral and metaphysical outer limits.