The New York based artist tells The Wire's Online Editor Daisy Hyde about her forthcoming NNA Tapes release All That Is Solid Melts Into Air featuring stringed instruments and magnetic tape collage
Lea Bertucci is a sound artist, musician and composer based in New York. After starting out on saxophone at the age of nine, she went on to learn classical music and jazz, until moving into more abstract forms in her late teens and experimenting with the amplification of her bass clarinet, effects and feedback. Her most recent work on NNA Tapes features tape collage plus extended technique on string instruments including viola and cello (performed by Jeanann Dara and Leila Bordreuil respectively) on The Cepheid Variations, and double bass (performed by James Ilgenfritz and Sean Ali) on Double Bass Crossfade. Currently she's listening to Julius Eastman, Éliane Radigue, La Monte Young, Daphne Oram, Albert Ayler, Morton Feldman and William Basinski. Her work, she says, is “also inspired by folk music from Burundi, Finland, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, the Solomon Islands etc”.
What does one of your live performance set-ups look like?
Lea Bertucci: At the moment, I've been playing alto saxophone and tapes. The only processing of the sax I do now is to sample and layer my sounds as I play to create microtonal dissonances and psychoacoustic effects. In terms of the tape component, I have a lovely Marantz cassette machine, an older Phillips quarter inch reel-to-reel and a couple of microcassette machines, which tend to unleash ungodly bursts of noise when I manipulate them in certain fun ways.
Previously you've worked with amplified wind instruments such as bass clarinet and saxophone, why did you make the transition to strings?
Because my background has mostly been as a woodwind instrumentalist, strings always seemed somewhat exotic to me. At the time I wrote the pieces that are on this release, I had been exploring my interests in alternative tuning methods – just, or pythagorean tuning – harmonics and resonance. Strings lend themselves well to these qualities.
Your new release All That Is Solid Melts Into Air features two live recordings of works investigating how sound travels through space. Are these works composed with a performance venue in mind?
Yes, both pieces were conceived for the spaces they were premiered and recorded in. Cepheid Variations was written for Issue Project Room's theatre at 22 Boerum Place in Brooklyn, which is a beautiful marble clad room built by the architects McKim Mead and White. Acoustic instruments sound astonishing in that space, especially strings. Double Bass Crossfade was a piece I wrote as part of a show I curated in 2015 called Auditorium, at a venue called Knockdown Center. This was a former door frame factory, and is approximately 50,000 square feel of amazing industrial resonance. For this show we had installed a ten-channel spatialised sound system, which I had the bassists move through as they played. They were wirelessly miked and I live-mixed their sounds to whichever speakers they were in closest proximity to. Although this piece was originally conceived of with multichannel output in mind, I thought it mixed down well into the stereo field because of the shape of the piece and how I had the bassists moving in the space.
What's the most interesting space you've performed in?
I have been able to play in some very amazing site-specific situations, but one of my favourites is a former cement mine in my home town in upstate New York. The mine is laterally cut, so you can just walk down into it. There is probably at least nine full seconds of reverberation in that space. The walls, ceiling and floor are made of limestone, but they are not flat. There is surface texture and variation throughout the space, so sounds take on less of a ‘ping’ quality and more of a more organic type of resonance. The mine also has an underground lake, so there are lots of echoey dripping sounds, birds and bats.
All That Is Solid Melts Into Air is released by NNA Tapes