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 Parlor Walls 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.