Composer Bertolozzi eyes Eiffel, reflects on ‘Bridge Music’

Joseph Bertolozzi on the Mid-Hudson Bridge. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Joseph Bertolozzi on the Mid-Hudson Bridge. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Since 2009, people at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Mid-Hudson Bridge have heard music. During warmer months, they’ve heard strange percussive melodies emanating from listening stations on the bridge’s pedestrian lane. If they’ve parked on either side, they’ve heard the tune on their car radios.

Any way they’ve heard the “Bridge Music,” composer Joseph Bertolozzi is proud of his accomplishment.

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“It’s exhilarating that it’s still up and running,” Bertolozzi said. “You work on these projects, and you want people to enjoy it.”

This April 1 marked the fifth season that walkers on the Mid-Hudson Bridge have been able to stop and enjoy the composer’s music.

Back in the mid-’00s, Bertolozzi spent time out on the bridge with a recording crew amassing a huge library of audio samples: percussive strikes; hammer blows; glockenspiel-like tones from hitting railings; plastic air gun pellets dropped into the inner columns; and logs pounding the beams. “It tested my creativity,” he said.

He came back home, took the good recordings and composed 10 songs based on sounds of the bridge alone. During the Henry Hudson 400 celebration, the New York State Bridge Authority unveiled the fruits of the composer’s long labors, putting out the music to the bridge’s visitors.

Eventually, after the successful launch at the bridge, the “Bridge Music” album (on Delos Productions) came in at No. 18 on the Billboard Classical Crossover chart.

Now several years later, Bertolozzi is ready to do it all over again — only this time in Paris and at the Eiffel Tower. The composer is getting ready to fly to France to record the sounds of that legendary world landmark.

“I’m actually going there on May 27,” he said. “I’m authorized to go just to record the sound.”

Bertolozzi’s small crew of about seven will cross the Seine armed with a slew of microphones, climb the tower and record for long 10-hour stints each day. They’ll capture as much audio as they can in two weeks before heading back to the States.

What he learned with his experiences on the bridge spanning the Hudson from Highland to Poughkeepsie will help him overseas.

“I have experience now to know how long the process will be. I have the experience I didn’t have when I spoke to the New York State Bridge Authority,” he said. “So I knew what to stay away from to keep my hosts happy.”

French government officials have given Bertolozzi certain guidelines, for his “Tower Music” project that he didn’t have working on the Mid-Hudson. “It was really important not to abrade the surface of the Eiffel Tower. It happened to an extremely minor degree on the Mid-Hudson Bridge — and I’m just talking a few hammer marks on a very small area of the bridge.”

The gentleness and respect he’ll have to treat it with is admittedly different. “I’m going with just wooden mallets and rubber-coated mallets, and I’ll just work with it that way. Whatever sounds I acquire will be the sounds you hear in the music.”

The Eiffel went up in 1889 during the Exposition Universelle, or the World’s Fair, and quickly redefined the Parisian skyline, creating a tourist destination drawing crowds from everywhere. “Tower Music” is set to be unveiled in 2014 to mark its 125th anniversary.

Negotiations with state government officials in New York went slowly when Bertolozzi first proposed “Bridge Music,” so he’s used to waiting. But in France he also had a language barrier. He’s worked on setting up “Tower Music” since 2009.

“I now have a black belt in patience,” the composer joked. “When you work with any government agency, the wheels turn slow.”

He effectively used his work on the Mid-Hudson — and the international news coverage of that project — as a resumé and proof of concept to convince the French that letting a foreigner play drums on a beloved icon might actually work.

“Now I have something to show for it. It was hard enough to explain in English. But now I had videos, a finished project,” he said.

To hear the composer’s first musical landmark project, head out to the bridge’s listening stations. You can also hear the music by tuning to 95.3 FM at Waryas Park in Poughkeepise or at Johnson-Iorio Park in Highland.

Learn more about the man behind the music at josephbertolozzi.com.

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