First he “played” the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Mid-Hudson Bridge spanning the Hudson River between Poughkeepsie and Highland. Then he went to Paris to bang on the surfaces of the Eiffel Tower. Tower Music: Musique de la Tour is the title of Joseph Bertolozzi’s latest CD, a product of thousands of hours of recording, compiling, digitizing tone qualities and composing: not music made with standard instruments, but with the sounds that the Beacon percussionist/musician/composer gleaned from striking the famous metal landmark with an odd variety of tools.
He’d used a similar process a few years back to record the tones made when striking parts of the bridge with rubber mallets, wooden dowels and metal hammers – tones that were then catalogued by pitch and location, creating a virtual instrument from which Bertolozzi’s music could emerge. Bridge Music was gleaned from the railings, spindles, fences, trusses, panels, cables and suspender ropes of the structure.
Three years ago, Bertolozzi traveled with a team of sound engineers, a photographer and a videographer to Paris, France to climb the Eiffel Tower and turn it into a giant percussion instrument. Securing permission to scale the landmark to harvest its unique sound tones was the first order of business, which they received with the stipulation that nobody obstructed traffic or endangered themselves.
Sound tones were recorded straight from a microphone into WAV files, and cataloguing was done on Numbers, a spreadsheetlike software application that was preprogrammed for quick and easy notation on the Tower – and this was all done while visitors scrambled up and down the Tower and weather did its thing. “The wind was blowing at 40 to 50 miles an hour. We were exhausted just from exerting the energy to climb stairs and hang onto our equipment,” says Bertolozzi.
The team spent two weeks hitting the surfaces of the Eiffel Tower, even gaining access to restricted areas for three days. “At any moment we could have been called off – for a strike, a bomb scare, really bad weather. It was freezing like Hell and raining the first week. We went to areas that were under cover, but the rain was blowing sideways. During the second week it was very sunny, but still cold. We were 900 feet in the air, climbing stairwells in between areas with elevators. The concern was that we would drop something. And it turned out our producer was not happy about being up so high.”
Back home in Beacon, Bertolozzi went into composer mode. “My job was to listen to them all – hard, medium and soft tones – and determine what is the cleanest, most representative sound. It’s very time-consuming to give each one a pitch name. I whittled it down to about 400 and built a virtual instrument of melody notes.”
Tower Music is at last finished, and the resulting album is being released on Friday, April 29. The event at Barnes & Noble in Poughkeepsie includes a CD and book-signing with Bertolozzi, artist Franc Palaia and audio engineer Paul Kozel. There will be prizes, giveaways and special pricing for the album. Wear a beret and receive an extra special prize!
“More than simply another album release, I see it as a David-and-Goliath tale where a solo artist engages an entity much larger than himself – the French government – and they both win!” says Bertolozzi.
Tower Music CD release party, Friday, April 29, 7-9 p.m., Barnes & Noble, 2518 South Road, Poughkeepsie; (845) 485-2224, www.josephbertolozzi.com.
“A Photographic Diary of Joseph Bertolozzi’s Tower Music/Musique de la Tour” will also be on view at Vassar College’s James Palmer Gallery in Poughkeepsie from June 14-July 28. The exhibition will feature photographs by local artist Franc Palaia and a video by Joseph Redwood Martinez, who documented Bertolozzi’s ambitious Parisian project.