Those who view New York artist Lea Bertucci as a bass clarinetist are missing the bigger picture. Fresh from her residency at Brooklyn’s ISSUE Project Room and already preparing for two other residencies, Bertucci has proven herself to be a visual artist, sound designer, improvisor and curator. She seldom plays the bass clarinet without electronic manipulation; and sometimes, she doesn’t play it at all.
Those familiar with Bertucci’s work from our past reviews, or even from her live performances, should throw out everything they know when considering the new release. To start, the opening cut is a flute piece: a sound collage that incorporates “an earworm from the Bulgarian folk song Dragano Draganke.” The collage imagines the process of forgetting, or at least trying to forget, a melody that is already embedded in the mind. As one can imagine, the process fails, while the composition does not. The more Bertucci alters, hides, or abrades the reel-to-reel snippets in beds of feedback and static, the more they insist on being heard; the listener searches for them while the artist tries to forget. Or does she? The concentration on forgetting is itself a form of memory. As the release is available on tape, the invitation to the listener is twofold. One might enjoy the extraction, and seek out the original; or one might further its deterioration by whatever means may be at hand.
The tape’s other collages are more sedate, yet intricate in nature. The title track teems with curious electronics lurking below a skein of ice. One can imagine the wind, the frozen shore, the crackling ice pellets. The composition sounds like a field recording, as crisp as sub-zero air. Each pinging icicle is preserved in pristine fashion. When the storm ends, the icicles are replaced by chimes, and glissandos enter like pitch-shifted wolves. Bertucci hangs her notes like curtains against the cold. Only in the closing seconds do human elements intrude: a low rumble of mall sound, pierced by a high-pitched tone.
“Cepheid 1” begins with a triangle before dropping into the low end. Again, the electronics jangle beneath the surface, although this time they are less defined: more like drones than notes. A metal door clangs in an unheard breeze, growing more insistent as forces behind the door attempt to break through. What began benignly tumbles into chaos: long draws, scrapes and saws. But with a single bell tone – the echo of the triangle – all falls quiet once again. What seemed at first like chaos is revealed as control, the sound artist taming the volume and frequency of tones. In doing so, she honors the title of the piece, producing a work that is simultaneously dynamic and stable. Bertucci’s next work may be completely different, but Axis/Atlas is the high point of her discography to date. (Richard Allen)