Bertucci sees alternate tunings and microtones as a means of finding new consonances in the minute spaces between pitches.
Last year, Lea Bertucci released the fantastic Metal Aether, a spell-binding set of microtonal drone pieces written primarily for the composer’s assured saxophone playing. The album was equal parts visceral and contemplative, with the music being just as much about following the winding compositional paths these pieces took as it was about the tangible, wince-inducing quality of the layered harmonies built out of notes just cents apart from each other. Little more than 18 months later, Bertucci follows Metal Aether up with Resonant Field. Overall, the new album has a little less bite than its predecessor, but it makes up for itself in its eeriness and more expansive compositional palate.
Much of the material on Resonant Field was recorded in a gigantic empty silo, with Bertucci explicitly exploiting the unpredictable reverberations and resonances of this atypical performance space. Toward the end of the opening track, “Wind Piece,” Bertucci’s steady trills seem to echo infinitely. Each gesture bounces back in a slightly detuned and adjusted timbre, like a broken tape delay. Both this track and the closer, the breezy “Deliquescence,” are some 10 minutes shorter than the two middle cuts, and as such they feel like an intro and an afterthought, more slipping the listener in and out of the patient development style displayed here than they are exploring the limits of the ideas presented therein.
That being said, the two middle tracks are unquestionable successful. “Warp and Weft” is numbingly slow, with most of the piece concerning itself with unfolding a harmonic melody one pitch at a time. Bertucci is joined by James Ilgenfritz on double bass, an addition that increases the textural appeal of “Warp and Weft.” The shrill string scrapes that sit behind Bertucci’s full-bodied, emotionally rich saxophone harmonies are a key foil to what could be simply all-encompassing pleasantness. The track’s slow development culminates in a show of microtonal technicality, with Bertucci’s expertly controlled trills and grace notes gliding atop some field recordings. The sounds of rushing water and bird calls not only offer a conceptual foil as they remind of Resonant Field’s environmental recording process, but they also provide a sonic foil to the metallic reed sounds that have so far dominated the album.
The title track follows, and this nearly-18 minute composition ranks among one of the most detailed and explorative of Bertucci’s works to date. The saxophone sounds that open the track are familiar, but the almost folk-like quality to the fragmented melody is far more sentimental than anything that precedes or follows it. As the track develops and opens up, pattering drums overtake the mix and give “Resonant Field” a few sections of purely percussive music. While this rolling interlude has a more overtly rhythmic approach to it, the careful multitracking, as well as the use of faint human shouts and more field recordings, reassert the importance of tuning and overtone placement, a defining quality of Bertucci’s music. The two sound worlds alternate for the entirety of the track, each time reasserting the studio-driven production of Resonant Field as well as its naturalistic origins.
While microtones aren’t the newest concept around, Bertucci is part of a generation of composers (Ellen Arkbro, Sarah Davachi, Bálint Szabó) who see alternate tunings and microtones not as a dissonant, mathematic free-for-all as much as a means of finding new consonances in the minute spaces between pitches. What sets Bertucci apart from her contemporaries is the touch of grit that her saxophone playing provides. Even on tracks like “Warp and Weft,” where the composer is reaching for a smoother texture, the inherently nasally qualities of her prime instrument give her drones a sour texture, something of an update to the wall-of-harmony approach in the accordion works of Pauline Oliveros or a less chaotic sibling of the Wadas’ bagpipe drones.