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Lea Bertucci
Metal Aether Jennifer Lucy Allan , March 1st, 2018 08:26

Exploring space, exploring sound, exploring alto sax: Lea Bertucci is just getting started.

The title of New York composer and saxophonist Lea Bertucci’s latest full-length on NNA Tapes is best understood not as a description, but as two discrete elements that form the core of her sound: metal, and aether. Where her previous release All That Is Solid Melts Into Air documented her compositions played by others, this release contains recordings of her playing alto sax, layered and confused by scrabbling tape loops and field recordings, the latter forming a surrounding atmosphere of field recordings, the sounds of morning in small towns, splutterings of the tape itself.

The four pieces on Metal Aether were recorded in Le Havre, France in a former military base, and in New York City, at ISSUE Project Room. The locations are significant because Bertucci is interested in the way acoustics react to space, and she’s managed to capture this here. But while her work is about space, it is not necessarily about minimalism. What Bertucci appears interested in is not echo or reverb but the way the spaces she plays in feed back, answer and amplify her instrument in unexpected ways. A subtle distinction but hear me out: it is not just the answer of the room she’s looking for, like the bounce of a bunker or a church; she is not so interested in the length of echo (the length of your recording space’s delay is a sort of macho-ambient competition nowadays, which finds its PB in the 112-second reverb at Inchindown oil storage tanks in Scotland). Bertucci is instead interested in the interaction, the weirdnesses and nuance that can be drawn out and together in a sculptural way. She’s playing with space, but also mood.

Her sensitivity to these details is acute, and exciting, and this record is teeming with the ideas of a busy mind. In most places this works, in others a multitude of tape loops makes it feels crowded. These techniques, though, show the way she’s thinking about her instrument, laying groundwork and defining a sound palette. There are big ideas lurking below the surface: time, mood and the meditative, but also the literal sonic possibilities of an alto saxophone.

Metal Aether feels like a sketchbook. Despite a growing catalogue of other releases, this somehow feels like a starting point rather than an end in itself, signalling the beginning of a body of work. If there is a future echo here it is one of Bertucci moving towards the meditative, the long and the deep, a sound that digs in rather than broadening out, one that can accommodate bigger ideas. We have not heard the best of Bertucci yet.