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Lea Bertucci
Of Shadow and Substance Jon Buckland , November 29th, 2023 08:35

NYC-based sound artist explores climate change through grinding strings and glistening percussive swells

The impacts of climate change on music have been visible for some time now. Whether its in discussions of coloured vinyl’s oil consumption, electricity usage for vast farms of streaming servers, or last week’s reports of widespread fainting and the death of a fan at Taylor Swift’s Rio concert, the fact that the Earth’s climate is changing is increasingly difficult to ignore for those involved in either creating or consuming music.

Certainly, for Lea Bertucci, it is a concern. Last heard swapping notes with Lawrence English on this year’s entrancing yet ominous Chthonic and, before that, manipulating vocals with Ben Vida on the experimental Xtended Vox, she might be approaching Of Shadow and Substance with a tweaked sonic palette but the environmental consternations remain steadfast.

Split into two 20 minute halves, Of Shadow and Substance is a work of long-form conviction. Conviction in the cause and conviction in the method. For this release, Bertucci required that her performers (her roles here are that of composer, conductor, and producer) remained within strict just intonation tuning, instilling the entire piece with smooth transitional characteristics. When sustained for these durations the sounds unveil the joy of renewed discovery that long-form pieces facilitate.

‘Vapours’, the opening composition, is a feathery gambit. A dancing path carved with silvery and sonorous strings. What seems disjointed and sporadic reveals a set of contorting threads. A motif blooms and then gently dies out, returning stronger, before ceasing to recur anymore. There’s consummate skill in wrangling the deep bass notes amidst peaking highs, recalling the movement of an ocean’s flow and the mutually beneficial relationship of huge humpback whales and tiny remoras that hitch along for a ride.

Its name purloined from The Twilight Zone, the title track expands the musical spectrum. Grinding strings, chugged bows, glistening percussive swells, cymbal surges, a grazing low end, and wails akin to feedback are all processed and manipulated by Bertucci in real time. Resulting in alien notes suggestive of a great, heaving and breathing technorganic ship piston-squelching itself free of Cronenberg’s latest film set.

Bertucci deals in light and dark. In matter and non-matter. Tenebrous drones and dazzling stabs all gush together like merging seas. And as with seas the sounds surge and withdraw. Abating for sprawling periods before rushing back in like an orchestral tide. And if seas, then space too. Bertucci allows plenty of it after sound-grabbing the aural real estate. Long notes mesh with the silence, fading those glinting crests to nothing.

Much like the aforementioned English collaboration, this concerns itself with disastrous climate change. Bertucci describes it as “a brief glimpse into what it is to be human in what feels like these waning days of the Anthropocene.” This explains further the ‘Vapours’ title. It expresses something of the precariousness of our current global existence and how we appear to be paralysed between states of mind. It also echoes the accusations of hysteria flung at alarm-sounders by those fiscally invested in planetary harm and their faithful attack dogs.

Bertucci might not have the reach of Taylor Swift but, in creating such affecting work, she’s generating a legacy that will hopefully last for as long as there are still humans pacing these receding coast lines.