NPR.org – Composer Joseph Bertolozzi’s latest musical project turned the Eiffel Tower into a giant percussion instrument. From the basement to the summit, the Paris monument’s girders, railings, and rivets were banged, tapped, strummed and thumped. And then, those 10,000 samples were layered into one composition, called Tower Music.
Bertolozzi spoke with NPR’s Melissa Block about the process. You can hear their conversation at the audio link, or read on for an edited version.
Could you describe the method of all of this? How did you harvest these sounds?
Joseph Bertolozzi: Well, we would determine what surface we wanted to sample, and we’d put a contact microphone, which picks up vibrations from the thing it’s attached to, rather than sound in the air. And then I went through all those samples and tried to find the best sounds that would work. It took me four months to catalog.
When I went looking for sounds, I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I just said, okay, we’re going to record every surface we have, and I’ll turn it into music later on. Turning it into music was the easy part; all the permissions, and everything else leading up to it, made it a challenge.
They were very gracious. I, of course, was ready to have to do some actual climbing, but they said, “No, no; you don’t climb. You don’t have that kind of insurance!” And I sent them this detailed document as to all the surfaces I wanted to play, and almost everything was, “No, no no.” I went there to meet the chief engineer, and he said, “You know, we crossed all these out because all the places that you showed would involve you in a harness, climbing out to them.” But he took me on a tour of the tower and he said, “See this surface that you marked? It’s over here. You’re standing next to it if you’re standing on the second floor.”
Are there any effects that are added to these sounds?
Not at all. You’re hearing the raw samples of the tower. That’s the real aesthetic of this piece. If I was to put all sorts of processing, echo, and boosting treble and bass and things like that, you wouldn’t be hearing the tower, and that’s the whole point of this project.
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