You usually don’t hear music played on an extruded metal sheet from the hardware store. But when you’re performing a piece based on sounds created by striking, stroking and banging the Eiffel Tower, you have to improvise.
New York composer Joseph Bertolozzi sampled sounds from the tower to create a nine-movement composition. His rationale: Everything vibrates and drummers like to bang on things, so why not play the Eiffel Tower?
The world premiere of his “Tower Music Percussion Quintet” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, at the Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall by Left Edge Percussion, a contemporary percussion quintet in residence at SOU’s Center for the Arts.
Over a seven-year period, Bertolozzi and his team of audio and video engineers sampled more than 10,000 sounds of the tower, narrowing those down to about 2,800 usable sounds.
The audio files are electronically realized studio versions of the sounds, played back by Finale Music Notations linked to the samples. The finished work reached No. 11 and 16, respectively, on the iTunes classical and Billboard classical crossover charts.
He hopes to be able to perform the work at the tower itself during the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
However, since he can’t take the Eiffel Tower on tour, Bertolozzi transcribed the work for a percussion quintet that could perform it at any venue.
“It gives longevity to the music by allowing audiences to enjoy live performances,” he says.
About a year ago he contacted Terry Longshore, a professor of music at SOU and artistic director of Left Edge Percussion. The composer was looking for a group to perform the world premiere of the quintet version.
Both Bertolozzi and
Longshore have recorded
for the Innova Recordings label, and that was the
genesis of their collaboration. Innova is an independent record label of the nonprofit American Composers Forum based in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“One of the biggest challenges was playing something that had originally been created electronically,” Longshore says. “Some of the rhythms were very fast.”
He and Bertolozzi spent hours collaborating on the project.
“I worked with him on the phone,” Longshore says, “including one three-hour session on Skype when I played sections for him on the vibraphone, making tweaks as we went along.”
The work features 82 percussion instruments played by the five performers.
The arrangement reproduces the original sounds, with cymbals standing in for fence crashes, bass drums for booms on the tower legs, glockenspiel for pings on a pipe, etc. It’s not all percussive, per se. Two marimbas, a vibraphone, xylophone, and glockenspiel provide plenty of melodic lines.
Longshore was not familiar with a couple of the instruments notated for the quintet version. One of them was “railing spindles.”
Bertolozzi told him it imitated the sound of a stick being dragged along the spindles of a metal fence. That’s when the hardware store came into the picture.
“We finally settled on a sheet of extruded metal that Reed Bentley (a member of Left Edge) found at Ashland Hardware,” Longshore says. Dragging a stick along the ridges produced the right sound.
Longshore, 52, came to SOU in 2000. He formed Left Edge about five years ago. Besides Longshore, other members of the group are all students in the SOU Master of Music program who typically perform with Left Edge for two years.
In addition to performing locally, Left Edge also appears in concert at
venues throughout the Northwest, in California, at the Britt Festival and at Oregon Shakespeare Festival Green Shows.
Students in the quintet this year are Bentley of Portland, a graduate of SOU; Jenny Gray, Bremerton, Seattle Pacific University; Emily Lindley, Arkansas, Arkansas State University; and Mitchell Carlstrom, Minnesota, Concordia University in Portland.
The project was supported by New Music USA, made possible by annual charitable gifts from Mary Fagler Cary Trust, Helen F. Whitaker Fund, Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and the New York State Council on the Arts.
Longshore said the grant helps support Left Edge as a contemporary percussion ensemble dedicated to new work by living composers.
Bertolozzi, who is in Ashland for the world premiere, teamed with Longshore and the quintet Tuesday to present a free talk about “Tower Music” at SOU.
The two will present a short introduction to the music at the concert, with conversation about the project and some video clips showing Bertolozzi’s team recording sounds at the Eiffel Tower and some of
the original work using those sounds.
Tickets are $10, $5 for senior citizens, and free for full-time students. They are available at the door, by phone at 541-552-6348, or online at oca.sou.edu.
Jim Flint is a retired newspaper editor and publisher living in Ashland.