Some people look at the Eiffel Tower and see a magnificent piece of architecture rising above Paris. Others say it’s a place for romance. The tower has been the backdrop for hundreds of movies since it was erected for the 1889 World’s Fair. It was where Grace Jones’ character May Day in the James Bond film “A View to a Kill” parachuted to escape Roger Moore’s 007. (Her jump was much more successful than that of French tailor/inventor Franz Reichelt, whose attempt to test his parachute device in 1912 ended in a most deadly thud.)
For Joe Bertolozzi, the Eiffel Tower is an instrument — albeit a very tall one at 1,063 feet — that was meant to be played.
For the Beacon composer it was inevitable.
When we last checked in with our intrepid musician/composer — for the Westchester County Business Journal, WAG’s sister publication — he was finishing up his album “Bridge Music,” based on his banging and drumming (with state approval, of course) on the Mid-Hudson Bridge between Poughkeepsie and Highland.
With that project complete, his restless soul needed something.
One night, his wife took her hand and bang, hit a poster hanging in their bedroom. The image on the poster was the Eiffel Tower. That could work, he thought.
He began doing his due diligence: Who owns the tower? Who should be contacted first? He wrote a letter translated into French to the mayor of Paris in 2009. He included a booklet with testimonials verifying his legitimacy so as not to be mistaken for some kook just wanting to bang on this monument, this symbol of France.
He found that he miscalculated the speed at which things get done in France. He got the go-ahead to be able to record for two weeks in June 2013. And so in the airy heights of the iron lattice tower, Bertolozzi — along with two sound engineers, a producer who was afraid of heights, a secretary, a videographer and a photographer — went to work.
Girders, spindles, handrails and suicide fencing were each played in Bertolozzi’s own inimitable fashion — with wooden dowels, a black rubber mallet, drumsticks, a felt mallet, a rubber hammer and, of course, his trusty log with sheepskin pad.
Using surface microphones, each hit was recorded, and in turn its position on the tower was labeled with its exact location. The French media were intrigued. His playing was splashed across TV screens in France. He realized his celebrity status during a visit to a grocery store when the bagger said, “Hello, Mr. Bertolozzi.”
Back at his home in Dutchess County, up the stairs past his room-filling collection of gongs and cymbals, Bertolozzi sat in his studio and faced the daunting task ahead. Over four months, three knee surgeries and a blood clot in his lung, he listened to 10,000 samples of sounds he created on the Eiffel Tower. He whittled those sounds down to 2,500 and then to 1,200.
“I didn’t want the ear to hear the same strike,” he says.
He culled the sounds, cataloged the sounds but did not modify the sounds.
Each sound represented a note that he took and turned into compositions.
There are no sound effects or harmonics added to his songs.
“It’s mind-boggling,” I tell him. He dismisses my labeling of him as a “brainiac.”
Last year he worked with the audio engineer who was with him on the tower to do the mixing of his songs. The result is called “Tower Music,” and is due for full release April 29 with an event set for the Barnes & Noble in Poughkeepsie.
In the meantime, check out “A Thousand Feet of Sound,” the first single from “Tower Music/Musique de la Tour,” on YouTube.
As I wrote when we first met, don’t dismiss him or his works as quirky or worse. After all, the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said:
“Music is liquid architecture. Architecture is frozen music.”
For more, visit josephbertolozzi.com/store.