On a crisp morning in March, we approach the site. It appears in the distance on the windswept beach just as the sand gives way to dunes. The ocean roars to our right. The structure itself is buried beneath decades of sand accumulation and covered with seasonally dormant plant life. The point of entry yawns in the dunes—a square black aperture interrupts the otherwise organic landscape and leads us underground.
We enter the structure, which appears as one long corridor initially. As we explore further, we realize there are auxiliary chambers off this main corridor. Four rooms of distinct sizes and shapes reveal themselves as our eyes adjust to the darkness.
Made of thick, hard walls of cast concrete, I suspect this structure was used as an ammunitions storage facility or some kind of bunker, as the surrounding area was once WWII-era naval base positioned to protect New York City from possible enemy boats lurking in the dark Atlantic waters.
The nature of the materials and dimensions of this structure create a unique acoustic environment. The hard, flat concrete walls, ceiling, and floor create palpable sonic reflections. A sound heard in this space has a life for about 4.5 seconds after sounding, reflecting through the auxiliary chambers. The characteristics of this echo are distinct: a pinging slap delay dances throughout the structure.
I have my old silver alto saxophone with me. I begin to play, kneeling in the darkness with my eyes closed. I look for ways to excite the space, to play it as though an organ. If I play a sustained pitch that ends with a harmonic of that same pitch, I notice that when I stop short the acoustic shadow of two pitches ring out into a third, discrete pitch. If I play a short burst of many notes, the resulting sound becomes a moving tone-cluster. When I play many of these bursts in rapid succession, I I hear accumulated harmonics ringing through the space. I move from room to room, noting the different sonic qualities of each.
Every improvisation is site-specific. We react to our acoustic environment, the ambient sound in the room, the general mood of our day, or what our collaborators are doing. Today, my collaborator is the bunker.
I have placed two fairly high-quality, omnidirectional microphones in the larger chambers on either side of the structure. My other weapon is a shitty microcassette recorder I bought at a yard sale. It’s lo-fi in the truest sense. I use this to capture the ambient sounds of the area: birds, the ocean, crunching through the dead flora that surrounds the bunker…. These tapes are easy to manipulate, producing wild bursts of noise and lend themselves well to cut-up techniques.
Lea Bertucci will be performing on March 28, 2017 at Pioneer Works to celebrate her forthcoming release on NNA tapes, All That is Solid, Melts Into Air. This summer she will also release The Tonebook, a compendium of creative notation, on Inpatient Press; premiere "Oracle," a piece for 20-voice children's choir; and curate "Site : Sound," a series of site specific lectures and performances, including a show on May 13 at the bunker featured in this article.
Each installment of this ongoing portfolio series features an original audio recording by a musician, composer, or sound artist along with their commentary. Projects range from raw documentation of live performances to sound collage and experiments with aleatory music.