Harry Bertoia's Glowing Sounds LP contains three versions of the same composition, each transferred at different tape speeds in accordance with the artist's instructions. This is the third LP to be released from Bertoia's extensive tape archive and it's the first, of many, to be released using instructions left behind by the artist himself.
Bertoia wrote the concept for this Glowing Sounds LP on a note in 1975 and slipped it into the master tape case where it sat unread for 45 years. The idea was simple, transfer the original recording at its original speed and two slower speeds. Bertoia noticed that the results, however, were profound. Recorded on January 20, 1975 using two large gongs, Glowing Sounds is one of the most powerfully minimal recordings yet discovered in Bertoia's collection. The artist's note left with the tape indicated that it was recorded at a speed of 15 IPS (inches per second) but slowing it down to speeds of 7.5 IPS and 3.25 IPS were quite effective for enhanced playback. Side A features the original 15 IPS recording and the 50% slower 7.5 IPS recording. Side B features a 20 minute, ultra-slow version at 3.25 IPS.
Long, deep drones and powerful overtones define the sound of this recording. Comparison of the three speeds provides a revealing magnification of Bertoia's gongs, overtones and the artist's inventive approach to performance, composition and recording.
Harry Bertoia first gained some artistic visibility in the early 1940s, then came into prominence with his sculptural, ergonomic chairs, produced by Knoll Furniture beginning in 1952, which quickly became classics of modernist furniture. Inspired by the resonant sounds emanating from metals as he worked them and encouraged by his brother Oreste, whose passion was music, Harry restored a fieldstone "Pennsylvania Dutch" barn as the home for this experiment in sounding sculptures which he had begun in the late 1950s. Bertoia was an obsessive composer and relentless experimenter, often working late into the night and accumulating hundreds of tapes of his best performances; Oreste, too, would explore and record the sculptures' sounds during his annual visits to his brother's home in rural Pennsylvania.
Harry Bertoia's recently dismantled Sonambient barn collection was an attentive listener's paradise full of warm, expressive instruments that were gorgeous visually and audibly. Nothing could prepare you, even on return visits, for the overwhelming experience of entering the spacious wood and plaster interior where gongs, some of them giant, hung among the ranks of standing sculptures of various metals. Over nearly twenty years of adding, culling and rearranging, Bertoia carefully selected nearly 100 harmonious pieces ranging in height from under a foot to more than fifteen feet. He considered this barn a full experience, sights and sounds comprising not a collection of works, but one piece unto itself. It was here, deep in the woods, that his Sonambient recording work took place.
Learning by experimentation was common for Bertoia and he mastered the art of tape recording, turning the Sonambient barn into a sound studio with four overhead microphones hanging from the rafters in a square formation. He would experiment with overdubbing by performing along to previous recordings, sometimes backwards, constantly improving his methods while also honing his performance skills. Bertoia was a careful editor of his own work and only chosen recordings remained, each with a date and carefully considered observations written on a note included with each tape. Through these pieces of paper a the artist's logic can be uncovered, a careful approach to composition, ideas, feelings and forms. The story of Sonambient barn collection will slowly be told through the release of recordings from the archive as well as installations and performances built from Bertoia's own recordings, lectures and a book.
The archive of the American sound sculptor Harry Bertoia continues to dispense amenities of surreal imaginative power, thanks to the collaboration between Sonambient and Important Records in the digital transfer of over 350 tapes preserved in the artist’s residence. Like the menacing skyscrapers of a ghost town, the rows of metal stems set up in his Pennsylvania barn were the protagonists and the mysterious medium of his deep listening sessions, released in the seventies in a dozen self-produced LPs, a few months before his sudden passing at the age of 63. Following the 11-CD anthological boxset from 2016 and a couple of vinyl reissues (Clear Sounds/Perfetta, 2016; Experimental I / Mechanical I, 2019), the unpublished Glowing Sounds projects Bertoia’s legacy into a virtually boundless horizon, reopening the way to the concept of “potential music” underlying any recording, be it analog or digital.
Once again it’s the temporal variable – among the chosen grounds of postmodern expressive research – that offers the starting point for the manifold reconfiguration of a single source material: it was Bertoia himself who glimpsed this inexhaustible “vertical landscape” hidden in the depths of the recording, having enclosed with this 1975 track a note that instructed the transfer of the tapes at two slower speeds, from the canonical 15 inches/second of the master to its exact half (7.5) and finally to a quarter of the same (3.25). If we imagine the piece, about six minutes long, positioned on the abscissa axis of a Cartesian plane, where the ordinate represents the speed variations, the movement towards the lower quadrant will produce a duration value increasing up to infinity. Only the deceleration process of the primary source, in fact, is useful in revealing the subharmonic phenomena and the psychoacoustic mutations intrinsic to the audio support. This publication is nothing more than the fulfillment of Bertoia’s intuition, within a limit that doesn’t distort the timbral properties of the instruments but considerably amplifies their reverberation, widening the unquiet and sublime views conceived in that recondite sound laboratory.
Unlike all previously published sessions, “Glowing Sounds” is based on the use of two large bronze gongs, whose dark green patterns decorate the LP artwork: these, too, often took on the appearance of primitive sculptures, shrouded in the sacral aura of a pre-civilized tribal cult. From the initial strokes and gentle rubbings on the surface, Bertoia then proceeds to generate screeches and lateral vibrations with a spectral character, formal alterities sometimes similar to the echo of low brass instruments (tubas, trombones), other times like gusts of wind or howls in a grim and desolate industrial scenario. If at this stage, already by no means devoid of dramatic tension, it is still easy to deduce the ritualistic gestures through which the main acoustic traits are sparked, in the subsequent enucleations the contact with tangible reality gradually thins out: little by little prevails an abstractionism which, amidst wide fields of oscillations and overtones, opens up saturating visions of Lovecraftian memory or dystopian prophecy, subterranean palpitations that through time-stretch manifest themselves with more and more solemnity and an increasingly pervasive natural resonance. The third iteration of the piece thus becomes an ocean of minute and jagged frequencies, immersed in a space dissociated from time where the dense currents of pure tonality intertwine and blend with the long wave of their decay.
Inaugurating what promises to be a long series of similar releases, always based on Bertoia’s guidelines, Glowing Sounds brings to light an unexpressed – and even more futuristic – aspect of the fascinating experiments of an authentic pioneer of sound art, inventor of a music spontaneous but far from naive in its numerous phenomenal implications.