This LP is cut straight from the original master tapes maintaining a straight analog signal path.
When Harry Bertoia’s Sonambient label was resurrected, our intention was to tell the story of Bertoia’s groundbreaking Sonambient work as revealed through his extensive collection of notes and recordings. When the first new LP was released in 2016 we were only in possession of 1/20th of the archive. Now, in 2019, we’re excited to release the first LP of new material from the full archive and we present it to increase understanding of what Bertoia was doing in his sound-barn deep in the Pennsylvania woods.
The recordings contained on this LP were selected because of their relationship to Bertoia’s body of recorded work. The titles are from from Bertoia’s notes which Bertoia placed in each tape box, indicating date and describing briefly. Like his sculptures, Bertoia never titled his recordings but frequently referred to specific concepts he was pursuing. These are among the earliest known examples of Bertoia using terms which would become more common in the years to come: “experimental,” “mechanical” and “long sounds.”
Very few of Bertoia’s early experimental sessions survive on tape: he did not record many and often erased those he taped. Most were not recorded and those that were recorded were often erased. Those that remain, however, offer fascinating insights into how Bertoia likely worked in the barn when the tape machine wasn’t running. Although he left behind hundreds of tapes, one can only begin to imagine the amount of unrecorded sessions that took place in Bertoia’s barn.
Experimental I shows the artist stretching out, in no hurry and avoiding any bombastic explosiveness. We imagine Bertoia looking around the barn much as he is seen on this album’s cover; searching for the next sound in his forest of metal wires. Unheard combinations of sculptures, percussion and long strummed sections make this recording unique. This piece has a an effortless, natural flow.
There appear to be at least 10 tapes from 1969-1975 that Bertoia noted were “Mechanical.”. Bertoia thought of his sculpture as a collaboration with industry since the diameters of his rods were, ultimately, determined by what was available from the factory that manufactured them. In that sense, Bertoia’s music could, quite literally, be considered industrial and this piece has the metallic rhythms of a factory pulsing through it.
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.