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That instrument known as the Eiffel Tower

The composer Joseph Bertolozzi,bearing a meditative look,stood with his feet apart in front of a door frame inside the Eiffel Tower

Written by New York Times |
June 9, 2013 1:24:26 am

Maïa De La Baume

The composer Joseph Bertolozzi,bearing a meditative look,stood with his feet apart in front of a door frame inside the Eiffel Tower. Then,187 feet above the Champs de Mars garden,he pulled a latex mallet from his tool bag and hit the frame hard,and then softer,with agility and rhythm.

“That one was beautiful!” said Paul Kozel,a sound engineer,who recorded the dull thuds.

Bertolozzi,who lives in New York,is in Paris harvesting sounds for what he calls a “public art installation,” a musical project that has taken him,Kozel and a team of seven to one of the most visited monuments in the world.

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His mission is to “play the Eiffel Tower” by striking its surfaces,collecting sounds through a microphone and using them as samples for an hourlong composition called “Tower Music.” He eventually hopes for a live,on-site performance of the work to celebrate the tower’s 125th anniversary next year.

“I’m exhilarated to be here,” Bertolozzi said,just before striking a wall with a sheepskin-padded log hanging from a leather strap. “I’ve been planning this for so long.”

“Improbable” yet “extraordinary,” Jean-Bernard Bros,the president of the Eiffel Tower operating company,said of the project,which he called “exceptional because it is rare,it is unique,it never happened before.”

As outlandish as Bertolozzi’s project seems,it actually falls within a longstanding tradition of percussion works produced by found objects. One example is Magnus Lindberg’s “Kraft,” scored for orchestra and percussion “instruments” found in local junkyards—such as brake drums and wheel rims—and performed in recent years by the New York Philharmonic.

On the second day of a two-week expedition that started last month,Bertolozzi and his team had already recorded about 400 sounds. He struck girders,spindles and handrails with drum sticks,wooden dowels,Lucite mallets and rubber hammers,some of which he had designed.

“We see if the sounds have a pitch relation,like do re mi,” Bertolozzi said,adding,“The different dimensions of the Eiffel Tower give you different notes.” The vertical shape of the tower,he said,“gives you a great number of resources if you need high notes,middle notes,low notes.”

The idea of playing on the Eiffel Tower struck Bertolozzi,an organist who also collects gongs,after his wife mimicked him striking a gong one day nearly a decade ago.

“She ‘banged’ at the Eiffel Tower on a poster hanging on the wall of our bedroom,” Bertolozzi said. “I thought,‘This would work.’”

At the time,the Eiffel Tower seemed a stretch,so he turned his efforts to an instrument closer to home. “I knew Gustave Eiffel was a bridge builder,so I said,let me do something on a bridge here in America,” Bertolozzi recalled.

The result,“Bridge Music,” was released in 2009 and reached No. 18 on the Billboard charts. Local authorities installed a permanent listening station on both sides of the bridge,where visitors can hear samples from April through October.

In preparation for his Parisian experiment,Bertolozzi studied the design of the Eiffel Tower. During his note gathering,some tourists seemed a little puzzled,but the tower’s staff found Bertolozzi’s approach coherent and unsurprising.

Stéphane Roussin,the chief engineer of the tower,said the structure made noises and vibrations. “It whispers,” he said.

“We often bang on it,” he said with a smile,“to make sure that the material isn’t defective.”

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