ALBUM REVIEW: Tower Music by Joseph Bertolozzi

by Maggie Molloy

Though it was originally constructed as an entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, the Eiffel Tower quickly became a cultural icon. To this day, it is an architectural marvel, a historical monument, a work of art, and—a musical instrument? According to composer and organist Joseph Bertolozzi, yes. Yes it is.

photo credit: Blue Wings Press

Bertolozzi recently released Tower Music, a new album entirely composed and performed using only the sounds of the Eiffel Tower itself. That’s right: melodies, harmonies, foreground, background, contrast, color, counterpoint—and all using only the Eiffel Tower as an instrument. No effects, no amplification, and no electronic processing.

How did Bertolozzi do it? Well, first he raised $40,000 from private donors and convinced the Eiffel Tower administration that he was a legitimate musician. Lucky for him, Paris has a long history of investing in contemporary music—the city is actually home to Pierre Boulez’s Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique, a one-of-a-kind research institute devoted to the study of avant-garde music and sound exploration.

But back to the Eiffel Tower: Bertolozzi and his team recorded over 10,000 samples from the Tower’s various surfaces. They then catalogued the samples by tone and location, whittled the collection down to a mere 2,800 sound samples, and assembled them into a virtual instrument from which Bertolozzi’s vision could be turned into sound. Sound ambitious? It was.

But of course, Bertolozzi is no newbie to public sound-art installations. In 2007 he released an album titled Bridge Music, comprised entirely of sounds created from New York’s Mid-Hudson Bridge. The album quickly entered the Billboard Classical Crossover Music Chart—so for Bertolozzi, playing the Eiffel Tower was just the logical next step.

The album begins with “A Thousand Feet of Sound,” a five-minute overture exploring the Tower’s entire aural array—layering earthy, thumping basslines with the lightning-fast, tinny clinking of the Tower’s fences and panels. “The Harp That Pierced the Sky” employs quite a different sonic palette, enveloping the listener in an intimate sound world of sparse musical textures, metallic echoes, soft percussive melodies, and plenty of silence.

The next piece on the album draws not just from the Tower’s aural fabric, but also from its historical influence. At the 1889 World’s Fair, Indonesian musicians introduced the Javanese gamelan to Europe, profoundly influencing Western music (and in particular, Parisian composers like Debussy and Ravel). Bertolozzi’s “Continuum” pays tribute to this profound moment in music history, combining exotic gamelan motifs with contemporary post-minimalist gestures to meld the ancient music of Indonesia with the music of the modern age.

Bertolozzi’s “Prelude” and “Ironworks” weave together Afro-Carribbean musical influences with circling melodies and industrial-strength rhythmic cadences, while “The Elephant on the Tower” features a gentle, lilting waltz inspired by the oldest elephant in the world, who ascended to the first level of the Tower in 1948 with the Bouglione Circus.

But the album is not just about the history of the Tower, it’s also about the present and the future. “Glass Floor Rhythms” takes its inspiration from the varying rhythms and patterns of visitors to the Eiffel Tower’s glass floor, which was installed in just 2014, and “Evening Harmonies” takes an avant-garde, introspective look at Tower’s sounds themselves, unshackled by any of Western music’s melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic expectations.

The title track brings Bertolozzi’s magnum opus to a close with a (literal) bang, featuring a bold and bass-heavy eruption of industrial melodies and fearlessly dynamic, muscular rhythmic themes. And to top it all off, at the end of the album Bertolozzi includes an audio tour of the Tower to help you locate the different tones, timbres, and musical textures used throughout.

Because after all, everyone knows what the Eiffel Tower looks like—but for the first time in over a century, now we are able to hear it.

CONCERT PREVIEW: Cornish Presents: A Tribute to Janice Giteck

by Maggie Molloy

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Seattle-based composer Janice Giteck has a long list of music accomplishments. Not only is she an award-winning composer and a beloved professor, but she is also a historian, an ethnomusicologist, an anthropologist, and an activist.

“As an artist, I strive to articulate my experiences of the world in which I live,” Giteck said. “My work challenges the paradigm of hierarchy and embraces a spirit of transformation through relationship. I make music, knowing that it can be a source of profound connection between people.”

Next week, Seattle celebrates the myriad accomplishments of this exceptional composer with a tribute concert at Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall. We’ll get to those details later—but first, here’s a bit more about the woman of the hour:

Though originally from New York, Giteck has firmly rooted herself in the music and art of the Pacific Northwest. Whether composing for the concert hall or writing music for dance, theater, film, or multimedia performances, Giteck has always been inspired by cultural diversity and social issues both within and beyond the Pacific Northwest community. Her compositions combine elements of the Western classical tradition with a unique blend of Buddhist, Hasidic, Javanese, and African influences.

“My style is very pitch oriented, polytonal/modal, extremely melodic, rhythmic, with specific textures or qualities of sound—very frontal, and a generous amount of silence,” Giteck described. “I often juxtapose specifically notated sounds with instructions for improvisation. The elasticity of this format allows the music to have clear direction compositionally, and also to ‘breathe’ with a sense of play and spontaneity.”

Her compositions are deeply spiritual, thoughtful, reflective—ritualistic, even. Her music has a way of filling the entire space and immersing the audience in its tremendous emotional energy.

“My music is often combined with text and ethno-poetic materials of ritual,” Giteck said. “The pieces serve as dramatic microcosms, rich juxtapositions of different aspects of humanness, intensely emotional, both primal and sophisticated. There is also space for contemplation.”

Giteck began her multifaceted compositional studies with Darius Milhaud at Mills College, and on a French government grant, attended the Paris Conservatory as a student of Olivier Messiaen (yes, the Olivier Messaien). She went on to study West African percussion with Obo Addy, and Javanese Gamelan with Daniel Schmidt, fueling her interest in non-Western musical idioms.


“Musically, my style comes from a personal hybrid culture:  Euro-American concert music, Eastern European Jewish music (my great, great grandfather and his father played klezmer for the last Russian czar), Native American chant, African drumming, and Indonesian gamelan,” Giteck described.

Fascinated by the relationship between music and healing, Giteck went on to study psychology, resulting in a master’s degree from Antioch University in Seattle, followed by work as a music specialist at Seattle Mental Health Institute. Currently a professor at Cornish College of the Arts, Giteck teaches a variety of music courses, including classes focused on how artists respond to their social environments.

Most recently, as composer-in-residence with the Seattle Symphony from 2013-2015, Giteck co-created the “Potlatch Symphony” with the orchestra and members of several regional Native tribes. The piece has had three performances, including a premiere to a capacity audience at Benaroya Hall.

This Tuesday, Cornish alumni, faculty, students, and friends are gathering to honor the long and dedicated compositional career of Giteck with a concert of her music performed by long-time friends and former students. The concert features performances and presentations by long-time “Janice-collaborators” Paul Taub, Roger Nelson, Matt Kocmieroski, Laura DeLuca, Walter Gray, and Lucas Werdal.

“In my music I want to give energy, to fuel, rather than exhaust the listener with heady, difficult to understand aggregates of sound,” Giteck said. “I aim to dance with a kind of ‘uranium’ powerful enough to lure the soul, to surrender to ‘what is’. I hear music as a portal, a physical entry into the psyche, where it can engage a deep, inner-life channel.”

The Janice Giteck tribute concert is on Tuesday, April 12 at 8 p.m. at Cornish College of the Arts’ Kerry Hall on Capitol Hill. For more information, please visit this link.