Almost a year to the day since the release of Acoustic Shadows - the culmination of her acoustic explorations of the space inside the Deutzer Bridge in Köln, Germany - the New York composer and multi-instrumentalist Lea Bertucci brings her prodigious talents and archival sensibilities to bear on her third outing, A Visible Length of Light.
Gone are the expansive spatial studies of last year’s sophomore release and 2017’s All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, replaced here by more concise compositions. The tracks on A Visible Length evoke a constellation of American geographies – the urban sprawl, the sun-bleached coast, the wide-skied prairie – but they are also haunted by the spectre of anthropocentric desertification, of being disembowelled by a rapacious and overwhelming present.
This tension, and Bertucci’s navigation of it, are the premise for A Visible Length, recorded between her NYC home and Omaha, Nebraska, and pitched as an artistic response to the disorienting experience of the year that was 2020. The record’s metamorphic qualities are clear from the outset, with the trilling bass clarinet on opener and lead single “On Opposite Sides of Sleep” supplanting the rooster’s dawn call, heralding a reverberant radioactive sunrise. The title cut glitters with digital fragments of murmurations scattered on the wind, transformed towards the end into a chitinous plague of wings and mandibles.
“The Beacon” replaces the contemplative respiration of the chord organ, pervasive throughout the record, with an anxious tide and a hissing, irregular decompression. Its counterpart, resurfacing at the other end of “An Arc of the Horizon” with its entrancing bass clarinet refrain, is “Grasslands”, a double exposure of eerie pastoral idylls and rasping woodwind like mechanical ventilation. The effect is grimly captivating, as though guiding the listener through the morbid museum of our slow, inexorable consumption of life.
Structuring A Visible Length around these shorter works is not without its drawbacks. The quartet of “Refrains”, recordings of Bertucci’s New York neighbourhood punctuated by a hoarse venu flute, droning helicopters, and distant sirens, offer only perfunctory transitions between the showpiece tracks, while the agricultural ambience of “Threshes” might have been better positioned – or even condensed – elsewhere on the album.
In his America, Jean Baudrillard wrote that the desert was “a natural extension of the inner silence of the body”, and of its “capacity for absence, the ideal schema of humanity’s disappearance”. A Visible Length of Light is not Bertucci’s disappearing act, but nor is it an attempt to materialise, fully formed, with clearly defined coordinates and dimensions. It’s more like an exercise in refraction, passing through time and space along imperceptibly fluctuating vectors. The soundscapes are all recognisable, but Bertucci imbues them with an uncanny animus and with so much sonic detail that no two beguiling, disquieting playbacks ever sound quite the same.