NYC-based avant-garde composer Lea Bertucci unpacks her non-linear compositional approach and details her process for curating SPECTRES' sample content.

Lea Bertucci is a New York based experimental musician, composer, and sound designer whose body of work explores the relationship between acoustic phenomena and biological resonance. Alongside her longstanding practice with the alto saxophone, she uses tape collaging, multi-channel speaker arrays, and site responsive concepts to document her psychoacoustic and environmental experiences.

During the pandemic, Lea collaborated with an eclectic array of avant-garde musicians from her community to create the sample material for SPECTRES — bringing her conceptual vision to life through improvised sessions and spatialisation of the recordings.
You came up through the experimental music scene in NYC — how did you find your way into the city’s avant-garde community?
I grew up in the Hudson Valley, a region with a rich tradition of artists relocating from New York City. There, I played the alto saxophone in the local public school band, performing jazz and classical from the age of 9. In 2007, I moved to New York City, drawn by its diversity and richness of genre.

Over time, I grew disenchanted with conventional musical forms and started looking for more experimental and free expression. This led me to the experimental underground scene. I’d hang out at venues such as Death by Audio, Secret Project Robot, Tonic, The Knitting Factory, Roulette, and Issue Project Room. I was lucky enough to cross paths with musicians like Tony Conrad and Shelly Hirsch, who have been deeply immersed in the avant-garde music community.
What are you looking to achieve when composing with a less traditional approach?
My aim is to surprise listeners — I enjoy subverting expectations, catching someone off guard who believes they know what they’re about to listen to. By recontextualising sounds through pushing instruments to be played in unconventional ways, I explore what instruments can do on a sonic and visceral level.

The process of translation captivates me as a method of providing surprise. For instance, a field recording of birdsong in a tree can undergo a significant shift when recorded on tape and purposefully distorted. I aim to find sounds that can be reinterpreted and defamiliarised — I look for heaviness, complexity, and sounds with the power to evoke emotions.
Looping plays a big role in your work — what is it about this compositional process that speaks to you so much?
Loops fascinate me both conceptually and philosophically. They offer a captivating way to transcend linear time in composition, enabling the creation of overlapping sequences that seem to extend infinitely. I like to reflect on the minimalism of the 1960s, where musicians explored music cells and recurring patterns in non-linear ways. Think of Terry Riley's "In C," a composition formed from these repeated musical cells which performers play at their own pace.

In my own music, I use an Electro Harmonix 45000 looper. The pedal is great because it has four faders, each designated for looping and overdubbing on its own channel. Each fader has stereo control, allowing me to create deliciously complex stereo fields.
How do you feel the collaging process interacts with this approach?
Collaging stands out as one of the most contemporary techniques today. Our world is inundated with a constant stream of information that we strive to make sense of — utilising collage or cut-up techniques resonates deeply with these modern conditions. People are captivated by the potential for culture jamming enabled through these collage methods.
Space also seems to be a theme in your catalogue of work — what is it about it that you’re so interested in?
I've worked with site-specific and site-responsive music for a while. Over the past decade, my focus has gravitated toward the interplay of music and architectural environments. I'm intrigued by the potential of diffusion and the concept of creating a meta-instrument — one where the instrumental sound derives from the relationship between the sounding object and its surrounding acoustic landscape.
SPECTRES features a large range of instrumentalists and unique techniques — how did you prepare for the recording sessions?
My focus lay in investigating the instruments' extreme tonal ranges, spanning from the highest to the lowest pitches. I entered each session with a well-defined spreadsheet of sounds I wanted to capture, yet within these sounds, we explored in-the-moment improvisation and refinement. This blend of premeditation and exploration often led to fresh perspectives on initial ideas.
What’s your relationship with Randall Dunn and why did you involve him in the project?
This was my first collaboration with Randall. He was introduced to me through a friend, and I knew that he had worked with accomplished artists and was into experimental recording techniques. To me, he felt like a kindred spirit.

Randall and I share a mutual fascination with the imperfect nuances and idiosyncrasies of sounds and instruments. He has a remarkable ear for detail and a mastery of his tools that allows him to capture microscopic details such as strong harmonics and frequencies that might be considered flaws in traditional recordings. This obsession with these "so-called" imperfections contributes to the distinct character of SPECTRES.
Your use of space in SPECTRES involved amplifying the acoustic recordings into a huge grain silo — what was it about this particular space that made you want to record there?
The silo is located at a non-profit art organisation called Art Omi in the Hudson Valley — they’re friendly towards unconventional creative projects and generously allowed us to use it. It possesses a beautiful natural resonance and, crucially, had electricity needed to capture high-quality recordings.

The reamping session felt like the coldest day of the year — my fingers froze! However, it was actually good that we did it in the middle of winter because there were less bird and nature sounds, which can often be heard in other months.
What setup did you use to record there?
I used a diffusion technique with binaural microphones. I positioned the binaural pair centrally in the space and figured out the best placement for the speakers to resonate the space evenly. The diffusion technique works well with Randall's super-saturated and ultra-microscopic perspectives in the engine. This contrast of perspectives enhances the engine's versatility, enabling seamless transitions between intimate and expansive experiences.
How do you hope people go on to use the SPECTRES instrument?
When we began this collaboration, I recognised a common frustration as a composer using traditional sample libraries: the sounds were overly perfect, devoid of the imperfections that give music its character. Remarkably, you guys agreed.

Instead, we created a tool that allows you to choose your own adventure, that encourages you to think outside the box, particularly with the relationship between textured and pitched sounds.

I've seen a growing acceptance of non-traditional orchestral scores in recent years. Artists are delving into textural work, integrating the score into a film's soundscape. Studios like A24 are releasing more films with soundtracks that depart from the norm — I feel this instrument resonates well with that type of writing.

When I collaborate on sample instruments such as SPECTRES, people ask me if I’m worried about my sound being imitated — I always say no! I look forward to hearing what other people do — it’s usually very different from anything I would make. Everyone has their own life experience and their own points of reference, and if you’re really making music from the heart then nobody could possibly replicate it.
Interview by Simon Ashdown
May 2023