The first time my eardrum was delighted by the sound of composer and cellist Martina Bertoni occurred more than 10 years ago, when the appreciated Expanding Records let deliver into my mailbox a copy of “Excellent Swimmer”, an astonishing collaborative project, name Modern Institute, that she made together with Teho Teardo. I always wanted to reach Martina for a deserved introduction of her sound by her own words on our pages, and rediscovering her recent awesome solo releases at the beginning of 2020 – I’m referring to “All The Ghost Are Gone”, published by the renowned Icelandic label FALK, following the release of a couple of EPs in 2018 and 2019, and “Music For Empty Flats” (out on the well-respected label Karlrecords) – acted as a strong reminder. If cello manages to grab your attention as music lovers, I’m pretty sure that Martina’s sound will also grab your mind and your soul.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Martina! How are you doing on these weird days?
Martina Bertoni: Hello! I am doing fine, thank you. Somehow I managed to get through these past times quite decently. Covid and lockdowns have been a weird experience, but I tried to take each day as it came and to get all the positives. I have been lucky.
Chain D.L.K.: It’s a long time I’d like to introduce your art to Chain DLK readers, but for a reason or other, I never managed (mostly lack time). First of all, can you tell us something about your very first steps?
Martina Bertoni: Thank you so much for this opportunity… If you mean the very first steps with the cello, I started playing it when I was 6-and-something years old. I started with a private teacher, then I moved into full public classical training, getting my degrees during my twenties. The very first steps in my solo career happened very slowly, ’cause I was mostly involved in playing with and for other artists. It was when I moved to Berlin in 2016 that I started taking my time to focus and work on what I wanted to do for myself as a solo artist.
Chain D.L.K.: How would you describe your relationship with the cello?
Martina Bertoni: It’s my life. It has been a constant, bulky, and demanding presence for the greatest part of my existence. I grew up with it and I keep on growing around it. Cello brought loads of struggles around discipline and identity but at the same time, it has been the tool for building my own connection with music. I cannot picture my life without it.
Chain D.L.K.: I noticed that the interest in cello by listeners and scholars is remarkably rising. How would you explain that? What’s the inner magic of this instrument in your viewpoint?
Martina Bertoni: I guess it could be for its closeness to the human spectrum of frequencies: potentially it can bring up levels of unmeasurable musical nuances, depths, possibilities. That is a fair reward for the challenges of learning how to play it…
Chain D.L.K.: How did you start understanding a certain complementarity between cello and electronics?
Martina Bertoni: As mentioned above, it happened quite late in my life. I always have been an avid listener of electronic music, but I thought I wasn’t smart and able enough to understand how to make it. Then this complementarity started happening when I accepted that I could start using electronics and playing the cello at the same time. It has been a non-linear and difficult process of self-determination and understanding that I didn’t want to follow other artists’ practices. I wanted to see if I could create my own.
Chain D.L.K.: You did many impressive collaborations (including with big names of the international music scene like Blixa Bargeld and Teho Tehardo, you made plenty of scores both for experimental and awarded movies that requires – I guess – some interaction with other artists, but what do you like more of working in your soloist project against the collaborative part of your activities?
Martina Bertoni: Collaborations and joint projects have been always incredibly enriching, especially considered that I’ve been lucky to cross paths with many inspiring artists. I willingly devoted the biggest part of my musical life to playing with and for other people, so I thought I deserved to be alone and work alone for a while. For me, it’s an identity-defining matter of where I want to stand and place myself as a creator of my own music. After many years I embraced my being a total introvert and started loving the freedom and the frustrations of dealing and working with myself.
Chain D.L.K.: Regarding your awesome recent release “Music For Empty Flats”, I read you drew inspiration while staying in an empty flat in Reykjavk… can you tell us something about that inspiring experience? Which music did you use to listen to that pierced your sensitivity to the point you derived a full album?
Martina Bertoni: First of all thanks a lot for these words regarding MFEF. The episodes that gave birth to the concept of the album happened during December 2019, while I was visiting my in-laws in Iceland. For a series of coincidences, I could get in and hang out in almost finished and yet totally empty big flats. As said, I am comfortable in spending time with myself so I took the chance to sit alone listening to some records at the time I was pretty obsessed with “Revep” and “Vriioon”, from Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto. It was the whole listening experience that drove a sense of inspiration and wellbeing, so I started sketching down some material that later became music for empty flats.
Chain D.L.K.: I read some reviewers matched “Music For Empty Flats” to the forced prison of pandemic lockdown. If I were you, I would get upset by such a decontextualized matching. What’s your opinion on this kind of somehow gilb feedback?
Martina Bertoni: The timeframe of the release of “Music for Empty Flats” has been absolutely unique, it was released during a time in which many people’s existence has been seriously limited, compromised, and what we considered normality has been deeply questioned. So I totally got the connection and I am not upset at all. The beauty of the listening experience is that it remains personal, it can touch and bring out the unexpected. I find the feedbacks people give about my music always very interesting.
Chain D.L.K.: As we mentioned, how did this pandemic situation affect your life and your art?
Martina Bertoni: It’s a bit difficult to answer because we are still not completely out of it and I guess I need more time to make my mind about it. What I can say is that despite the situation, I found myself in a privileged position, since I could stay somehow afloat during the very long german lockdown. Isolation forced me to face and deal with many of my mental issues on a very daily basis. I tried to work out a way to care about them.
I didn’t and couldn’t throw myself into writing music this time. That creative process needs to be nurtured, and despite me being not a very social character, like everyone, I need interactions to function properly. I’ve started working on new music and what I see is that the process now is slower, I need inputs and inspirations. My brain is a little stiff.
Yet again, I consider myself very lucky.
Chain D.L.K.: We also mentioned Reykjavk, the city of FALK, an appreciated label that released another masterpiece forged by you, “All The Ghosts Are Gone”… any word about it? Is there any connection with Music For Empty Flats?
Martina Bertoni: I am so grateful to FALK for choosing to release my first album. At the time I couldn’t believe a label would ever release my music. I met Aalsteinn Jrundsson (the owner of FALK), through my husband which is Icelandic, and he immediately connected with my music. That’s how All the Ghosts Are Gone saw the light.
The connection between the two albums is that Iceland, for many beautiful reasons, plays a big role in my life.
Chain D.L.K.: Any work in progress? Are you going to perform on any live stages in the forthcoming future?
Martina Bertoni: I already have a bundle of new tracks that I really really like, so I just keep on writing. Every time I start a new project I try to change the maps of my workflow, I hope it will work out as well this time.
Regarding live performances I will perform a couple of gigs at the end of the summer, it will be interesting for me to be back performing live after quite a long hiatus and I am very much looking forward. Besides everything I keep my fingers crossed that there will be no cancellations!