Listening to Martina Bertoni’s debut long-player, it’s not difficult to imagine her embraced by classical music audiences around the world. Despite being a skilled cellist however, All the Ghosts Are Gone is more an electronic than a new classical work. It is a combination of the two, to be sure. It is also, arguably, the first important release of the new year.
The Berlin-based cellist and composer first picked up the instrument as a youngster. As her tastes evolved beyond the classics that served as a basis for those early lessons, Bertoni found a way to complement her training with a flair for avant-garde composition.
The notes that accompany the new release put it this way: “The core of her solo work is based on rebuilding her identity as a cellist and deconstructing the relationship with her instrument by applying compositional and performing techniques that belong to electronic and ambient music.”
Indeed, All the Ghosts Are Gone is an impressive avant-garde work buttressed by the solemnity that comes with an inspired cello performance. It’s not an overstatement to say that Bertoni redefines her instrument here: both in terms of the sounds she captures and the context in which she presents them.
The album opens with a pleasant electronic flutter, and then a soft drone. A little under two minutes in, Bertoni’s acoustic cello makes its first appearance. The effect is immediate. Despite its simplicity – it serves as an additional drone layer for the most part – the cello adds both gravitas and sincerity to “Transparent: Closeness.”
The next piece, “Stuck out of Lifetime” is similarly elevated by the classical instrument. Here, Bertoni’s playing is more plaintive. There’s a real sense of tension, bolstered by the dark ambient sounds that make up the rest of the piece.
Again though, this is first and foremost an electronic recording. Bertoni’s cello is more often than not manipulated digitally. It is her ability to pair all of that with multiple, breathtaking flourishes of classical cello that elevate this from an interesting contemporary music project to a genuine artistic statement.