Harry Bertoia Sonambient Recordings

Harry Bertoia was a pioneer of using sound as a sculptural material.

In the late 1960s, Bertoia focused on a body of work he called "sounding sculptures," which included the tonals on exhibit at the Bruce. Bertoia used the word Sonambient to describe the attributes of his sounding sculptures.

Between 1968 and 1978 Harry Bertoia composed and recorded in his Pennsylvania barn, now known as the Sonambient Barn. During this ten year period he made hundreds of 1/4" tape recordings and edited some of them into a single LP he self-released in the early 1970's.

In 1978, knowing he was dying of cancer, Harry Bertoia manufactured ten more records sourced from his many recordings. The following selections are from these LPs manufactured by Harry Bertoia in the last year of his life. He did not live long enough to take delivery of the records.

These records were reissued in a CD box set on Important Records and then an LP box set via Third Man Records.


Harry Bertoia's thick hands helped him strum his large sculptures the way others would strum a guitar. This segment opens with the Bertoia strumming while overhead "singing bars" collide after being activated by the artist. Bertoia takes advantage of spacious moments created during the decay of earlier sounds by introducing "whale calls" which Bertoia was able to evoke from his large gongs.

Ocean Mysteries:

This passage shows Bertoia's ability to build up thick sounds into crescendos that come crashing down like waves. In the second half of this selection thin rods and gongs are added to make an even larger crescendo.

Visualizations of Bertoia's compositions show the shape of the amplitude of his sonic sculptures, revealing the drama that unfolds within Bertoia's improvisations and compositions.

Clear Sounds:

Clear Sounds is from an LP released in 2016 after Bertoia's Sonambient label was resurrected by Important Records. The goal was to follow the template created by Bertoia in 1978 and start to release new transfers from the artist's vast collection of recordings.

Each tape left in Bertoia's archive contained a note from the artist. These notes could be instructions for edits, ideas for future recordings or comments on the recordings themselves. Notes can be multiple pages or, in the case of this tape, just two words: Clear sounds.

Photos and recordings provided by John Brien, Founder of

Important Records, and independent record labels.

View Harry Bertoia: Sculpture for Living Exhibition Page

Share with a friend