Oh, I see! moments
Travel Cultures Language

In Tune with Paris: The Music of the Eiffel Tower

by Meredith Mullins on August 8, 2013

Joe Bertolozzi with rubber hammer on Eiffel Tower railing, a unique form of artistic expression.

Hundreds of feet high, Joe Bertolozzi “plays” an Eiffel Tower railing.
© Franc Palaia

The Voice Inside The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower has been called many things. La Grande Dame. The Iron Lady. The ultimate symbol of Paris.

Several more imaginative names were provided by the artists and writers who protested its construction in 1887. A truly tragic street lamp. An ungainly skeleton. A half-built factory pipe.

Now, thanks to Joseph Bertolozzi‘s unique path for artistic expression, an even more inspirational name can be applied. The Eiffel Tower has become a musical instrument.

Oh, I see. There is music everywhere. You just have to be open to finding it.

rtolozzi with large mallet playing fence, artistic expression on the Eiffel Tower.

A musical fence . . . with quite a view.
© Franc Palaia

Tower Music

Composer/musician Bertolozzi has a penchant for discovering new ways of creating music. He has a long career of traditional composing, including orchestral works and choral music, but he is also inspired to find the voice inside inanimate objects and draw out natural sounds as the foundation for composition.

Like any percussionist at heart, he has a tendency to beat out rhythms on whatever is handy—the dinner dishes, doorknobs, railings, and any nearby surface that attracts him.

Enter—the Eiffel Tower . . . and the idea to play its surfaces. The seed was planted back in New York with an innocent comment by Joe’s wife in front of an Eiffel Tower poster. She pointed at the poster and made the sound “bong.” Joe’s imagination took over.

Couple that with Joe’s desire to explore an object’s inner rhythms and to let it speak. Add his persistence with layers of French authorities to get permission to “play” the tower.

It took years to pull it all together. He even had time to “practice” with the Mid-Hudson Bridge, an adventure that produced the lively Bridge Music composition.

Finally, all the elements aligned. The result: The Tower Music Project.

Joe Bertolozzi swinging a log into the Eiffel Tower structure, artistic expression in natural sounds.

Even the sturdiest structures vibrate if you hit them hard enough.
© Franc Palaia

An Impressive Range of Tones

Everything vibrates. And 7,300 tons of wrought iron is no exception. The tower has music inside.

“We often bang on it,” said one of the tower’s chief engineers, “to make sure the material isn’t defective.” But safety-check banging is different from Joe’s vision.

For the 12 days he was authorized to collect sounds at the tower, Joe and his team worked hard to leave no surface unbanged.

He tapped railings with assorted mallets at varying intensity. He used drumsticks on girders and spindles. He heaved a log into the sturdy iron legs.

He climbed secret spiral steps and elicited bell-like tones from their underside. He struck panels attached to a security fence and heard sizzle cymbals combined with a thunderous bass drum.

Joe Bertolozzi playing spiral stairs, artistic expression making music with the Eiffel Tower.

The bell-like tones of the secret spiral stairs.
© Franc Palaia

In all, he estimates that he collected more than 10,000 sounds (and managed to pause every now and then to savor Paris unfolding before him).

“I used to think of the tower as one thing, like a single brushstroke. Now, I look at it and see all its individual components,” Joe says with the admiration reserved for a complex literary character or multi-layered painting.

Joe Bertolozzi hammering with two arms, artistic expression on the Eiffel Tower.

Inspired by Paris vistas and the diverse tones of the tower.
© Franc Palaia

Who’s That Man Beating on the Eiffel Tower?

Music is universal. Rhythms are primal and contagious. So the passersby and onlookers during Joe’s percussive riffs often got involved in the action.

A pair of teenage tourists started rapping to Joe’s beat as he improvised. A tower security guard showed Joe pictures of himself playing the djembe (African drum)—perhaps hoping to play some tower parts himself?

Most everyone was curious, as the team of eight seemed dedicated to a quest, and were hard to miss with their microphones, recording gear, and the strange musical “tools” used to strike the tower.

The Tower Music Team in front of the Eiffel Tower, artistic expression from teamwork.

The Tower Music Team—a job well done.
© Franc Palaia

Back Home in the Studio

Now the cataloging of sounds and notes and the subsequent composing take place in the quieter environment of the studio. More long hours are needed, as Joe hopes to complete the final piece and an album in time for the 125th anniversary of the tower next year.

Ideally, too, there will be a live performance. But that would take hundreds of musicians and more authorizations from the French government. Another goal would be an audio installation at the tower so visitors could hear the composition.

Eiffel Tower, an inspiration for artistic expression.

The legacy of the Eiffel Tower.
© Meredith Mullins

Brothers in Vision: Eiffel and Bertolozzi

Just like Gustave Eiffel in the original construction of the tower, Joe says, “There were delays and missed deadlines and push back. We were in good company. We both demonstrated perseverance and conviction of purpose to achieve our goals.”

For Eiffel, the tower has achieved a lasting legacy and the appreciation of architects and engineers as well as throngs of Paris visitors (7 million per year).

Bertolozzi, too, hopes that  his artistic expression will have a lasting legacy with his completed composition, Tower Music.

And we hope that the OIC Moment of this story lives on. There is music everywhere. You just have to be open to finding it.

See Joe in action at the Eiffel Tower

See Joe in action at the Mid-Hudson Bridge. 

OIC thanks Franc Palaia for the use of his photographs.

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.


8 thoughts on “In Tune with Paris: The Music of the Eiffel Tower

  1. What fun! And what dedication by the creators and recorders of the music. Meredith, thanks for the article and for your great photo of the Eiffel Tower!

    • Hi Barbara,
      Thank you for your comments. You’re right. This team, led by Joe, was a truly creative team . . . not afraid to try new things (or beat on things that had never been beat on before).

      Vive la musique!


  2. Hi Arthur,
    You can see a sample at the two You Tube links at the end of the article. There are other posts on You Tube as well as on Joe’s website. It is fascinating music!

    Thanks for your interest,


    • Hi Carol,
      Thanks for your comment. It would be so great if Tower Music could be performed live next year in Paris. At the very least, Bertolozzi plans to release an album next year. Lots of work to do first!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. The name you enter will appear with your comment. * Required field

Copyright © 2011-2013 OIC Books   |   All Rights Reserved   |   Theme: Esquire by Matthew Buchanan.