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What looks like a mangled guitar sounds, in Paolo Angeli's hands, oddly beautiful

Wednesday, Feb 18 2004
For Paolo Angeli, musical innovation starts with adapting the instrument. In this case, it's the acoustic guitar of the artist's native Sardinia. A breed apart from the Martins and Guilds one encounters at a typical U.S. folk festival, the Italian isle's traditional six-string boasts a stouter body and a longer neck, which gives it a richer resonance and encourages nonstandard tuning (about a half-octave below the Western norm). But this quasi-exotic sound was insufficient to meet the needs of Angeli's avant-garde vision.

So he crosshatched another set of sympathetic strings underneath the original ones (over the F-hole at the instrument's belly) and fixed the bridges where the strings connect to the wood with metallic levers and what look like tiny mallets. He also suspended a single wire, like on a backwoods gutbucket bass, from the guitar's extended top- and bottommost extremities. This homespun contraption looks like two lutes waltzing with a toolbox, but with it Angeli performs some of the 21st century's most inventive -- yet listenable -- music for "extended technique."

His debut CD, Bucato, features live solo performances improvised from preconceived frameworks, including a few plucky folklike melodies and some rattling metallic weirdness (from those little hammers), which seem to pay homage to the trademark shenanigans of prepared-guitar pioneers Fred Frith and Eugene Chadbourne. The rest of the disc mines uncharted though strangely familiar territory: straight-ahead polka, bowed Arabic motifs, interval-leaping jazz, and fuzzy trip-hop grooves. The Sardinian axe sounds variously like a cello, violin, banjo, bass drum, or industrial synthesizer. It seems like a mess, but despite the eccentricity of Angeli's vision and the freakish appearance of his so-called guitar, you'll be surprised by the peculiar accessibility of his songs.

About The Author

Sam Prestianni


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