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

Wednesday, Feb 18 2004
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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.

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Sam Prestianni

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