An­geli soups up his shape-shift­ing gui­tar

> BY ALEXAN­DER VARTY

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

Close your eyes, and lis­ten. Is that a dou­ble bass? A cello? A sitar? A bag­pipe’s dron­ing plaint? A street per­cus­sion­ist wreak­ing havoc on trash-can lids?

No, it’s a gui­tar. But it’s no or­di­nary gui­tar. Paolo An­geli’s much­mod­i­fied in­stru­ment be­gan life as the typ­i­cal six-string of his na­tive Sar­dinia. Big­ger than the fa­mil­iar Span­ish in­stru­ment, it’s also tuned lower and has an at­trac­tively throaty sound. But to this frame­work, An­geli has added me­chan­i­cal fin­gers—ac­ti­vated by a row of three foot ped­als—that al­low him to pro­duce cycli­cal bass lines over which he can fin­ger­pick con­tra­pun­tal melodies. A small pro­pel­ler, pro­trud­ing from the gui­tar’s sound­hole, strikes the strings in just such a way that it pro­duces a con­tin­u­ous drone. Ex­tra strings— some run­ning from head­stock to tail­piece, oth­ers in an ar­ray across the sound­board—al­low for har­por thumb-pi­ano-like ef­fects. By slid­ing me­tal ob­jects be­neath the strings, An­geli can pro­duce per­cus­sive noises; by adding bonus bridges, he can sug­gest a man­dolin or an oud; by stroking the strings with a cello bow, he can in­voke, un­sur­pris­ingly, a cello.

An­geli has a unique bag of tricks to draw on. But, more than that, he also has enough imag­i­na­tion to use them in a mar­vel­lously mu­si­cal way, of­ten sound­ing more like a small en­sem­ble than a solo per­former. And that, he says, has been his goal all along.

“The idea with the gui­tar was like, ‘Okay, I am solo, but I would like to give the im­pres­sion of be­ing like many mu­si­cians in di­a­logue—a kind of coun­ter­point be­tween dif­fer­ent mu­si­cians and in­stru­ments,’” the gui­tarist ex­plains, on the line from a Mon­treal ho­tel. “At the be­gin­ning it was much sim­pler: ‘Okay, this song is with the bow. Next song, I just use ped­als. Next song is with pro­pel­lers.’ I mean, all the el­e­ments that I used to in­tro­duce on my gui­tar were sep­a­rate, each one from each other. But right now it’s a dif­fer­ent ap­proach.…i can have dif­fer­ent sounds, very, very fast.”

An­geli is also able to in­cor­po­rate cover tunes—search Youtube for a gor­geous ver­sion of Björk’s “De­sired Con­stel­la­tion”, for in­stance—and tra­di­tional Sar­dinian melodies into his ap­proach, along with a new open­ness to North African and Mid­dle East­ern sounds in­spired by his 2006 move from Bologna to Barcelona.

“Now, when I play com­po­si­tions, the com­po­si­tions are much more con­nected to light, to sunny times,” he says. “In Barcelona we have this light that is very in­tense, and it’s very dif­fer­ent than to live in Bologna, where it was raining ev­ery day! You can see the sky, and that’s a re­ally big in­flu­ence. And it’s dif­fer­ent to spend time in a town where you can walk and have fresh­squeezed juice and fish caught by the fish­er­men the day be­fore they sell it in the mar­ket. All those ex­pe­ri­ences changed my mind about how to play mu­sic.”

Make no mis­take: dark­ness and noise still play a part in An­geli’s ap­proach. But there are few play­ers who so suc­cess­fully com­bine beauty and mad-sci­en­tist wiz­ardry; his up­com­ing Van­cou­ver con­cert is not to be missed.

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