The banjo and guitar extrapolations of Paul Metzger reveal the true meaning of virtuosity.
Too often virtuosity is characterised as the transcending of an instrument, the pushing beyond its supposed limitations. Truly, virtuosity resides in the full sounding of its possibilities. Think of Pablo Casals’s recordings of Bach’s cello suites, still one of the central virtuoso performances of modern times. Has a cello ever sounded more like itself? The music makes explicit play of the specifics of its construction and the terms of the musician’s interaction with it, foregrounding the fibre of the bow, the steel of the strings, the amplifying wood. This is music for cello in excelsis.
Think of Derek Bailey’s Aida. Again, this is music exploring the full possibilities of the electric guitar and the physical fact of the instrument itself, grounded in the magnetic snap of the strings, the wow of the amplifier, the strange corona that electricity affords single, variously articulated notes. It’s not about the musician’s mastery or command of the instrument, which in its language implies a form of conquering or overcoming of it. What true virtuosity means is a profound sympathy with the specifics of the instrument, the establishing of a resonant relationship with it. Or to quote another singular instrumentalist, guitarist Bill Orcutt, it’s about articulating how the thing sings.
As an unaccompanied instrumentalist Paul Metzger’s banjo and guitar soundings straddle a bunch of specifically American idioms, from contemporary guitar soli through old-timey music and the extended modifications of devotional music of late 1960s exponents like Sandy Bull and The Electric Prunes circa Mass In F Minor. It also factors in raga modes and Eastern sonorities, highlighting the drone that connects American and Asian vernacular music. But Metzger’s obsessively modified instruments place him in the tradition of the American musician-composer-inventor à la Harry Partch and Harry Bertoia, though there’s something a little more hands on and gonzo to Metzger’s approach that puts him alongside DIY mavericks like Eugene Chadbourne and his electric rake, or Charlie Nothing’s dingulators – metal guitars made out of salvaged automobile parts.
On 1300 Metzger plays a modified Yamaha guitar, the neck of which is covered in fretless steel, and it’s further embellished with additional sympathetic strings and a ride cymbal attached to the bottom. He also plays a 23 string banjo that again has been modified with sympathetic strings, including an additional 13 strings affixed across the drum head to provide a kind of zither effect.
Here, then, through Metzger’s compulsive modifications, mastery of the instrument is continually deferred in favour of perpetual reiterations and refractions of the instrument’s core identity. Metzger’s instrumental elaborations are a creative bind that forces virtuosity deeper as opposed to further. 1300 consists of two sidelong improvisations, the first on the revamped Yamaha. Called “Meend For Shaista”, it makes great play of the percussive possibilities afforded by Metzger’s augmentations, with an attack that keeps the sympathetics singing while alternating between an almost industrial strength flamenco technique that builds dizzying chordal drones from passages of klanging steel tones, and episodes of phantom multi-note glides.
Meend is a term in Hindustani music that refers to a technique of gliding or sliding between several notes by the displacement of a single string. Metzger uses the technique to generate complex chains of notes that feel like shadows or melodic afterimages. Indeed the guitar is set up in a way that engenders all sorts of surplus activity; strange vortices of dancing tones, impromptu raptures of recombinant note possibilities, discordant polyrhythms. At points it feels closer to a gamelan orchestra, a percussion ensemble, as he winds his steel strings around crashing cymbals and simultaneous tabla accompaniment. Recorded live, in one take, by a single player, it is a true virtuoso performance, a deep, resonant engagement with the ever-expanding possibilities of Metzger’s instrument.
The B side is focused on the modified 23 string banjo. Entitled “Death’s Other Kingdom”, it’s another highly tactile performance. Metzger starts off bowing the banjo, focusing on sustained chordal matrices. When he does pick out single note melodies they’re fraught, emotionally high wire, with a keening, Hasidic cantorial quality more than a Northern Indian character.
About halfway through there’s a striking passage where he repeatedly hits a single string to the point that it loses connection to the the way the piece has been unfolding. Suddenly you’re brought up short, reminded of the construction of the instrument, the source of the music. It only lasts for a few seconds but it’s so odd, so unexpected, that it transcends any notion of bathos while still sounding simply, shockingly, like someone hitting a piece of unresponsive steel. This moment of ur-music, of pre-music, makes perfect sense. Metzger’s full spectrum sounding of the potential of the banjo is as primitive as it is sophisticated, taking in everything from beautiful arabesques and rainbows of microtonal colour through the auraless klang of suspended steel.
In common with John Cage’s prepared pianos, Metzger’s preparations posit new approaches to the instrument by strategic interventions at the point of its most basic mechanisms. In this light, Philip Corner’s performances that involved the total destruction of the piano can also be seen as virtuosic, in that the piano’s entire capacity for sound is brought into play. Its status as a stringed acoustic instrument that is played percussively is exaggerated and underlined by its emphatic sledgehammer sounding.
Like Cage and Corner’s pianos, Metzger’s banjo and guitar contain multitudes. Suspended between past and future, honouring the tradition while hijacking it, listening for its voice while revelling in its inarticulacies; this is how the thing sings. And the song, in the obsessive extensions of Metzger’s instruments, truly has no ending.
–The Wire, David Keenan
Paul Metzger – Sepulchre
Happy new year to all of you. It’s probably no longer accurate to call Paul Metzger’s instrument a banjo. Oh, it may have started life as one, but it’s acquired so many extra strings and bridges that it surely needs its own name by now. It’s currently at 23 strings, and while it certainly has some of the sonority of its original form, the shuddering pitch bends of the sitar and the nasal harmonics of the guzheng can also be heard in there.
You can hear both of those in Sepulchre from Metzger’s 2013 album Tombeaux. It spends 12 minutes being stately and sombre and elegant, and then finally decides it’s had enough. The powerfully deep low strings come into play, Metzger sings “This is the way we rise we fall,” and suddenly the piece is an offering to the gods of metal. Breathtaking.
If you’re yet to hear Paul Metzger’s unique work for banjo and guitar 1300 is a great place to start, and with eight other most worthy listens preceding, it may be the standout in terms of its execution and as a current check-in point for the vast spectrum of sounds he is continually articulating from his modified instruments. With side A devoted to his 21 strong banjo and B to a far from ordinary Yamaha acoustic (think metal fret board, ride cymbal and sympathetic strings for a start) his technique and approach is as expansive and intriguing as his instrument innovations, and it all makes for a highly immersive work. Whilst a few other string pickers may come to mind it’s primarily those with a similarly single-minded and expansive approach to instruments that in the wrong hands can feel all too limited.
–The Vinyl Factory
The starting point of Paul Metzger’s music is usually an instrument that he’s customized (his sitarlike 23-string banjo) or invented (his “spontaneous composition generator,” which is basically a painter’s box full of 37 altered music-box cylinders). Their novelty isn’t an end in itself, but rather an avenue to opportunity; the native of Saint Paul, Minnesota, wants to be surprised by his own music, and by including unfamiliar or random elements, he helps that happen. Metzger’s music is far from chaotic, though: even when he’s playing another composer’s melody, such as the treatment of Erik Satie’s “Beau Soir” on his most recent LP, Tombeaux (Nero’s Neptune), he improvises along ragalike structures that can yield stirring grandeur and thrilling abandon. Tonight’s concert, his first in Chicago since 2011, kicks off a 17-date tour with fellow north-woods instrument inventor Tim Kaiser.
–Chicago Reader, Bill Meyer
PAUL METZGER’S MAD SCIENCE
I’m not interested in what someone can do, but very I’m interested in who they are. —Paul Metzger
In the late 70s, St. Paul native Paul Metzger drilled several small holes in a Yamaha acoustic guitar. 30-odd years later, he’s on the third draft of his fully modified 23-string banjo.
A tinkerer to the very Nth degree, Metzger is, in his own words, an old-world craftsman of sorts. A self-taught musician and inventor, he modifies instruments and crafts completely new ones out of little more than common junk, a few necessary parts, and a lot of Loctite.
His most famous creation, the one his is known for, is his 23-string banjo. Reminiscent of a sarod, an Indian stringed instrument similar to a lute, his banjo is built around the classic 5-string construction, but includes numerous others as well as several “sympathetic” strings that reverberate while the instrument is played, adding volume, depth, and a melodic complexity to the instrument’s sound.
With his Frankenstein banjo, Metzger uses finger-picking, strum patterns, and bow technique to craft remarkably unconventional, asymmetrically melodic pieces rooted in Indian classical traditions that aggressively challenge common conceptions of musically and the nature of the instrument.
While Metzger’s music is at first somewhat disorienting, Metzger’s robust musicality and mastery of his instrument assuages any doubts. A veteran musician of many decades, Metzger is a practiced hand. However, he is also self-taught, and by no means a product of any conservatory or a “Juilliard person,” a fact he touts with much pride. Music, Metzger believes, is an exercise of the soul and less of the brain.
“If you have something in you to express, it’s like a poet that doesn’t have a big vocabulary, but it has a big soul, it doesn’t matter, because it’ll come through,” Metzger says.
It’s this spirit, this manifesto that guides Metzger’s very isolated exploration of the constraints of “music,” and it exudes with every note, from all 23 strings.
It’s haunting, confrontational, spontaneous, and beautiful.
But Metzger wouldn’t want you to know him by what he can do. Rather, he would want you to know him for who he is, and to truly know Paul Metzger is to hear him.
Following on from his excellent 2010 album The Uses of Infinity, Tombeaux sees banjo virtuoso Paul Metzger further expanding the language of American Primitive guitar with elements of Indian classical music, drone-laden minimalism and his own excursive innovations. Aspects of the 3 long tracks that make up ‘Tombeaux’ are reminiscent of fellow US string magicians Ben Chasny, Pat Best or Glenn Jones, but there is something even more ineffable about Metzger’s music that alles him closer to Henry Flynt’s dismantling of American folk forms on albums like ‘Back Porch Hill Billy Blues.’ This might be to do with the tone and scope of Metzger’s self-modified 23-string banjo, which features a set of sympathetically tuned cross strings that dissect the regular six over a second bridge. This allows Metzger to strike a droning open chord and embroider a melody in the same upward plucking motion. Although he isn’t afraid to straddle the same two strings for a long time in passages of hypnotic beauty, his modifications allow for much versatility in approach and sonic range.
Paul Metzger, Tombeaux: Droning, truly Weird Americana on the 23-string banjo that gets at Fahey’s Bartok obsession more than any other in this music.
– total vibration
This new release in fact is just one track in 3 parts which after listening seemed to be over quickly, while apparently this is still way over 30 minutes.
It is an improvisation in a few sections with at least three different approaches. At first hearing, this sounds not too complicated and direct, but much more is dealt with for the setting, especially for what is the instrument and for the range of expressions this instrument can show, and even then, this is enhanced further. One should in fact listen a few more times to get a more full grip on that.
The first few notes are playing with a bowed resonance and vibration, with some acoustic wah-wah overtones, then Paul Metzger, still with the bow in his hand, starts to play more directly a more melodic intro onto the strings, and, just like some ethnic instrument, it redirects all that more towards a raga-mode. The second part picks this further into that same raga mode, with deep resonating tones and the choice of using also higher resonance strings to it. The sound of Paul Metzger’s modified and changed banjo is deeper and wider than that of a usual banjo or also guitar. This further developed musical theme then is improvised further, chord-by-chord, where the instrument shows a beautiful warm resonance in the bass tones. The third part adds extra high notes on shorter attached strings, like an enhancement with something like Japanese music to the earlier raga core. Again we still hear the deeper resonance strings well, with which in a later state will be improvised with it too, as well as with the middle tone banjo-strings, and still raga-styled, it then also with increasing speed. Paul then also somewhere started to sing “this is the way we rise/we fall” before the faster pickings conclude with majestic flair, in an alternative way to Basho.
I can’t explain Tombeaux, the latest LP from Paul Metzger and his self-modified, oft-bowed 23-string banjo. It’s certainly the most impressionist piece on this list, as well as the most progressive and likely the most divisive. Metzger feels his way through three stunning improvised compositions, one of which is a reinterpretation of Debussy’s “Beau Soir“. If you find yourself craving more contemporary weirdness after making it through the last eight LPs, Tombeaux has got you covered.
– Peter Lillis, Frontier Psychiatrist
by Byron Coley
The banjo, like the accordion, is an instrument that does not instantly command the respect it deserves. Commonly viewed as a vehicle for hillbillies, despite amazing recordings by the likes of George Stavis, Sandy Bull and Billy Faier, the four or five strings of the ordinary banjo are seen as inferior to the six or 12 strings of a guitar. But such sizeist thinking is given the screws by St Paul, Minnesota based banjo player Paul Metzger. His current instrument has 23 strings, and he uses every one of them.
Metzger’s latest solo album, his eighth, is entitled Tombeaux, and is probably his best yet. This statement is qualified only because so many of his other records are extraordinary. Going back through them, you’re struck, even as far back as those recorded in the 1980s with his group TVBC, by his unusual approach to technique and structuring. Notes are bent, twisted and placed with great attention to detail. At the time they were coming out, this quality wasn’t always palpable, but now that Metzger has generated a large body of work, it’s possible to appreciate how artful he has always been about his creations.
Although Metzger was originally lured to stringed instruments by the playing of Django Reinhardt and Duck Baker, he soon discovered Hindustani classical music and was swamped by the sound. Nikhil Banerjee’s sitar and Ram Narayan’s sarangi were particular favourites, and he tried to adapt the guitar and banjo to create music with a distinctly nonWestern edge. He explains, “It was the pure sound of the banjo that got me into it. I had been playing guitar for a while when I came across a
cheap, shitty banjo at a pawn shop. I played it a bit and fell in love with the sound and bought it. The banjo has such a sharp, unforgiving attack with zero sustain. That’s a real good place to start with a sound for me. Most banjo players I’ve heard seem to keep the sound right where it is to begin with, and then stick to the material that goes with that. I’m much more into getting things out of the banjo that expand its vocabulary. I play banjo in spite of its baggage and associations.”
He experimented by himself with acoustic instruments throughout the 70s, playing electric guitar with rock groups on the side. In 1979, he formed TVBC with Marshall Metzger and Pat Dzieweczynski as a very loud, mostly instrumental trio, and began working more overt Eastern motifs into his electric tunes as well. TVBC were very cool, if not wildly popular. The trio still play every once in a while. Asked if he considers them an ongoing project, Metzger says, “I think of it as a cancer that’s in remission. Once in a while it comes back and we just need to treat it aggressively with radiation and chemicals. I adore plugging in the electric guitar with all that power. I still play electric with a couple of heavily bewildered lads here at home and I love it like crazy.”
Metzger’s first autonomous recordings were released in 2005 as Paul Metzger Solo (Mutant Music) and Four Improvisations On Modified Banjo And Guitar (Nero’s Neptune). Both of these sets were remarkable for their uses of odd, hand-altered instruments, deep attention to patterned drones and an obvious mastery of technique. Comparisons were
made to players like Richard Bishop and Jack Rose, but the similarities were passing. No one was actually doing the same thing as Metzger, although he says, “Any bewildered loner cooking up something at home is a kindred spirit.” The instruments he played were constantly evolving as well; sometimes he would add strings, other times remove them in a deliberate process to find a certain sound.
“It’s been a real slow evolution,” he says. “I add one or two things at a time, not quite knowing where I’m heading with it. Then I spend time with that version, see what happens and then maybe add some more. The banjo I’m playing now is my third.”
Subsequent records have incorporated multiple threads of interest, including trio improvisations with drummer/clarinettist Milo Fine and percussionist Davu Seru. Metzger also shared a split with Fine, Concerning The Other Condition/Spontaneous Composition Generator (Nero’s Neptune), on which he plays a homemade electronics device that’s as weirdsounding a machine as anything Voice Crack’s Norbert Möslang ever invented. But the real core of Metzger’s discography is improvised string music on customised instruments, on which he is a rivetingly intense live performer. Obviously there are musicians he resembles now and then – Glenn Jones, for instance – but Metzger’s root sound remains uniquely his own. And in these times, that’s a rare goddamn thing. Tombeaux is out now on Nero’s Neptune. paulmetzger.net
–The Wire, Byron Coley
Not to be missed is Paul Metzger’s “188,” a banjo interpretation of #188 from Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal’s “Calendário do Som,” a project in which Pascoal composed a song for every day of the year. The banjo sounds at times Middle Eastern and Orientalist, its versatility of voice magical in these gifted hands.
– Stacey Pavlick, Spectrum Culture
Playing to a rambunctious packed and expectant house, show opener and local treasure Paul Metzger took seat centre stage and began an inspired two song set of banjo improvisation (the second an amazing Debussy cover), wowing the crowd with his virtuosity. Performing on a heavily modified banjo of his own creation and without the aid of any effects or pedals, Mr. Metzger moved easily between bow, strum, finger picking, and resonant motion techniques to create a fascinating piece of theatre, an aural and visual feast that was at once hypnotic and mesmerising, his sound running the musical gamut from traditional Japanese to Hindustani sarod to Spanish flamenco. Heady stuff from an extremely talented artist I would encourage everyone to seek out. Truly stunning.
–Amy Michalik, folkgeek.net
Paul Metzger is unlike any instrumentalist you know. For one thing, he’s a self-taught banjo virtuoso — though the instrument he plays is less of a banjo and more a crazy instrument experiment gone horribly right. In the late ’70s, Metzger began performing small surgeries on his banjo, adding extra strings and performing minor transplants. Today, Metzger is on his third version of the original creation, complete with 23 strings — and while the look of it is slightly Frankensteinish, the sound is unbelievably stunning.
Metzger’s 8th solo recording and his latest album, Tombeaux, is a haunting, textural thing that steps out of space. Metzger weaves sounds together with an understated eloquence, and the three compositions on Tombeaux are as intricate and detailed as if they were being performed not by one musician but by four. But then, what would you expect from an artist who was just recently awarded the McKnight Fellowship for Performing Musicians?
Tonight at the Turf Club’s Clown Lounge, Metzger celebrates the release of Tombeauxalong with free-form improvisation quartet Kvarteto Improvizi. Ahead of his gig, Gimme Noise caught up with Metzger to talk about the album, the Fellowship, and the origins of his instrument.
Gimme Noise: Tell me about what it took to make this album.
Paul Metzger: I wanted to do the record all alone instead of going to a studio. I wanted to do it at home, and that ended up being kind of a tricky thing, because you have to push buttons and stuff rather than just sit and play, but I wanted to get that intimate kind of sound and feeling of just being alone. It was different for me to do it like that, but I really like it.
Do you think you’ll be recording at home for your next album?
I don’t know. It was just the material and the mood it put me in for that recording. I really like going somewhere else, somewhere that has an interesting vibe to it. I’ve recorded in old churches before, and I like that as well. I like a room that has a vibe to it, so it just depends on what feels good for a place and what direction that the music is going in.
How long was the album in the making — your process, that kind of thing?
A lot of the material I was using was quite old. “Sepulchre” goes back to the ’80s, and the other [“Of the Passing”] was created on the spot, and then “Beau Soir” is from 1883, it’s Claude Debussy. Building up to recording, that process, that takes a long time for me. I feel like I need to have something to say with the material. I need to have something to say rather than just play the instrument. I would say [this album took] two years.
Give me some background on the banjo that you play. It doesn’t sound like a normal instrument at all.
It goes back to… Well, I’m a little bit of an old-timer, so my musicianship, I guess, started in the ’70’s, and at that time it was like, if you’re interested in something and pretty broke, it was all about the library record collection and books. I was really interested in world instruments — instruments from India and Afghanistan and that region — and I checked out records like that. I wanted to create those sounds, and so to begin to approximate some of the things that I was hearing on record I would add strings to it, slowly, and I could fill a few holes in and get closer to the sound that I was hearing on the record. So really slowly, over time, developing sort of the banjo to have more strings and more sounds, more resonance. And it just took its time. The banjo I’m playing now is the third one that I’ve worked on. Each time that I’d work on a banjo, for the next one I would have more of a head start on how I wanted to do it, and that’s what I end up with. I end up with a sound that’s unique, and has a lot of different opportunities to do different things.
You were recently awarded the very prestigious McKnight Fellowship for Performing Musicians. Tell me about how that came out and how you feel.
The way [the Fellowship application] works is that it’s just an open call… like, send in a CD work sample. So you send in a thing, and my idea, being a self-taught musician — people like myself, that are sort of the outsider, are just as legit in what they do as a conservatory-trained player. So I just wanted to throw my hat into the ring and sort of represent the loner. I think that’s an important little slice of the musical eye, when there’s the established set of musical learning, but there are other ways as well, and I always wanted to put that out there. I certainly never expected that I would get a Fellowship for it. [Laughs] But I just wanted to have that voice in the mix, because the kind of players that I hang with, the people that I know, come from a similar place that I do, and they’re people that are astounding–they’ll peel your head back with what they can do.
[The Fellowship application] was a somewhat elaborate process. You know, they whittle it down to nine people, and then you perform live for these four judges in a weird kind of concert, and that part’s a little awkward. I felt, on one hand, it’s personally a little bit embarrassing, because I don’t like that process that much as far as being involved in that particular kind of thing, but I do like the idea of having a representative of people–people such as myself… I don’t know the word. I like the idea of them being part of that particular kind of thing, because it’s kind of prestigious. So I’m just like a person that represents the outsider, you know. I like that. I like that aspect.
I know a lot of people who do this kind of thing, solo vocalists and musicians, and they’re sometimes kind of marginalized… If what you’re doing is not of an established method, it’s difficult for people to understand what you’re doing. It’s more like, “What the hell is that?” But it’s a legit, serious pursuit. I like that.
Tell me about the release show at the Turf Club. What can we expect?
So the other musical combo — I can’t pronounce it, it’s Italian [Kvarteto Improvizi] — is a string quartet, and these are all people that are sort of in my hand. They’re improvisers, they’re trying to expand the vocabulary, they’re doing the dangerous thing of group improv, and they’re really outstanding. Really wicked combo. So they’ll play, and then I’ll play some solo banjo stuff. And hopefully it’ll just be a nice, pleasant evening for listening to music. It’s certainly not like party music or a fun time at a bar. You sit down and you listen to it and it’s for the people that are interested in doing that. So I’m hoping a few people turn out whose ears turn to that sort experience.
—Natalie Gallagher, City Pages
Amazing sounds from an artist who will have you completely revising your conception of the banjo! Paul Metzger plays the instrument unlike anyone else in this groundbreaking set – using the banjo more as a source to generate sounds than just particular notes – still musical in his approach, but also very textural too – and often working in these waves of sound that resonate beautifully as the album moves on – very hypnotic in ways that take us back to the best trippy sounds of the late 60s, but in ways that nobody back then even dreamed up! Metzger bows the instrument and plucks it too – and the album features three long tracks – “Of The Passing”, “Sepulchre”, and a version of “Beau Soir”.
Paul’s inhuman virtuosity and flair for adapting and mutating his instruments have become quite well known via his prolific and varied output for such esteemed labels as Locust Music and Roratorio, which have established him as one of the world’s foremost solo instrumentalists both here and abroad. Whether on his 23-string banjo, his modified guitar, his “spontaneous composition generator” (consisting of dozens of altered wind-up music boxes), Paul’s music stretches the concepts of playing and listening alike. Truly one of the treasures of our area.
There are plenty of instrument inventors out there, but few have the rigorous vision of Minneapolis oddball Paul Metzger. On last year’s stunning The Uses of Infinity (Locust), he coaxes iridescent overlapping tones from his custom-made 23-string banjo that make it sound like a distant cousin of the Indian sarangi. He plucks snaking melodies on the instrument’s brittle-sounding primary strings while strumming others to produce rippling, evanescent sympathetic drones; despite his work’s surface similarities to Indian classical music, though, Metzger doesn’t imitate raga structures, instead designing his own architecture of motific development. He recorded the six-part composition on Infinity in a century-old Duluth cathedral, and the space adds a nice natural reverb.
–Chicago Reader Peter Margasak
Zwei Mal hat Paul Metzger heute Abend mein Herz gebrochen. Zum ersten Mal, als er sein Konzert begann, das selbstgebaute, 23-Saitige (ich habe sie aber nicht gezählt) Banjo mit dem Bogen spielte und auf einmal die Zeit in sich zusammensackte und nur noch wie auf einer Schellackscheibe eingraviert vor sich dahintickte. Gut vierzig Leute haben sich in den Monarch verirrt, der an seiner schrägen Fensterfassade über dem Berliner Kotti thront, und sie alle lauschten andächtig, die gewaltigen Bierhumpen in der Hand, immer wieder das Trinken vergessend, dieser Musik, die so zeitlos und so alt klang. Musik, die man nur spielen kann, wenn man schon alt ist. Alt und immer noch auf Touren, im halb zerfetzten Pullover und dennoch mit einem Zen-artigen Lächeln gesegnet. Wenn man ein ganzes Leben in seiner Musik bündeln kann und dabei immer wieder mit dem Fuß aufstampfen und verzückt den Kopf mit dem Rauschebart schüttelnd. Und, obwohl wir zu trinken vergaßen, wurden die Biergläser leerer und die Stimmung andächtiger und draußen fuhren die Wagen im Blaulicht vorbei immer wieder in das Herz von Kreuzberg. Drei Zugaben gab es, und mein Herz, gerade gekittet, zersprang, wie dieser sympathische, einsame Mann nach dem ersten, gewaltigen Applaus sagte: „Honestly, i am not used to positive reactions.“ Er lächelte, und für einen Moment war die Welt ein besserer, ein gerechter Ort.
–enigmas and perplexities
Minneapolis veteran Paul Metzger is a very worthy heir to the mystic throne of late acoustic-guitar shaman Robbie Basho. Using a variety of retooled banjos and other multistringed instruments he creates sweeping, swirling 21st-century ragas.
–Time Out Chicago Jeremy Mikula
Paul Metzger continues to examine the very sinews of the creative process via his homemade 23-string banjo on his second solo album for Locust. Metzger seems concerned with evincing the more sensual aspects of the instrument – caressing the cross strings to provide a sympathetic bedrock of arpeggios while weaving more fractured, raga-ish figures over the frets. He uses the cross strings rhythmically as well as texturally, establishing alternating, upstroke-heavy grooves that are strangely reminiscent of Jandek at his most clip-clop stomping or even acoustic Dylan circa 1975.
It always feels like Metzger is alive to the moment during the six improvisations, or ‘meditations’ as he terms them, that make up this disc. Metzger is well endowed with a powerful, personally honed technique, but The Uses Of Infinity is no onanistic exercise in virtuosity. Far from being seduced by the sound of his own chops, as if the pieces would fizzle out if he wasn’t constantly interjecting, Metzger uses gulps of silence the way sculptors use negative space to shape the music through the tension of anticipation. In this respect, he uses the recording environment – the tracks were recorded live in the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Duluth, Minnesota – as an interactive agent. The pieces follow quiet, clearly intelligible streams of logic, often alighting on an idea as glorious and slight as a harmonic run or bowing the cross strings or abandoning the strings altogether and drumming the hollowed body with his fists.
The Uses Of Infinity feels closest to Sandy Bull’s banjo work at its most introspective, but this comparison might devalue what Metzger has achieved here – something that is all too rare among the deluge of solo guitar players – in creating a voice which is composed, forceful and resoundingly his own.
–Wire, Alex Neilson
Paul Metzger: Angular, Ungainly Beauty
Minneapolis guitarist Paul Metzger showcases a maximalist aesthetic and a tinkerer’s sense of adventure in his rambling, percussive solo works. Over the course of 30 years, playing modified banjo and acoustic guitar, he’s honed a style that’s austere and verbose, elegant and rustic.
It’s rooted in finger-style guitar and Indian classical music, and while it resembles both, it has its own angular, ungainly beauty. A long stint in the voluble (and very, very loud) trio TVBC perfected his skill at starting a piece out full-bore and then building intensity to a precariously exhilarating level — Metzger’s acoustic sets these days almost require earplugs.
His latest album, The Uses of Infinity, is a six-part suite for his 23-string banjo, which is strung like an Indian instrument called the saron. The featured track “II,” like its five kin, was recorded in a century-old abandoned church in rural Minnesota. The echoes (and maybe ghosts?) in the old house of worship, along with the sharpness and lack of sustain of Metzger’s attack, gives the album a fragile ambiance.
“II” starts with Metzger sliding and picking in a delicate metallic meandering. Then the strings get strummed like they’re a dirty floor — and Metzger’s the man with the soapy brush. A tentative musical structure rolled out early on gets built upon with more strumming, more pummeling of the strings. Then, with a plucked flourish and a little thematic restating, “II” disappears into the air like a patch of morning fog.
—Song of the Day, NPR, Cecile Cloutier
Uses of Infinity
The power of one a single man and a 23 string Banjo should never be underestimated and Mister Metzger is a testament to that. Here he takes us on a forty minute journey through the cosmos using the instrument way beyond our expectations of its limits. He plucks away through tone scales like a real demon moving from tender and sensitive fingering to more energetic and furious plucking, never losing his way or vision. His playing is awe-inspiring to say the least, with great moments of tension and release. It sounds like the man literally has twenty three fingers as he moves them across the board in a very presice and intense fashion. Oh yeah this guy is the real deal for sure. This was recorded in one take in a de-sanctified century old cathedral in Northern Minnesota which cements the aforementioned notion. A vibrant and captivating recording/ document of an awesomely gifted player. Great stuff as always from the Locust label.
Uses of Infinity
Calculus haters, mop your fevered brows. While the title of Paul Metzger’s latest opus implies that he is somehow delivering a musical rendering of a mathematical text, it’s really all about the banjo and his latest ideas about what to do with it. Metzger’s relationship with his instruments is an evolving one. Originally a Duck Baker-inspired fingerstyle guitarist who decided to play rock and roll after seeing the Replacements on local television and ended up being a local guitar hero in the combo TVBC, Metzger’s solo music grew out of an extended period of woodshedding and instrument modification. His banjo currently sports 23 strings rather than the usual 4 or 5, and he’s more likely to make it sound like a sarangi than anything you’d hear at a bluegrass festival. Metzger recorded this splendid 39 minute long performance live in an old cathedral in Duluth, Minnesota that has been repurposed as a performing arts center so you could also say that it’s about the space in which the music went down. Sacred Heart Music Center’s particularly reverberant acoustics add some welcome resonance to Metzger’s tart single note progressions and occasional sweeps across the strings, so that the music seems suffused with an ember-like glow. While retaining the raga-like qualities of pacing and emotional impact that have been constants in Metzger’s music since he debuted his solo work in 2002, “Plays The Uses Of Infinity” is slower and more spacious than the hurtling performances on Paul Metzger or Deliverance. If those records were like bobsled rides down an icy run, this is more like a vigorous but winding stride along a forest path that hasn’t been cleared in a while. Nothing stops him, but Metzger takes more time working around his figures and occasionally permits them to hang, suspended and turning, for a moment’s regard. Whether Metzger is clearing out a space that only he can occupy remains to be seen; he is, after all, the only guy playing instruments that look like this. But even if he is pursuing a Harry Partch-like path that no one else can follow, the differences between this record and the ones that have come before suggest that like Partch, he can profitably spend a lifetime tracing it.
–Dusted, Bill Meyer
Uses of Infinity
Paul Metzger plays a modified 23 string banjo, a guitar with crash and metal plate on it, and a sitar-based violin, among other things. His music is unpredictable, the style is indefinable, but the talent is undeniable. Metzger may have been looking for transcendence on an Israeli acid trip. He may be making an ironic statement of the instrumental bourgeois, becoming the sommelier of steel strings and banjos. Or he could be a creative genius unsatisfied with the music he knows. These are simply three uneducated guesses, one of which may be true. What is certainly true is that Metzger has been impressing audiences for years and touring the world playing often improvised and original shows, exercising his imagination on custom instruments with a literal barrage of inventiveness. His music is a flavor that needs to be savored and appreciated; soaked and saturated with its listeners. Metzger is truly an artist and an innovator.
–Foundwaves Michael W.
Uses of Infinity
Excellent new album from the only serious contender to the throne of the late Sandy Bull. Metzger plays a 23 string banjo across a ‘meditation’ in six parts recorded in a cathedral in Bob Dylan’s hometown of Duluth, Minnesota. Metzger has a magisterial control over his instrument, playing in a raga style that combines modal inflection with subtle microtonal colour while taking the conceptions of Dock Boggs and Sandy Bull out into the stratosphere. Metzger has the ability to reference seemingly exclusive traditions – bluegrass, European chamber music, American primitive – without ever coming across as simply magpie and this is a spectacular tour-de-force of the instrument abilities, beautifully recorded.
–Volcanic Tongue David Keenan
Paul Metzger, a master of improvisational strings
Minnesota’s Paul Metzger is a maestro of the stringed instrument, whether it is plucking along on his modified guitar (there are a couple of music boxes incorporated into this bad boy) or winnowing fragile melodies from the tangle of a mutant, 23-string banjo. To watch him is a sort of mystic experience, one that rockets you across eras and cultures – and even whole other worlds – as his songs drift from old-time Appalachian riffs to even more ancient Eastern structures, the expansive meditations swallowing time with a dream-like, narcotic effect. His journey down this weird path began some 30 years ago when he started tinkering with a beat-up old Yamaha six-string. Today, that same guitar is nearly unrecognizable, buried beneath coats of thickly smeared oil paint, extra sets of strings (10, maybe?) shooting in strange tangents across the body, all leading up to a neck whose frets have long since been replaced by a smooth metallic plate. A few reworked and tweaked music boxes sit perched on the body like mechanical sparrows that join in now and then. A polished copper crash cymbal is affixed to the base, right about where most musicians would hang a guitar strap. Besides making for an instant guitar stand as he switches instruments between sets, this addition gives Metzger the added ability to pepper in humming drone effects and crashing percussion. It’s sort of like the concept behind a one-man band or tramp orchestra, yet the way Metzger uses his instrument takes the notion to whole new place.
His other otherworldly instrument, the 23-string banjo, evolved later and essentially works by extending the main bridge that lifts the string across the body – and adding a whole new bridge farther down. From the lower bridge, a mess of strings extends only to the upper half of the body, fanning out in a dense triangle of steely wire. Using this contraption – both the banjo and guitar are understandably considered pieces of folk art – Metzger further elaborates the relationship between the American banjo and the Eastern sitar. Of course, by itself, the fact that Metzger plays such bizarre instruments isn’t terribly noteworthy; what he does with them, however, is. Metzger’s work is a varied body of music, but overall it stands alone in a peculiar place that can probably only come from being a self-taught improvisational master hewing songs on instruments that are like none other. While he has the skill of fingerpicking down to an art, his style isn’t the clean, swinging blues and Americana championed by the late Jack Rose; nor does it boast the crystalline academic overtures defined by John Fahey scholars like Glenn Jones. If there’s a parallel to Metzger’s style, it’s probably to be found in the work of Sir Richard Bishop, whose exotic tendencies and at times erratic playing conjure a similar set of emotions. Still, there is something of a wildman in Metzger, an untamed, individualistic style that lets him dance freely from East to West, from the frightening and abstract to the refined and technically complex. One of his most acclaimed works is 2007’s Deliverance, a title that seems to poke fun at the overwrought cliche of the banjo’s place in American consciousness as merely a hillbilly instrument meant to play backwoods music. That isn’t to say there aren’t touches of the backwoods on Deliverance. Here, Metzger embraces some of the old-time, resonant textures associated with “Dueling Banjos” and explodes them into a world were they can drift away on the fragrant smoke of classical North Indian ragas and be mulled over in a reverie of intricate, free-form exploration. And, indeed, if your experience with the banjo is limited to a traditional context, these songs can be jarring in a very good way. If nothing else, they awake the listener to new possibilities as well as ancient connections, teasing out the banjo’s primeval ancestry while mapping out a limitless future. That he is playing on his modified banjo (reportedly just 21 strings at that point) hardly seems to matter, though the extras surely couldn’t have hurt in executing the percussion-heavy compositions, one of which wanders for more than 30 minutes while Metzger explores the full soul of the piece.
Again, seeing Metzger live is special experience, especially at an intimate place like the Highwire Gallery (where he’ll play May 20), a small space where the acoustics are surprisingly clear. If his past Philly performances are any indication, it should be a momentous night; his 2008 album Paul Metzger was recorded live at Big Jar Books on 2nd Street and is an epic beauty.
— Philly.com Brian Rademaekers
Banjo, plus a dozen and a half strings
It is impossible to discuss Paul Metzger’s music without mentioning the seeming influence of Indian raga, from the modal harmonies and gliding inflections to the way the rhythm often clips along at a steady pulse without fitting into small accented phrases. Metzger’s banjo doesn’t ring quite like a sitar, though–it packs the punch of something like the Afghan rubab, that fretted plucked-string instrument where the whole set of sympathetic strings vibrates at once against the same membrane as the melody strings.
But comparisons are somewhat inconsequential to Metzger’s music. He has his own well-wrought world, and the most immediately apparent aspect to his music is the clarity with which he conveys it. His long, partially improvised performance “The Uses of Infinity” (out soon on Locust Music) bears some resemblance to La Monte Young’s ongoing work “The Well-Tuned Piano” in that it moves among harmonic areas, contrasting clouds of sound with moments of near-stasis. Moreover, it is an immensely physical performance, as emotionally immediate as it is structured in a larger sense.
—Free Music Archive Andrew C. Smith
Minnesotan stringed-instrument alchemist Paul Metzger is best known for taking the banjo out of its usual plucky groove and stretching it into chiming, slow-building, often improvised solos. Most striking is his 12-string banjo, which he plays with a bow to create impressively rich drones, and fingerpicks to form knotted melodies that wind around their own mysterious rhythmic axes. This has made for a surprisingly varied body of work, which maintains an air of mystic quietude up through this year’s live album Anamnestic Tincture.
— A. V. Club Madison
A musician whose instruments are almost like pieces of sculpture is St. Paul, Minn., native Paul Metzger, who’s been playing augmented instruments for three decades. Playing the Bus Stop Theatre on Friday night, Metzger’s hypnotic, improvised pieces have a singular aura, thanks to adding strings to instruments, changing bridges to create buzzing or droning sounds, and even adding mechanically altered clockwork music boxes to his guitar. Imagine an East Indian-style raga, played on a banjo using flamenco guitar technique, with hints of Appalachian and blues sounds that could be occurring completely by chance, and you’ve got the start of a mental image of what his music’s about. And he’s happy to find new listeners in a place he considers an exotic contrast to his landlocked home in the Midwest. “You meet interesting people who are musicheads. . . . I usually go to three or four of these kinds of events a year, but I could stand to do a ton more,” says Metzger.
—The Chronicle-Herald Halifax, NS Canada
The thing you need to know about Minneapolis musician Paul Metzger is that he’s self-taught and plays a couple of cool, rarely heard instruments: a heavily modified Yamaha acoustic guitar (featuring a sarod-like metal fingerboard plate with a re-jigged music box affixed to the belly), as well as a 23-string banjo. The music is a lonely one-man journey, in essence a search for a higher musical destination. Metzger stretches out his tunes into the five-plus minute range, hybrids of Appalachia, the avant-garde, the improvised and weirdo country blues. Wow.
—Hour.ca Steve Guimond
Paul Metzger is an absolute don’t-miss, a magician or an aural healer with a banjo.
— Baltimore City Paper, Michael Byrne
This beautifully presented LP is pressed in an edition of 425 copies, with every handmade sleeve featuring an original vintage American photograph. It’s a live album from banjo/guitar modernist Paul Metzger, with two sides bookending his exploration of modified strings. The first comes from a church concert in Minneapolis in 2002. This was Metzger’s first public outing for his modified banjo, and though it’s not quite as gloriously outre as his later work – focusing more on an aggressive take on raga forms than on actual alternate soundings – it still makes for a wild ride, with the increasingly accelerated nature of Metzger’s instrumental logic unfolding in waves of taut steel string. Unhappily there is a hand-drum section near the end that effectively sinks it.
The second side is fantastic, with two tracks recorded in Minneapolis in 2008. The opening piece, featuring a modified ten-string guitar with in-set cymbal, has the kind of alien string technology feel of some of Harry Partch’s constructs, albeit with a pronounced, punk-primitive bass pulse and a leery feel that’s more Edgar Breau than Edgard Varese. The closing banjo track is a version of the beautiful “Orans” from Metzger’s 2007 Locust album Deliverance. It’s a celebratory reading, balancing emotional exuberance, avant praxis and weight of meaning like nothing this side of Bola Sate ‘s timeless Takoma album, Ocean. Metzger’s music perfectly balances technical smarts with the feel of a life lived, and makes for gripping instrumental art.
— Wire, David Keenan
Anamnestic Tincture is a terrific document of former TVBC guitarist Paul Metzger’s musical experiential shift over the last seven or eight years. The first side highlights Metzger’s first sustained public debut of his treated banjo (it’s strung and tuned like a sitar) at the 2002 Destijl Festival at the Church. Side Two contrasts that first performance with one at a memorial for Matt Zaun, drummer for Salamander and Di Dollari, in January, 2008.
The flurries of notes in “After Milo” (referring to his place on the festival’s bill) evoke both the maximalism of Indian music and guitar army composer Glenn Branca, using a repeating motif that’s part raga and part slide blues. Side Two’s opener, “Dark Green Water,” moves toward more austere compositional structures and time signatures while still keeping the banjo-pickin’ fury intact. Most stunning is “Orans,” played on a guitar using a cymbal as a resonator and strung with 10 different steel strings. The sound is blindingly metallic—like he’s playing music on the side of the Weisman Art Museum with a nail gun—and yet delicate, in a way.
This limited-run LP, which is a vinyl-only release, is vital because it preserves memories in its grooves. It’s bittersweet—the Desitjl festival is no more, the Church is shuttered, but you put this on, and someone’s flicked a switch and you are transported back right to the source. Even if you never were there. It’s that magic.
—City Pages, Cecile Cloutier
Canticle of Ignat/All Glass
Until recently, Paul Metzger’s music enjoyed a bit of extra appeal simply because it was so hard to hear; his old electric band TVBC could go years between gigs, and for much of that time he didn’t even tell people about his solo acoustic work. But this is his third Chicago appearance in less than a year, and the new Canticle of Ignat/All Glass (Archive) is his third full-length release in that time. Familiarity makes it easier to get past the novelty—the Saint Paul native attaches sitar-style drone strings, music-box parts, and other objects to his guitars and banjos—and simply steep in the power of the sounds. The hard-tugged, solitary notes with which Metzger opens each piece might curl like lazily rising smoke or accelerate into a near pileup of breakneck runs; either way, if the flawless control he has over the music’s ragalike shape-shifting doesn’t get you, the knife-between-the-teeth intensity of his playing will.
Chicago Reader, Bill Meyer
Canticle of Ignat/All Glass
On Deliverance, the outstanding album that likely served as an introduction to the ways of Paul Metzger, the instrument of choice was a banjo. Not just any, of course – a 21-string mutant modified by Metzger himself. Anyone, however, who has delved further into the Minnesotan’s discography knows that Metzger’s arsenal isn’t restricted solely to the banjo, and that an equally altered acoustic guitar is another trusted musical companion. On the 2007 tour undertaken to support Deliverance, Metzger split his set between the two instruments, and Canticle of Ignat / All Glass documents a pair of improvisations from a performance at BigJar in Philadelphia. The same aesthetic might inform Metzger’s approach on the two instruments, but their natural differences, as well as those engineered by Metzger, translate into two different dialects within the same language. But, regardless of the strings that Metzger’s plucking, his sounds certainly constitute a vernacular all his own.
That “Canticle of Ignat” opens with the splash of a cymbal is an unambiguous sign that this won’t be like most other solo guitar performances. The rather large cymbal on the tail of Metzger’s acoustic axe isn’t its only unexpected appendage; the innards of a few music boxes cling to the instrument, a few extra strings run the length of the guitar, and various small holes and additions pepper its painted body. Metzger slides liberally up and down the instrument’s fretless neck, marking much of the track with a thin twang not unlike that of the sitar. Accompaniment via the buzzing resonance of the guitar’s lower strings is peppered with percussive striking of the instrument’s body, and the track often moves in two parallel, though distinct paths. After an opening of solitary strings struck and bent, Metzger moves toward a one-man duet, combining folk finger-picking with deeper drones from the long strings. Even on his most furious runs, which tend to be relatively brief, Metzger’s guitar work exhibits a spare quality, its tone rarely as rich as that of his banjo, the notes thin and metallic. Towards the track’s end, the music boxes twinkly solemnly, calming the music before the track ends with perhaps its busiest burst of activity. When Metzger plays the guitar, the actual notes struck are only part of the sound, equally important are the buzzing resonance of the strings and the clatter of the instrument as it’s played.
“All Glass,” performed on banjo, is lush in comparison. The instrument’s tone is fuller and warmer, and while Metzger’s technique is often similar to what he uses on guitar, it’s on banjo that he truly shines. Metzger begins by bowing the banjo, first in long tones, then interspersing a more rapid sawing with a slow succession of strummed chords. As the track progresses, Metzger segues into the raga-inspired playing that often marks his work, working from small clusters of notes into larger runs and back again. Near the track’s halfway point, Metzger hones in on a melodic theme, accented by rhythmic tapping of the instrument’s body, that coalesces into one of the album’s most linear passage before giving way to a series of stabbing chords. Metzger seems more apt to explore melody and repetition on the banjo than on the guitar, providing “All Glass” with segments of momentum that aren’t present in its predecessor. But, as ever, Metzger moves quickly, and any segment of the piece, whether spare and placid or more intense, isn’t likely to last long. “All Glass” lacks some of the jagged edges of “Canticle of Ignat,” but it’s certainly not monotonous in tone or style.
It’s hard to argue with the banjo-centric concentration on Deliverance, but Metzger’s mix of instrumentation on this and other albums is a welcome one. The banjo may be the instrument on which Metzger has made his name, and his work on guitar may seem less exotic to those well versed in experimental sounds, but he’s certainly no slouch on the six(ish)-string, either. Canticle of Ignat / All Glass is another in a line of excellent releases by a musician who seems unlikely to disappoint.
—Dusted, Adam Strohm
Canticle of Ignat/All Glass
Paul’s guitar in the meanwhile has evolved to a further constructed, destructed and reshaped labyrinth of a house for new sounds. Extra holes, strings, and two music boxes are attached on top of it. The instrument, like a machinery of sound productions, now seems like an endless source for different sounds and ways to play it from a whole range of different angles. I hear also a bit of cymbal percussion but it’s not sure if this also wasn’t produced on the same instrument.* On the first track, a raga unfolds with brushes of percussion. The way of playing combines sliding, strumming, picking on the strings. This playing shows together special combinations of percussive strum-sound-effects of wood, resonating string bass effects, and all sorts of strange but balanced combinations tonal overtones from its strings. A few strings sound like coming from a double bass with a bigger resonance chamber, other strings sounds like more coming from a smaller resonance box, like a guitar. Also the musical box picked out tones have sounds fitting to the guitar playing, and are resonating into the resonance box of the guitar. These small picked notes are used at a certain stage to become part of the melody, as partial meditative pauses changing direction, before the plucked and strummed raga continues with occasional cymbal percussion. And where the raga evolves to more pushed forward moves, all these different layers of sounds continue to participate as different angles, multiple chambers of all sorts of string sounds and effects, like an instrument and its improvisation that shows itself as varied as a well balanced in sound combinations orchestra.
The second track is played on the modified banjo. Also this instrument is constructed perfectly, a bit less complex and more to the essence of its raga-purpose compared to Paul’s guitar. It sounds like an invention that once were the different raga guitars created for Indian music, but then more close to a sarod in nature than a guitar. The intro is played with a bow, like medieval instrumental improvisation, then picked, to remind more of a sarod with banjo-resonance. Also for this track an extra layer of fingerpercussion is added, and resonating bass strings, a rich combination once more, which directs its evolution in much more in time, through skilful playing, showing on its way beside its melodic power, also in the sound resonance a beautiful and rich variety consisting of low and wider range overtone resonances. Brilliant, as ever.
* later I heard there was attached a cymbal to the end of the guitar.
— Psyche Van Het Folk, Gerald Van Waes
Gedanken Splitter is banjoist and
instrument maker Paul Metzger’s first
full-length for Roaratorio, following a
split session with Chris Corsano and
Ben Chasny. Metzger used to occupy
a chair in TVBC, the Twin Cities’ answer
to the Sun City Girls, and consequently
his trajectory would seem parallel to
Richard Bishop’s. However, whereas
Bishop’s records like Improvika and
Salvador Kali are an amalgamation of
folk-blues, ragas, and Greek, Arme
nian, and South Asian music, Metzger’s
vision is more singular. He’s affixed a
guitar head to his banjo and expanded
its capacity to 21 strings, sometimes
applying a bass bow to them, and his
guitar is equal parts Charlie Nothing
and Milford Graves, a hand-painted
creation with a crash cymbal and music
box parts attached. His music can
remind you of a raga with its long intro
ductory sections and spiraling modal
fretwork, or suggest a careening de
tuned front porch blues, but it’s often
hard to relate what he’s doing to any
familiar musical style. Cloudy subtonal
flecks briefly recall Derek Bailey, but
these fragments have a processional
delicacy far apart from non-idiomatic
improv. “Geschenk” is an entirely
arco piece, the banjo turning into a
frostbitten sarangi as Metzger bows
it between his knees, while there’s
definitely a hellhound on his trail in
— Signal to Noise, Clifford Allen
If Paul Metzger’s last album Deliverance
evinced his yearning to free the banjo from the
shackles of convention, Gedanken Splitter
shows what comes after the chains hit the
earth. To get to this point, the St Paul,
Minnesota based musician has taken a
circuitous route through Duck Baker inspired
acoustic fingerpicking, jazz standards, punk
rock, electric lmprov and years of solitary
experimentation that focused as much upon
his instruments as what he played with them.
Most of his recent records, including this one,
feature a banjo customized with a 12-string
guitar head and additional strings splayed
across the top half of its body; at last count
they total 24.
On Deliverance the unfolding progression
and abraded drones of his long, structured
improvisations posited a third dimension
situated between the Cumberland Gap and the
Khyber Pass, and “Geschenk”, the relatively
brief opening track on Gedanken Splitter,
starts out in similar territory. Played with a
bow, his banjo yields the sort of sounds you’d
expect from a sarangi or esraj, but with a
deeper, coarser resonance that shudders with
tension. That tautness breaks with the first
strum of “Zugentgleisung”; from there the
music twists and shudders,making leaps as
vertigo-defying as a tree-born primate on the
swing. The sidelong title track is even more
dizzying, alternating between breakneck
variations on a series of arpeggios and brutally
hacked leaps into Derek Bailey territory. The
binding forces are the intensity and control of
Metzger’s attack, which is unmatched in the
new American Primitive camp.
Metzger’s furious banjo virtuoso returns for another perplexing, yet rewarding set of avant-tantrums. Taking on percussive qualities as well as sounding like a mutation of sitar, steel acoustic, and banjo just, he’s restrung and modified his instrument to take on tasks it was never designed for, so his composition accounts for what he’s allowed himself to do as much as where his head is to bring it across. Since nobody else has ever written for this variation of the instrument before, a lot of what you hear on Metzger’s recordings takes this innovation into account, tempering clawhammer playing styles with what he’s been able to create outside of it, applying an atonal, clashing chord structure across prickly rhythmic playing. Use of space seems to be frowned upon, and few notes are allowed to ring out as Metzger thrashes away at his monstrosity, playing in uncharted territory and shaking up the audience in the process. Engaging but quite uneasy.
— Dusted Magazine
Radio feature on Weekend America
Metzger is well-known for his modified banjo improvisations and compositions, but Maccaferri plays host to Metzger’s deconstruction of strings. Rather than elegantly thought out pieces of fingerwork, the two tracks herein are the noodlings, scrapings, and pokings of a man extracting the sounds only the 4-year old in us could explore. It’s the jubilant fun of picking up a guitar or banjo without knowing a note and moving your fingers across its frets as if you were typing or tying a shoe.
— Electronic Voice Phenomenon
St. Paul’s hermit string-bender delivers the banjo from bondage.
When Paul Metzger gets on stage, the first things that catch your eye are his instruments. The 49-year-old St. Paul, Minnesotan’s banjo has a twelve-string guitar headstock and a stegosaurus spine’s worth of tuning pegs clustered between one and three o’clock on the instrument’s body, which give it a full complement of 24 strings. His guitar sports a cymbal stuck onto one end; extra strings fan outfrom a second bridge, and perched above the sound hole are the naked innards of a couple music boxes. But once he sits down and starts to play, sounds trump appearances. Maybe he’ll coax a slender tendril of sound from his rounded axe with an e-bow, drag sarangi-like cries from it with a real bow, or pluck a sunrise melody from it, each note bright and present for a moment, then gone. He could tug an impossibly low note from his guitar and sculfJt it into waves that you’d expect to wash from the shores of the Ganges, not the Mississippi, or loft a barbed, higher pitch through a lattice of randomly evolving music box tones. His dizzying improvisations can sound as splintered as a Derek Bailey standard demolition, as heavy as a punk rock rave-up, and hypnotic as a Hindustani raga, but he’s more interested in seeing where his ideas and instruments take him than he is in evoking any particular influence. In fact, Metzger’s acoustic music is the product of decades of solitary exploration. “I developed my style on my own in my little hermit world.” Sitting in a Chinese restaurant before a recent gig in Chicago, he explained its evolution. “My first guitar playing was acoustic, I started as a finger-style player, listening mostly to Duck Baker and also Django records, and had my influences: North Indian music, jazz standards and the experimental thing. I was never interested in rock and roll music. This would be like mid 70s, you know? I was a very isolated guy and didn’t know all the stuff that people who know about music knew about at that time period, like the Sex Pistols, but I didn’t know anything about that. But then I saw the Replacements on local TV, right after their first album, and I just adored it. So I had a short period of emulation with the electric guitar, and that grew into getting back to what I had to say musically.” TVBC, the now-disbanded rock group he originally formed with a brother and a cousin in 1979, gigged sporadically in Minnesota for over two decades. The trio’s penchant for extended improvisation attracted some passionate admirers, but also ensured that they never fit into the Twin Cities’ rock scene. Metzger simply assumed that his solo efforts would be even less popular. “I worked on my acoustic music at the same time, but kept it as an at-home thing as it became more and more experimental. I always assumed that no one would want to hear my acoustic playing.” So he didn’t bring it into the public eye until 2002, when he played the first DeStijl festival, and didn’t make his first acoustic records until 2004. Those two albums, a solo guitar effort entitled Paul Metzger [Mutant Music] and Three Improvisations on Modified Banjo [Chairkicker’s Union], introduced both the essential format and the dominant discourses in Metzger’s music. Their winding pieces build up the same kinetic frenzy as a raga, but don’t adhere to raga form. “That’s what it kind of sounds like,” Metzger admits, “but I’m not in any way trying to emulate that scene.” Rather than follow a prescribed path, Metzger treats his open-ended compositions as vehicles to get lost. “To stretch things out and have a chance to make some mistakes, that is important to me. And to take a lot of chances, to not stay in a comfort zone. Within improvisation, you kind of know where to go, but I’ve always strived to find something else besides what I’m comfortable with.” While Metzger generally brings both the guitar and ban/’o to his gigs, his choice to keep them fairly separate on record reflects the to and fro process by which he develops his music on each. “I approach it like being a painter and having a couple canvases that I’m working on. I take the one that I’m less satisfied with and work on that, and then the other one becomes less satisfactory.” He’s set to record two guitar records in the months ahead, but 2007 was a banjo year that yielded two splendid new LPs. Gedanken Splitter [Roaratorio] is ferocious, frantic, yet entirely on-course–easily Metzger’s most aggressive waxing yet. The title track to Deliverance [Locust], on the other hand, may be his most eloquent and ambitious performance. It earns its halfhour length with a series of dark ruminations upon an exceedingly durable melody. The name nods, of course, toward the movie that introduced the world to “Dueling Banjos,” but also attests to Metzger’s missionary zeal for his round axe. “In my opinion the banjo is really in servitude, shackled down by very traditional art forms. A lot of them I really like, but I love the sound of the banjo so much, and it’s so limited in its application. It’s a bit of a shame, you know? I mean a guitar, that’s all over the place. It doesn’t need any help. The banjo needs a lot of stinking help. It’s locked in tight.” .
— Signal to Noise, Bill Meyer
Entirely improvised, tangled with traces of raga, blues, flamenco and folk, Paul Metzger’s Deliverance extends and reinvents the possibilities of the humble banjo. Metzger’s instrument is heavily altered, with a dozen extra strings and a sitar bridge. It reverberates and bends notes in a way that has little to do with the flat, plainspoken tone of traditional banjo. Yet it’s a lovely sound, akin in its complex dreaminess to the wooden-guitar pyrotechnics of Jack Rose or Richard Bishop. Metzger seems to be playing two, or even three instruments in opener “Orans,” the high strings pinging a rapid-fire melody, while the lower ones building a scratchy storm of strums. “Bright Red Stone” is slower, more melancholy, bluesier, its ghostly tones and overtones hanging wispily over darkness. Metzger even turns his banjo, briefly, into a chamber instrument, as mesmeric violin-like bowing ushers in the title track.
It’s somewhat surprising that, despite being fraught with violence and
emotional tension, John Boorman’s 1972 Deliverance is best remembered
for the image of a creepy inbred kid with a banjo and the simple melodic
opening of “Dueling Banjos,” the song made famous by the scene.
Naming a record of solo banjo Deliverance 25 years later is something
Paul Metzger couldn’t have done unawares, but while the album’s title
might contain a nod to backwoods American folk tradition, its music
taps into something more exotic. Metzger makes use of a rustic, roughly hewn Americana, to be sure,
but Deliverance echoes just as frequently Indian ragas and other Eastern
music traditions. The net effect is that of familiar sounds arranged
in unfamiliar ways, a meditative strain that straddles genres effortlessly,
in the end Metzger’s music comes off naturally enough that attention
is diverted from the specifics of his stylistic modes, with the music
itself the focus. Many musicians can make music from a grab bag of influences,
but it takes something more to do so in such a way that the conceptual
act is overshadowed by the performance, and Metzger has done just that.
Deliverance moves from meditative to fiery with ease, and it’s this
fluidity of intensity that is one of the album’s best traits. And while,
such as on opener “Orans,” the soft to loud, slow to fast
progression can be predictable, the spirit with which Metzger plays
renders any such concern feeling superficial, at best. It isn’t surprising that his banjo doesn’t sound like what we expect,
given that it looks like a mutant of its traditional form, modified
heavily by Metzger to create a 21-string monster, sometimes bowed, sometimes
plucked, that makes use of sympathetic drone strings a la some manner
of alien sitar. But the novelty of his instrument isn’t Metzger’s primary
appeal. In the end, it’s the pathos of Deliverance that is at the album’s
core: the beauty of whirling melodies; the feverish successions of notes,
climbing ever higher; and, ever present, the impassioned spirit that
imbues it all. That a solo banjo record would be one of 2007’s best
was a bit of a surprise, but Paul Metzger has proven himself rather
adept, to say the least, at thwarting expectations.
By Adam Strohm Dusted Magazine
A virtuoso on a myriad of stringed instruments, Minneapolis-based experimental/progressive
folk artist Paul Metzger focuses much of his creative energy on his
21-string modified banjo. A student of both Eastern and Western traditional
music, Metzger first appeared on a split album that featured guitarist
Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) and lauded improv drummer Chris
Corsano on one side and Metzger’s unique improvisational guitar work
on the other. He released the full-length Three Improvisations on Modified
Banjo for Chairkickers Music in 2005, followed by Deliverance for the
Locust label in 2007.
— All Music Guide, James Christopher Monger
Think about world music for a moment, and concentrate on the stringed
instruments. What do you think of? Of course there’s the fiddle, though
that might be a little prosaic for some listeners’ tastes. Still, it’s
an instrument that acknowledges virtuoso playing. The same can be said
for other great instruments: the cora, the sitar, the shamisen and others.
And now that list can be further extended with the most unlikely of
additions: the banjo. Paul Metzger’s playing takes you inside the banjo. To be precise, it
takes you inside his banjo, a modified instrument that now features
no less than 21 strings. His playing takes its cues from many different
styles: sometimes you hear Appalachian picking, sometimes classical
ragas, sometimes middle-eastern note bends. Most of the time, however,
the music is simply Metzger himself, and damn, but he’s good. Here’s Orans from his recent album Deliverance. It’s one of Metzger’s
more accessible pieces, as his banjo buzzes and fizzes with excess energy
as he plays in a mesmerising raga style. Chances are, on listening to
this you won’t believe that a banjo can make the noises that you hear
on this track. Several YouTube videos of Metzger’s playing would beg
to differ. If you like all these callow young men who play noodly acoustic
guitar improvisations, take a listen to the real deal. My thanks go
out to the fine people at Audiversity for opening my ears to this.
— Dok (cyberinsekt)
Anyone who makes an album of solo banjo recordings and then calls it
Deliverance is just asking for trouble. Presumably Metzger’s larking
around with us a bit there, because in truth this is no porch-mounted
rocking chair noodle-fest, but rather a measured, meditative study of
Metzger’s own self-modified 21-string banjo performances, which have
more in common with the revamped ragas of John Fahey and his fellow
Takoma luminaries than any traditional, countrified usage of the instrument.
Metzger takes his music far closer to the source than most open-tuned
raga explorers, with some far-flung eastern harmonies that border on
sitar drone and a furious picking technique that sounds quite unlike
anything so humdrum as a banjo. By the time Metzger arrives at the final
phase of his half-hour long title piece you’ll find yourself thinking
you’re hearing some kind of advanced shamisen workout, characterised
by a flurry of high speed, unsustained string plucks. It’s impressive
enough that Metzger should be a virtuoso of any instrument, but the
very fact that he’s mastered something he made himself as a one-off
is even more remarkable, and consequently Deliverance is a pretty unique
Maybe more than any other modern American instrument, the banjo is
subjected to stereotypes; and for most modern/progressive music fans,
derogatory stereotypes. Its tinny, twangy sound is almost synonymous
with the Appalachian Mountains of the United States, a region that was
once revered for its gorgeous landscapes and insular culture. Then came
along a little movie by the name of Deliverance in 1972, in which the
portrayal of the mountainous Georgia wilderness was, to put it lightly,
creepy and disturbing. And maybe the most instantly recognizable scene
of the film features a mentally-challenged hillbilly youth named Lonnie
whose rendition of “Dueling Banjos” pretty much forever
condemned the banjo to be associated with that eerie, uncomfortable
setting for most of the movie’s viewers. On top of that singular
pop culture event, the instrument is almost unanimously linked to the
bluegrass and country genres. The history of the banjo runs much deeper though. In fact, it is a
direct link to Africa’s influence on modern American music. It
is believed that its evolution began when African slaves in the American
south sought to recreate familiar instruments from their homeland such
as the akonting or xalam of West Africa. In the nineteenth century,
similar instruments were used in the blackface minstrel shows to represent
“slave music”, and Joel Walker Sweeney developed its modern
day form in the 1840s when he sought to “remake the banjo into
an instrument for the middle class”. Over the next century-and-a-half,
the banjo would become more and more associated with the American south
with its idiosyncratic sound and eventually be a central characteristic
of bluegrass and country genres that developed along side it. Over the last few decades, the banjo has been utilized more and more
in different musical settings, ranging from the European jazz of Django
Reinhardt in the 1940s to its increasing use in today’s indie-pop
fusions. Minneapolis-based experimental folk artist Paul Metzger is
forcing the instrument into brand new directions, both structurally
and stylistically. His modified banjo is that of Frankensteinian mutation:
the traditional pot-like body stays the same but with twenty-one strings
instead of the traditional five and the elongated bridge of a sitar.
Stylistically, Metzger rarely plucks in the circular, twangy fingerpicking
we are most familiar with this instrument, but plays in an almost modal
raga style with heavy influence from Northern India, Eastern Asia, jazz
and folk. It’s a sound that echoes of Reinhardt, Sandy Bull and
Henry Flynt, but remains insular and idiosyncratic due to the singular
nature of his instrument of choice. The banjo’s stereotypes are not lost on Metzger as he chose to
call his first full-length for Locust, Deliverance, perhaps with a bit
of a snicker and a soft roll of the eyes. Consisting of three tracks
in a nearly sixty minute set, the album features real time performances
of Metzger solely on his modified banjo. The opening number, “Orans”,
is both the strongest of the three songs and the most accessible. Leaning
heavily towards the raga side of Metzger’s sound, he patiently
swirls the styles of Bull, Ravi Shankar, Gabor Szabo and Robbie Basho
into a spellbinding fifteen-minute workout. Metzger’s banjo features
a much heavier low end than the traditional sound of the instrument
and leads the song with a lyrical bass line ornamented with flourishes
of the tinny high end. With increasing urgency as the track proceeds,
he patiently builds the song’s momentum before the last three
minutes’ onslaught of speed-picking up and down the raga’s
scale creating cascades of metallic tones that reminisce of the sitar
but with more of an unsettling nature. The ten-minute “Bright Red Stone” follows. This time leading
with higher pitches, Metzger’s banjo sounds a bit closer to what
you would expect from the instrument, but he rarely settles into any
kind of countrified groove. The lyrical picking of Fahey is there as
well as a modal jazz feel as he experiments with different approaches
to playing a scale, all the while lined with a pulsing redundant strum
that keeps the music from meandering. Finally, the title track runs
for a whopping thirty-minutes. It opens with Metzger bowing his banjo
creating an odd, aching Eastern sound that you might expect on an early
70s Pharoah Sanders release. With much less urgency than the prior two
tracks, Metzger patiently feels out the tune, somehow connecting the
Appalachian Mountains to Northern India and Far East Asia. It may be
tolling for listeners with less of an attention span, but rewards in
its curious fusion of styles and hypnotizing, almost soothing aura. Like most Locust releases, Deliverance is for music fans that want
to furrow their brow while listening to music. With the quickly crowding
school of post-Fahey guitar players these days, Metzger is a welcomed
departure as he looks to expand the reaches of Fahey’s country
ragas not only with a completely singular instrument in his modified
banjo, but in his approach to a more modal style of playing. This is
music to lay back and ponder over. It can at times hypnotize and even
lull, but there is so much curiosity to the sound, it rarely loses your
Minneapolis veteran Paul Metzger is a very worthy heir to the mystic
throne of late acoustic-guitar shaman Robbie Basho. Using a variety
of retooled banjos and other multistringed implements—not to mention
absolutely stunning technique—he creates sweeping, swirling 21st-century
— Time Out New York
Metzger, of St. Paul, Minn., will headline, playing banjo and guitar,
both of which have been heavily modified. The banjo features extra sets
of strings and is set up similarly to a sitar, which is a long-necked
lute with a varying number of strings. “I prefer instruments that
are not precious or fancy or expensive,” Metzger said. “I
just feel at liberty to experiment on them. I think ‘what if I drilled
in here or added something here.’ I don’t feel like I’m ruining something,
I just kind of go at it.” Metzger’s most recent album, Deliverance,
was released in October, and contains three banjo pieces, he said. Metzger
said he doesn’t listen to his own recordings, which are done in one
live take, and focuses more on live improvisation. Nathaniel Rasmussen,
a Schlow computer systems administrator, said Metzger “definitely
got extremely emphatic applause when he played here before.”
— Collegian Pa.
Making Waves: Paul Metzger
EVP has kept a close eye on Metzger when we first noticed his contribution
to a split LP with wunderkinds Ben Chasny and Chris Corsano. The hunt
was on for Metzger’s other forays into musicdom and while his releases
are few, they are powerful salvos of modified banjo and guitar ragas
brimming with influences both far and wide. We’d rather not cheapen Metzger’s latest release, Deliverance, by spouting
off useless adjectives describing the music as eastern, western, rock,
folk, avant or psych. It’s clearly all of those and yet it’s none of
them. Metzger has blurred the line between genre and product to deliver
an album that’s made for receptive ears. Nothing about Deliverance or
any of his albums is off-putting. There’s no harsh noise, no blasts
of drone, and no tangents into psych jams. Metzger’s work is the essence
of one man, one instrument (in the case of Deliverance, the instrument
of choice happens to be a modified 21-string banjo).
— Electronic Voice Phenomenon
Although produced by Alan from Low, this is not what one might expect
from his label – more the likes of Revenant, Tzadik or Unheard Music.
Three extended pieces for solo banjo that have a melancholic yet authentic
Deep South feel about them… absolutely terrific stuff that fans of
John Fahey simply have to hear!
— Smallfish Records
Paul Metzger may just be one of the finest American instrumentalists
alive today. His newest album “Deliverance,” released this
month on Locust Music, is a mind-blowing epic of modified-21-string-banjo
improvisations. Metzger’s skill and genre-defying sound manages
to place him in a realm somewhere far beyond mere-psychedelia, into
the world of universal musical-dialogue, where the mind struggles to
place what it’s hearing, be it Appalachian folk, or Classical
Indian raga, or some sort of progged-out weirdness. Don’t let your definition-biased mind fool you. To simply call
Metzger’s music an “East-meets-West” type situation
would be far too simplistic, and miss the nuances Metzger brings to
his own unique style of playing. There’s something much deeper
at work in his songs, something exciting and frustratingly ineffable.
A quick glace at any of Metzger’s live performances on YouTube
will back up such bold declarations. Better yet, check out any of his
fine records, which include a split with Ben Chasny and Sunburned Hand
of the Man drummer Chris Corsano on Roaratorio. A veteran of the Minneapolis/St. Paul music scene, Metzger played for
a number of years in the cult favorite experimental rock-trio TVBC,
a band that, rather awesomely, released its own soundtrack to the 1929
classic silent film “The Man With the Movie Camera.” I spoke
with Metzger about his decision to play solo, about several musicians
he holds dear, and his composing and recording processes.
A beautiful blend of cosmic sounds plucked, picked and strummed by
Paul Metzger — and every note of it done on the banjo — albeit a modified
21-string banjo! Metzger delivers us from everyl Americana, jazz and
hillbilly banjo conventions you can think of, but he doesn’t sacrifice
melody or listenability the way so many of his modern avant garde peers
do. He sometimes approximates the sounds of other stringed instruments,
from the sitar to the mandolin, and the tunes build to pretty intense
moments. Beautiful stuff! 3 lengthy tracks that run nearly an hour all
together: the 14+ minute “Orans”, the nearly 10-minute “Bright
Red Stone” and the 31+ minute “Deliverance”.
— Dusty Groove
A virtuoso if there ever was one, Paul Metzger received minor attention
after releasing a split LP with Ben Chasny and Chris Corsano. He should
receive quite a bit more for “Deliverance,” his first outing
for Locust Music, as it shines and stuns like little else you’re
likely to hear all year. With 3 long solo improved raga-tunes plucked
and bowed on his very own 21-string modified banjo, Metzger seems to
have grown as a performer since 2005’s (also wonderful) “Three
Improvisations on Modified Banjo.” While that record moved by
a bit more understatedly (while perhaps only in comparison), “Deliverance”
is indeed heady, genre warping (creating?) stuff. That Metzger is able,
both through his instrumental creation and his mind-blowing proficiency,
to bridge a gap somewhere between Eastern and Western traditional music
forms and sounds is no small feat. It’s universal and individual,
and easy to get lost within. While traditional ragas generally require a fair share of patience
to be fully appreciated, the beauty and strength of Metzger’s
compositions are immediate. Ever twisting, changing, and snaking along
into unexplored regions, these tracks don’t require repeated listens,
but definitely reward them in the long run. Metzger can pick, and note
follows note at an almost dizzying pace at times. It’s always
to good effect, however, and no aura of showing off ever comes into
view. Metzger’s ability to simultaneously soothe and stress is a large
part of this disc’s success. The unease and tension present throughout
the album’s middle piece, “bright red stone,” is instantly
allieviated by the sad bowed strains of the title track. And while these
songs are best taken as a complete movement, each one plays like a universe
unto it self, echoing thousands of years of history, and hopefully lighting
the way to a bright future for not only Metzger, but any of us willing
to follow the paths he treads. With 2 more releases on the way, one
of which, to be released on cassette, is “solo guitar improvisations
based on thelonious sphere monk’s bemsha swing performed on a plastic
maccaferri guitar with attached cymbal and accompanied by 21 prepared
music box mechanisms.” Deliverance, indeed. 9/10
— Jon Pitt, Foxy Digitalis
On “August,” his side-long contribution to a recent Roaratorio
split LP with the duo of Ben Chasny and Chris Corsano, Metzger plays
a guitar with a similarly large complement of strings, which he’s further
customized with the guts from a couple music boxes–their stark chiming
provides a succinct counterpoint to his dramatic flamenco-style strumming
and swooning slide licks.
Ready to purge your ears of holiday music? Try Paul Metzger’s improvisations
on modified guitar and banjo. You’ll spend a few delightful minutes
trying to pinpoint influences (we spent an hour arguing koto, shamisen,
or tar as if we know yona nuki from raga) before allowing Metzger to
be Metzger and appreciating his “I’ll do it my way, thank you very
much” approach to music.
–Modern Guitars magazine
Eventually Metzger’s guitar grows louder and heavier and by the end
you get something that has the spare alien beauty of an Ennio
Morricone Western soundtrack.
Paul Metzger has graced Minneapolis with his guitar and banjo playing
in various contexts for over twenty years, but this is the first time
I’ve encountered him. On the strength of his side-long performance here,
that’s a serious deficit. Many Westerners borrow a few elements from
raga styles, and a few musicians from other disciplines are serious
students of Hindustani and Carnatic lore, but Metzger’s guitar playing
sounds like the real thing. And yet it’s true to the what-the-fuck spirit
that’s motivated the best punk, jazz, and free music of any stripe.
John McLaughlin had his guitar fitted with scalloped frets and sympathetic
strings; Metzger has pimped his ride with music boxes. They somehow
keep up a running dialog with his dramatic strums and swooning slide
licks that sounds so a propos that the word gimmick never finds its
way into the conversation. “August,” which also lasts the
whole side, is like a long fading glow, a sunset raga worth returning
to over and over again.
–Bill Meyer, Signal to Noise
Paul Metzger customisé his banjo! In fact it customise all that
it finds banjo, guitar etc… the advantage it is that he makes
use of it well. Its work is based on the improvisation, tinted influences
at the same time Eastern, but also, like Steven R Smith, Slavic connotations.
It is difficult to believe that with a simple banjo one can hold in
breath his listener along more than fifty minutes, but it is what succeeded
in making Paul Metzger, with in more one impressive masterliness. The
notes are connected either at the speed of the flash, or with softness
and touch. Glimmers of hope, or a dark despair you will pass by all
the emotions, by great flights with more intimate passages. In addition
to feeling the great control of the instrument, one notices also the
desire for going to cause the emotion. Its improvisations are not that
a series of notes without logic, for him the principal goal is to be
able to isolate to us from the elements surrounding, to find itself
just opposite this man playing on an adulterated banjo, the eyes plunged
in the vacuum and the nimble fingers. A very beautiful disc of guitar,
to listen with the helmet as much as possible to immerse you in the
beauty of these some notes. By thanking you.
–Vincent, A Decouvrir Absolument
What does a modified banjo look like? Paul Metzger added more than
a dozen strings, a sitar bridge and mutated the traditional backwoods
instrument into something rather alien. The sounds that escape from
this modified banjo are anything but alien. In fact, his instrument
resembles a sitar more than a banjo. Highly meditative music, appropriately
enough Metzger chose to record this music inside of Sacred Heart Music
Center, which at one point was actually a church. Mix of folk, jazz,
eastern music, country and improvisation creep their way into his way
of playing. He’s a demon one minute – plucking wildly with severe intensity
– while for the next stretch, he’ll just pluck single notes. This is
in fact the most satisfying part of the record. Its singular take on
modal structures and harmonic repetitiveness allows the listener to
fall into a comfortable trance. This is not to say the music is dull
in the least. It’s just that its greatest strength is an overwhelming
trance-like quality that allows everyone to look inwards. I love the
way he surprises the listener with a mix of paradigm shifts and angular
plucking attacks that appear and disappear at will. This is uncompromising
improvised music of the highest calibre and a personal discovery of
this year so far.
–Tom Sekowski, Gaz-Eta
For his half of this split LP, Metzger improvises on modified guitar
rather than banjo, adding some tambura, and the results are a delicious
slide into the void. I always dug his group TVBC, but Metzger has discovered
a whole new country with his recent solo recordings.
–Byron Coley, The Wire
“On the absolute flipside is the reward one gets from spending time with
Paul Metzger’s Four Imrovisations on Modified Banjo and Guitar 2LP set
(Metzger). Like the earlier work of this Twin City instrumentalist, the
music here is brilliant long form acoustic exploration of the cosmos outer
tears, free from cliche’ and dullness. Without falling into any very
specific “known camp” (although some of the banjo work does recall Billy
Faier’s Raga LP on Takoma), Metzger really ranges all over the aether,
producing one of the most satisfying string whomps of this or any season.”
–Byron Coley & Thurston Moore, Arthur
A long slow burning raga woven from buzzing steel string drones, dense and deftly interwoven, over the top, simple Eastern melodies, that also buzz and rumble, and above it all soft crystalline chimes from the modified music boxes, adding a bit of subtle sparkle and dreamy melody to the dark and moody minor key raga-scape beneath. Really cool.
…features some amazing post-Sandy Bull devotional raga that’s as skewered and hand-made as anything released by Harry Partch’s Gate 5. Metzger plays a modified guitar with a music box and accompanying tambura. Highly recommended.
Paul Metzger’s “August,” an improvisation on modified guitar, fiddles with the high and low ends of an instrument rigged with chiming music box parts and balanced only with stringed tambura. The Minneapolis-based musician recently overhauled a banjo with sitar pick-ups for a similarly spiritualized effect. Here, he flows between folksy lament, minimal harmony, and a trickle of objects to the floor. Intentional or not, it adds percussion. Metzger is the right co-conspirator for the release, even if there’s no interaction between the musicians. If only he could reach around to the flip side of the vinyl and add strong picking to the duo’s fuzzy miasma. Instead, Metzger closely echoes Derek Bailey’s sweetly obscured Ballads—re-arranging familiar melodies into a study, a negative proof of a color portrait.
–Kate Silver, City Pages
I hope I’m making myself abundantly clear when I say this – this is a very recommended experimental acoustic artifact.
–Matt Shimmer, Indieville.com…the resulting sounds provocatively collide traditional American music with North Indian Hindustani music.
–Justin Schell, New Music Box
Metzger creates otherworldly sounds unique unto themselves. His long, elaborate gypsy raga improvisations are skillful sonic meditations that sound both ancient and fresh in their immediacy.
–Centre Daily Times, PA
Some of the most inventive (and brilliant) playing I’ve heard in a long time.
–Neddal Ayad, Foxy Digitalis
… sounds as intimate as a prayer, yet the open space surrounding the musician is practically an accompanist.
–Kate Silver, City Pages
Paul Metzger added 16 strings (!) to his 5-string banjo in order to play his raga-like music, which can be heard on his release “Three Improvisations on Modified Banjo.” The extra strings function mostly as sitar-like sympathetic drones, with a bone bridge to help them resonate. I caught one of Paul’s performances recently and was blown away by his trance-inducing 45-minute improvisation. Experimental? Wacky? Paul’s combination of strummed, fingerpicked, tapped and bowed playing is banjo picking the likes of which you’ve never heard.
–Donald Nitchie, Banjo Newsletter
Metzger’s 23-minute opening track begins with distant, flutelike sounds
that evoke a Buddhist temple rising to meet the morning sun. Soon after,
he establishes a line of forceful plucks that get massaged, inverted,
destroyed, and rebuilt. Mixing the rapid-fire picking of Django Reinhardt
with the reverent raga of Robbie Basho, Metzger lets his own pulse dictate
his music’s rushes and retreats. The middle track is almost a
ballad, carving a winding river through a deep, dark forest. Three Improvisations
ends with Metzger’s most ambitious piece—26 minutes of thoughtful
strums and aggressive chords that suggests the amazing sounds here are
just a fraction of the noises filling Metzger’s mind.
–City Paper, Baltimore
“It takes a mesmerizing sense of creativity to play a modified 21-string banjo. For one person to simultaneously slap the instrument’s base for percussion and use his five other fingers to pepper the high-pitched strings on the banjo’s north pole. To extract a chilling thunder from an instrument widely known for its light, chirpy sound. To make one instrument sound like a chamber of harps, bongos, sitars and violins feverishly swaying, skipping, stirring, churning and burning into an unpaved musical frontier. Minnesota musician Paul Metzger did just that. And the footprints his performance left marked the first steps of a new underground live music venue in York County a forgotten and refurbished 100-year-old ballroom in the Red Lion skyline.
–Flip Side, PA
Once the ears of the world were ready to return to the solo guitar innovations of John Fahey , roughly around the time Rhino released the two-CD retrospective Return of the Repressed , there were a number of players who lined up with guitars in hand to revive his particular style of fingerpicking fusion . Some merely replicated his country blues ragas , others tried to update the sound with laptops or placing a choice phrase within a bigger modern rock puzzle, but few have been able to truly add to the language that he laid out so fully from the late ’50s to the early ’80s. Three Improvisations on Modified Banjo is one of those few recordings that burns away the brush and forges ahead into new territory. That’s not to say that it isn’t without precedent. Paul Metzger ‘s banjo modes include a set of sitar-like sympathetic strings on the body similar to what John McLaughlin did with his guitar in the ’70s, and he dips into Eastern raga patterns like Fahey , Robbie Basho , and many other guitarists have too. What does set him apart, other than his chosen banjo, is a patient, expansive sense of phrasing that has few Western peers. The album is made up of three long untitled pieces, the opener and closer each passing 20 minutes with the centerpiece ending just short of ten minutes. The first improvisation opens with soft drawn-out tones, and if it weren’t for the occasional string buzz, it would be easy to mistake it for the sound of a wood flute. The other two pieces are more easily recognizable as products of a banjo, with the second drawing from American roots for a spare and relaxed front-porch meditation. The final improvisation draws on Eastern influences with an overlaying raga structure but also displays some moves that would not be out of place on a Andrés Segovia album, or a Derek Bailey recording, for that matter. Masterful and sublime through and through, this is a record that will have more than one day in the sun as it passes from one impressed set of ears to another.
— Wade Kergan, All Music Guide
“There’s enough Midwestern strangeness and unusual attack stub-dangling that you might imagine you were listening to a Rick Bishop album or something.”
“The music Metzger makes—whether he’s strumming, fingerpicking, plucking or bowing—is unlike any Americana you’ve ever heard. From one moment to the next, Metzger’s banjo can sound like a violin, koto, flute, oud or sarod, and though these three solo improvisations are listed separately, each one flows seamlessly into the next, like one long raga that takes the album’s full 58 minutes to build, climax and fade into silence.”
“Don’t let the title fool you: Three Improvisations on Modified Banjo
is about as far from Deliverance as you can possibly get.”
“This acclaimed Minnesota-based string musician performs dreamy, meditative, at times ecstatic improvisations on a modified banjo and a fretless guitar fitted with sitar drone strings.”
–Ann Arbor Observer, MI
“Metzger finds an accessible pulse in an ancient, refined form, and a meditative austerity in an earthy, vernacular one. Then he fuses both elements into glorious, soaring new structures.”
–City Pages, MN
“Metzger has located a quivering space between the raga open-string drone and the ear-warping harmonic meditations of Tony Conrad, and the combined logic puts us both out of time and right in the body of the misshapen instrument.”
“Its a very very hypnotic listen as it slowly gains your attention. An album that really needs to be listened to, as any attempts to explain the music will not do it any justice really.”
–Road Records, Dublin
“fantastic recital of post sandy bull acoustic trance-inducing psychedelia…”
–Mimaroglu Music, MA
“flute-like at times, others like a mandolin. The best banjo playing ever.”
–WFMU, New York
“This quiet, gently tangled and explorative disc features an absolute master working at his best. His hypnotizing, circular playing is rich without being overdone, non-violent without disappearing into the background, abstract while retaining deep emotion. As darkly beautiful as your favorite John Fahey record.”
–Jackpot Records, OR
“It is without doubt that “Three Improvisations On Modified Banjo” is destined to be one of the very best and most essential experimental acoustic releases of 2005.”
“A release that will reward everyone who purchases for a long time.”
–The Unbroken Circle, UK
“A strange and lovely acoustic oddity”
–Downtown Music Gallery, NY
“This release is also amazing!! A must !!”
–Psyche Van Het Folk, Antwerpen, Belgium