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In the Realm of the Senses

Jefferson Jackson Steele
Finger Play: Dan Conrad of Mas Alla del Reino de los Sensaciones freaked out on his ersatz horns.

By Bret McCabe | Posted 11/20/2002

Paolo Angeli, Mas Alla del Reino de los Sensaciones

Paolo Angeli, Mas Alla del Reino de los Sensaciones


Italian guitarist Paolo Angeli concluded his set at the Red Room with something unusual, even for the staunchly avant performance space. Standing with his Sardinian guitar resting on his knee, Angeli adeptly played the finger strums and agile arpeggios of a traditional Sardinian love song. He raised his soft voice to a robust tenor, singing drawn-out, full-mouthed lyrics whose literal meaning was lost on nonspeakers but whose implied purpose was obvious.

Angeli's tender rendition of this Sardinian tune was a poignant reminder that although the Red Room--like the collective of musicians who sponsor the shows there--concentrates on new music, freely improvised in the moment, the music is still rooted in an established tradition, even if it's one of going against the grain. However free music comes across, it is not just musicians getting onstage and going nuts.

But you'd be forgiven if you thought that opening trio Mas Alla del Reino de los Sensaciones--featuring local musicians Tom Boram, Dan Conrad, and Bob Wagner--was doing little more than getting its freak on. Its rambunctiousness was part of the point. Prior to the show, Boram passed out plastic bags containing little foil-wrapped bundles to every audience member, along with a print-out sheet of "instructions." And the first rule of Mas Alla del Reino de los Sensaciones stressed: "The bags you have been given contain food. All edible." We were to eat these morsels--a macadamia nut, an inch of green onion stalk, a gummi bear, a sliver of dried anchovy, a corner of chocolate, a few kernels of puffed rice, a clove of garlic, some capers, and a mouth-curdling slab of licorice, none of which were recognizable until their textures tickled taste buds--during the show.

The trio was out to bombard all five senses--not just sight and hearing--with its performance, and the edible grab bag brought in taste and touch. Smell almost won out; Wagner, after infusing the room with a pleasant waft of incense, walked around the space with a square of white fabric soaked in something that emanated one of the most unavoidable scents this side of 8-month-old bong water. Not even the licorice or the garlic abated its presence in the sinuses, and were it not for the spectacle, it may have been too overpowering.

But spectacle there was, thanks in large part to Conrad's rhythmic textures and skronky phrasings, and Boram's Tourette's-like keyboard outbursts--he played the instrument as if it were a pile of hot boiled potatoes that is about to become upset with him. Conrad started the show rubbing wooden sticks upon a hollow metal ball, eking out reedy, metallic timbres, before moving to two homemade horns that bleated like wounded clarinets. Wagner's provided comments on percussion/electronics that established a minimal bridge between Conrad and Boram's asymptotic vectors, enough that the trio never disintegrated into pure amorphousness.

After solving some PA problems, Angeli delivered a mesmerizing performance on his modified Sardinian guitar--prepared with additional strings, pedals, objects, etc., which enabled him to get guitar, cellolike, and percussive sounds out of it when amplified. Mixing improv with composition, Angeli strummed, picked, bowed, and drummed out lovely, extended pieces that recalled Sun City Girl Richard Bishop's mix of Indian motifs with extended Fahey-isms. His set started with these densely layered statements and gradually progressed to his beautiful folk conclusion, providing a close as calming and moving as a deep exhale to an evening that started in frenetic panache.

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