Paul Metzger explores and deconstructs centuries of music with his self-modified 23-string banjo | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Paul Metzger explores and deconstructs centuries of music with his self-modified 23-string banjo 

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click to enlarge Paul Metzger

Paul Metzger

Shelly Mosman

We’re all looking for transcendence in some way, and Minneapolis’s Paul Metzger is searching for it through exploring his self-modified 23-string banjo. From Western art song and Appalachian appropriations to the somber droning of 20th-century and Indian classical music, Metzger manages to assimilate an ungainly swath of influences in his extended improvisations. His deconstructionist nature, a character trait he perhaps shares with hillbilly-music player Henry Flynt, sets him within a lineage of certifiable eccentrics who tug at the histories of performance and instrument making. Occasionally, Metzger takes up the guitar, but it’s so thoroughly detuned that it’s tough to settle the work within the bounds of conventional guitar music; on “Meend for Shaista,” on hi the most recent album, he also outfits the instrument with a cymbal. On the 20-minute banjo rumination that follows it, “Death’s Other Kingdom,” he prods long lines out of his self-made contraption, momentarily lulling listeners into mild sedation before swinging around and playing staccato over an expanded melody. Those brave enough to engage with Metzger’s wildly broad improvisations might not be rewarded with a moment of sudden enlightenment, but taking in the sounds of these careening, vibrating strings likely will boost a listener’s appreciation for the endless possibilities available to any intuitive performer or artist.   v

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