he acoustic guitar is the closest thing to a fetish object in music: put one in the right hands, and that person can conjure the dead. The spirits of old Delta bluesmen, Appalachian front-porch strummers, and folk troubadors live in a guitar’s wooden hole. Taut strings prevent the spirits’ escape, but strum those strings just right, and they’ll fly out howling.
Giuseppe Ielasi feels these spirits, and in Gesine, he dedicates himself to freeing them. But he wants to do so without reliving the past—a tricky task. Every back-to-basics finger-picker since Fahey rehashes the same blues chords, limiting themselves artistically and weakening the power of the originals with each imitation. Ielasi’s not having it.
His approach is different. Ielasi’s background in experimental guitar and electro-acoustic improv circles affords him an opportunity to capture that old time sound in a modern context, blending time periods together so that the folk doesn’t sound like a museum piece and the electronics don’t sound like a gimmick.
The first of the six untitled pieces on the album (the untitled tracks are the only traces of electro-acoustic pretension here) amounts to something of a mission statement for Ielasi. A single twanging note sounds in isolation, followed a couple seconds later by another from somewhere far off, and then another a little closer and another closer still, as if the notes are converging like night-walking strangers to line up and form a melody. Some light gum-chew clicks then chatter, providing just the rhythm for the embryonic melody that’s still struggling to form from the straggling notes. A high harmonica-like drone eases over the piece, complementing both the bluesy tone of the guitar and the electronic percussion. Finally the gum-chewing gives way to the muted bump of live drumming, the drone ebbs, and the piece ends as it began, the melody falling away until only the ragged plucked string of the opening remains.
The composition feels strangely timeless, despite its cutting edge techniques. I pictured a fedora-sporting bluesman playing idly in the studio while an engineer readied the wax cylinders. I also pictured Giuseppe—bald-headed, bag-eyed, and lit in laptop blue—putting the final touches on the piece at home. Ielasi burrows to the core of folk guitar, to the soul of the sound, and such a leap over time and space is but a small effort for a soul.
The next two pieces are successful excursions into Loren Connors ambient-guitar land, but they suffer greatly in proximity to the fourth track on the album (as does most of the music I’ve heard in recent days). Here Ielasi returns with another slice of electronicized proto-folk. And this one indulges in some melodic prettiness—think an earthier, less static-laden Fennesz. A high-frequency whine electrifies the track throughout while several multi-tracked guitars try to cough up a creaky melody. Guitars pile up, and the cacophony threatens to overwhelm, when suddenly one guitar an octave higher than the rest drops in and dictates a gorgeous melody that dominates the track. While this melody grows stronger, scrapes and scratches multiply in both channels—the sound of fingers on guitar strings. It’s as if the legendary musicians trapped in Ielasi’s guitar are no longer channeling just their sound, but their bodies as well, their callused fingers and palms for his record. The melody takes a few surprising twists (something Fennesz could try sometime), and the piece ends with your jaw on the floor.
While I’ve only described a couple tracks, let me assure you that the rest, while not too similar to these two stylistically, are similarly great. One could complain that the album is too short at thirty-one minutes, but that’s what the repeat button is for.