Italian guitarist Sergio Altamura occupies a unique aesthetic space: one that encompasses deft use of sound-altering objects and devices, skilled looping, and ingenious playing techniques—including the masterful integration of a cello bow. Altamura draws inspiration from a range of artists spanning Brian Eno and Fred Frith to Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page—with Michael Hedges and Steve Tibbetts being his most significant acoustic guitar influences. He is also a member of Guitar Republic, an intriguing trio with Pino Forastiere and Stefano Barone. Here, he discusses two pieces from his album Aria Meccanica
Describe the concept and execution of “Down Roma Traffic.”
“Down Roma Traffic” is a difficult song to play live, as it requires good bow technique and real time control of the sound environment. I use screws, bolts, a CD, and a bus ticket placed between the strings to create the first percussive loop, which has a tribal sound. After that, I take everything off the strings, and with the loop still going in the background, I place my custom bridge under the sixth string and play the main riff with the bow. Then, there begins a really acid texture, in contrast with the loop percussion pattern. After that, I add my voice processed with a pitch-shifter and delay via an old Roland GP-16 Digital Guitar Effects Processor, and I use a TC Electronic Dual Parametric Equalizer to create a filter effect.
The song was inspired by “Enfance V” by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud. The poet imagines himself in an underground living room deep in the earth, and describes everything above it: the sewers, the thickness of the surface of the globe, the city, etc. I imagined the drums to be the surface of the earth, with all the repetitiveness of everyday life, and the bowed line as a scream coming from the bowels of the earth—with the voices celebrating the ritual meeting of the two. Contrary to what one might imagine, this song has a complete structure and during a live performace I also make use of improvvisation, while at the same time respecting a very rigid sound map.
Sergio Altamura - "Down Roma Traffic" by Guitar Player Magazine
Describe the concept and execution of “Arkestra.”
“Arkestra” is designed as if there are string and percussion ensembles playing. I wanted to create a kind of perspective of the sound, as if it was a painting, with the percussion instruments far in the background, and the strings gradually coming closer until they reach the foreground, to create a soundscape where anybody could dive in and get carried away.
I composed the song considering the various registers of the instruments. I played medium and treble voices on the second string, and to get that high on that string I use a Mongolian left-hand technique, which allows me to play with my fingers placed to one side of the string, and without pressing the string on the fretboard. The low register was performed on the sixth string. The solo is in a middle register and is performed on the third string. I use the typical cello bowing technique. Of course, when I play with a bow I’m not trying to imitate traditional bowed instruments—I’m interested in exploring the different tonal possibilities obtainable when bowing a guitar.
Sergio Altamura - "Arkestra" by Guitar Player Magazine
Purchase Aria Meccanica here.