It’s always fun to discover new talent, but it’s even more so when that talent is playing an instrument that I’ve never heard of before. Such is the case with one Matt Venuti — who will bring his solo show to Merkaba Sol in Augusta at 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8, and the Mount Vernon Community Center at 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9 — and his instrument of choice is the hang. Venuti has been a professional musician for quite some time beginning on the piano, then the trumpet and the electronic valve instrument (EVI for short). He then discovered the hang (a metallic, saucer-shaped instrument) and it quickly became his instrument of choice and changed his whole approach to making music (the same Swiss company who created and built the hang also invented the next generation, dubbed the gubal, which he also will be bringing to Maine). In a recent interview from his home in New York, I asked him how he pronounced the names of his two instruments.

Venuti: It’s phonetically pronounced “hung” and the other one is just like it looks, “gubal”.

Q: Are they amplified?

Venuti: They themselves do not need to be amplified to play them. They’re totally acoustic instruments — they give off a pretty decent volume of sound just on their own. Oh, and I sing along with the instruments.

Q: I’m really intrigued by the sound of the hang — the closest thing I can compare it to is a steel drum, but it’s not as harsh or metallic, if you catch my drift.

Venuti: Yeah, I do but if you put a steel pan next to a hang and hit both of them with the same velocity you’d say, “Oh, those are two entirely different sounds and two entirely different instruments.” The hang’s own sound really is much warmer than a steel pan, it really is its own sound. A lot of people, when they close their eyes and listen think they’re hearing strings or a piano or a harp.

Q: Before we go any further I have to ask: Have you ever performed in Maine before?

Venuti: I have, I performed last year — the first time I was ever in Maine — and it was beautiful. I had a great reception and people really enjoyed it and I got invited back to do that show in MountVernon.

Q: What can people expect from your performance?

Venuti: The instruments in and of themselves hold a lot of intrigue because there’s something about them and the sound that can be produced that puts people in a place of great peace — I don’t know how else to describe it. I bring people into that place of great peace, there are also a lot of expressions of joy and inspiration — people always leave feeling uplifted, so that’s what people can expect — an inspiring, heart-opening, uplifting experience. And you can quote me on that.

Q: Don’t worry, I shall!

Venuti: Great, and I guarantee it, as well — that’s just what happens. And I’m more fulfilled as a musician now than I ever have been. All the places that I have played and all the different people that I have played for and with — and by myself with these instruments is the ultimate — it really is.

Q: Do you consider them to be percussive in nature?

Venuti: No, I consider them having percussive qualities, but this is what’s beautiful and amazing about the nature of these instruments is that they’re so new, and the way I’ve learned to play them, it’s such an unusual technique. I mean, yes if you consider a piano a percussive instrument then you could say that these are percussive, but at the same time there are many ways to access sound from these instruments without relying on percussive techniques.

Q: So, is it rubbed?

Venuti: It can be rubbed, it can be hit with the palm of my hand, it can be hit with the top of my finger, it can be plucked — yeah, there are a lot of ways of accessing sound, it’s really quite amazing. And it’s really brand new, and this is what’s exciting about bringing this out there into the world: people are going to experience something they never have before.

Q: Is there anything you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this column?

Venuti: Yeah, have them go to my website and watch some of the videos. Even though it’s not the live experience completely it will give you a sense of what the instruments are about. So just link to my website and that would be great. (www.mattvenuti.com)

Lucky Clark has spent more than 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.


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