Spaghetti Western String Co. is saucy

U students give music of cello, banjo, guitar and mandolin an image makeover

by Frederic Hanson

If you have ever wanted to gut a live sheep and chew on its entrails, Spaghetti Western String Co.’s music might not be for you.

However you slice it, the Minneapolis string quartet always falls just short of being full-blown satanists.

Regardless, the group is still very exciting.

Their ethereal music definitely alters perceptions and might even induce psychotropic dementia and twisted vaudevillian curiosity

“As far as our place in Minneapolis, I think we’re really different,” said Western mastermind Michael Rossetto. “As far as string bands go, we’re a little unusual because there’s a violin, a cello and banjo stuff.”

So the folk-bluegrass-classical group – Rossetto (guitar, banjo), Nicholas Lemme (mandolin, voice), Ethan Sutton (cello), and Denise Guelker (violin) – was conceived by Rossetto.

He envisioned a homemade project blending electronics and acoustic instruments to portray the American immigrant experience.

After capturing this on 2004’s “Do Right By People” and a subsequent appearance on “A Prairie Home Companion,” the band dropped the drum machines and synthesizers and got to work on its latest project, “Quiet Mob EP,” released this month.

“In terms of overall feel, the last one was intended to be a dream sequence kind of thing. This new one has that kind of dreamy quality, but the texture is different,” Rossetto said. “On this recording, it’s basically the core group – the four of us – and there’s a real focus on composition.”

The record will be celebrated tonight at the Cedar Cultural Center with folk duo The Pines and filmmaker Adam Sekuler. Sekuler will show a series of short films that use the group’s music.

The idea of combining visual imagery and instrumental music comes naturally to the Spaghetti Western String Co. To date, they have written two film scores – one for the 1936 biopic, “Grass,” and one for the classic 1956 French children’s film “The Red Balloon.”

“I’m pretty sure we’re going to be doing some others, though we don’t play every show with film,” Rossetto said.

Sans film, the band is at its most engaging. Without visual cues the music allows for limitless imagination. As violinist Guelker remarked in an e-mail conversation, “Since very few of our songs have lyrics, the songs often give the listener a chance to sit back and imagine.”

Herein lies the beauty of the Spaghetti Western String Co.: While they might not wear bovine sacrifice on their sleeves like, say, Norwegian Black Metal, they can certainly provide the soundtrack. Because in the end, there is nothing more heinously wretched than the human mind.

And while the band itself may be the antithesis of satanic spectacle, the ambiguity of its instrumental approach to music, fused with an active imagination, will never disappoint – no matter how sick and twisted the listener may be.

But do not be alarmed – the music can just as easily sound like ponies and bluebirds in a meadow where bowls of cereal grow on trees and juice boxes smile and say things like, “Here, have a chocolate chip cookie.”