andrewcsmith on 02/28/2011 at 09:30AM
In the run-up to ISSUE's first benefit this coming Friday, we're featuring podcasts of music and interviews with composer and guitarist Elliott Sharp (whose 60th birthday party is happening at 110 Livingston in Brooklyn on March 4).
Elliott Sharp's output spans a whole bunch of genres of current experimental music, and so one podcast just didn't seem quite enough. Luckily, James Ilgenfritz's series Ten Thousand Hours takes a close look at Elliott's improvisational output, on what it means to be an improviser and still associate with "classical" genres, or to be an musician using amplification, sampling, and electronics and still associate with the jazz (or even classical) worlds. Sharp doesn't seem to think too much of the distinction, but he and James dig deeper; they talk about his teenage years reading Xenakis and Cage, his days releasing string quartets on the punk label SST, the challenges of being a freelance composer, and his ongoing hope for the open-mindedness of today's younger musicians and music enthusiasts. Check out James's podcast below, and we'll be featuring a number of these interviews with creative improvisors throughout March and onward.
andrewcsmith on 02/24/2011 at 11:40PM
Composer and guitarist Elliott Sharp sat down with ISSUE curator Zach Layton to discuss his work as well as his long history of collaboration with Jo Andres & Steve Buscemi, the hosts of his 60th birthday celebration next Friday at 110 Livingston in Brooklyn, featuring Sharp, writers Jack Womack and Tracie Morris, the JACK Quartet, and the Sirius Quartet. The next night, the party will move to ISSUE's current home, where we'll have an open rehearsal of Sharp's Flexagons at 5 pm followed by a Q&A led by artist and composer Luke DuBois, both totally free. The night stretches on past midnight, with performances by Sharp, pianist Jenny Lin, Sharp's improvisatory group Bootstrappers, Marco Cappelli playing Sharp's Amygdala, and a guitar army of SyndaKit players.
Zach & Elliott talk about a variety of his pieces, among them the algorithmic composition SyndaKit, which Sharp describes as the process of "creating an organism that grooves, and loops, and chains itself into various shapes." The piece has already been featured in two separate incarnations on the FMA, and we've got a totally different one here. They also discuss Sharp's new commission for ISSUE, Occam's Razor, for double string quartet, in which Sharp tried to write a "piece that was absolutely true to the sound…but that wouldn't require people having their face buried in the piece of music for fifteen minutes."
I've uploaded a number of Elliott's tracks that are featured in the podcast, among them the overture from Sharp's opera Binibon and a track from Sharp's acoustic album Velocity of Hue, called "Euwrecka." If these pique your interest, check out the open rehearsal and Q&A next Saturday, totally free courtesy of Meet the Composer's Creative Connections program.
andrewcsmith on 03/12/2010 at 10:45AM
To kick off ISSUE’s Chamber Music Month, downtown regular Elliott Sharp brought himself and Italian-born conductor/composer/percussionist Andrea Centazzo out for a few excellent improvised sets. As one might expect, it’s all good—check out Centazzo’s three cymbal trees in the above picture. Although according to the Wikipedia Centazzo’s a “minimalist” composer he, like Sharp, never seems to fit into that box. What they do both take from Reich & Co., however, is a concern with the effect of repeated sound on the sound. What they don’t take is diatonic harmony and pure “process.”
That downtown improvisation departed in style and content from minimalism is nothing new. This music turns a fixed process into an arbitrary element, and in that it seems to break the mold. Any aesthetic element of minimalism that seeps in—repetition, strong rhythmic pulses, ebow drones—is arbitrary and bound to change, and seems in active discourse and even disagreement with its downtown friend.
In the very last improvisation (below) just a few minutes from the end, Centazzo begins to play repeating patterns on his hanging gongs (parts of a gamelan? I can’t quite tell—check the above picture) and the decay of the gongs never really meshes with the next attacks from his yarn mallets. For one, the yarn mallet does not cause the sound to instantly appear, but rather draws the sound out a split second later, by which point he’s already moved on to the next note. It’s like looking at a spinning wheel that looks like it’s beginning to spin backward, where no percussive hits really make it through—they’re coming too quickly—and instead the focus is not on the actual attack, but on the point at which the tone from the gong becomes audible as a tone.
This takes maybe a half-second, by which point Centazzo’s already made it just about through his loop. Additionally, this repetitive auxiliary percussion calls to mind a certain someone, but evokes no tonality or central pitch, or even mode. This is why I suggested gamelan; these non-equal-tempered tunings defamiliarize a very familiar percussion pattern (extra credit to anyone who transcribes and analyzes these pitches). This is important: as the attacks quieten, and as the mallet sounds soften, the inharmonic sounds take over, and draw ears in. The attacks melt together, like fondue. All important things become as one and the differences have disappeared.
Sharp’s playing is always enveloping, a virtuosic display meant not to impress, and a rarity of form and ethos among musicians. Too often, those with the technique compromise or use it to replace real content, because they can get away with it. But in this—in never seeking to impress, only to convey—Sharp is in a rare territory.