For decades, Elliott Sharp has been filed away in my mind as a downtown New York improv guitar guy. With the release of the present CD, The Boreal, however, I was surprised to learn that he has also been working as a composer of avant-garde classical for quite some time–a field in which he has collected numerous accolades. Who knew? Comprised of four works spanning the years 2004-2009, the CD’s program gets underway with the title piece, in which the strings of the JACK Quartet’s violins are scraped with rewound bows, spring bows and bows fitted with strings of metal balls. The overall effect ranges from sparse scraping sounds reverberating inside a giant cheese grater, proceeding on into a wide array of very insistent sawing motions. “JACK is a fearless ensemble and took to the alternate bows with great enthusiasm, tearing into their valuable instruments with abandon to yield the beautifully vicious sounds that I envisioned.”–Elliott Sharp
“Oligosono” is a piece for solo piano played by Jenny Lin that, employing extended techniques Elliott developed for guitar, veers sharply over its three tracks from deep, resonant rumbles to playful yet off-kilter melodies to all kinds of sparse tinkles and prepared plinkety-plonk. Realized by Elliott’s own outfit, the Orchestra Carbon, and inspired by an eccentric and charismatic mathematician name Pal Erdos, “Proof of Erdos” ventures back to the minimal sawing string screech of “The Boreal” and adds some low pitched moans and high-pitched wails via a whole orchestra that could almost pass for a Tony Conrad concert taking place within the shower scene from Psycho. The whole thing ends up getting caught in a vast, swirling maelstrom.
Closing out the CD, “On Corlear’s Hook” was inspired by the myriad of sounds present in the composer’s New York City neighborhood of the same name. In this piece, the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra offers up a full-on piano-led orchestral rumble punctuated by homely horn melodies, sour held tones and super dense bra joists (gotta love auto correct), giving way to ultra sparse tinkles and instrument tapping, only to eventually return to Psycho complete with a commanding bass drum workout. The whole thing finishes up with a gnarly slashing climax from the strings. If you’re brave enough to leave the volume cranked up, you may very well get blown out of your car or house. Fans of the electro-acoustic or orchestral music of Iannis Xenakis should have no problem with sounds this strong and vivid.
Text ©2016 Arcane Candy