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Elliott Sharp: String Quartets: 1986-1996

Farrell Lowe By

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One of the epigrams from composer Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies notes that "repetition is a form of change" and that sort of idea is at the core of E#'s concepts in relation to this recording of string quartets—but it is a form of repetition that mutates like an old Delta blues. Consider the guitar work of Mance Lipscomb. Even though he's using a somewhat rigid form of "the blues," his guitar and vocal work cascades around the signposts of that form, revealing a deep, rambling world of emotional landscapes that would remain hidden to an artist following the form more closely. In another medium altogether, painter Jackson Pollock explored similar themes with the use of elements like line, color, flux, and stasis in an effort to achieve a new way of vision. E# follows a parallel path in this elliptical way of looking at or hearing the world around us.

In the liner notes Sharp mentions that this album is a collection of compositions concerned with identity, which in his words is "the ability of sonic flux and internal detail to vary greatly while overall is retained the exact structure and proportional shape of the piece and its encoded essence." That being his mission statement, he has succeeded with his wildly intense compositional style.

Many of Sharp's pieces are composed from mathematical inspiration and seem to be concerned with implicate order, patterns, and spatial relationships. Iannis Xenakis often worked with stochastic mathematical principles and composed music based on the random distribution of probabilities. He had a very strong compositional style that is immediately recognizable. From a mathematical point of reference, E# seems to be working the other end of that spectrum, and therein lies an aspect of his identity—the work presented here is indelibly his. His compositional style, the highest standards of performance, and the sheer muscularity of his music puts him on par with Xenakis—and like Xenakis, his music is immediately recognizable.

The album begins with "Lumen," a through-composed piece that brings to mind the fast flowing water of a river with its constantly shifting eddies, vortexes, and sudden quiet pools. It is followed by "Digital," a piece for prepared string quartet. It is a rhythm study in which Sharp achieves a "mega-mbira" tonal quality that is quite compelling. This piece is a lot of fun and reminiscent of the rhythmic structures used by Jon Hassell during his "Fourth World" phase. "Tessalation Row" is a tour-de-force of open strings, overtone loops, and electronic distortion based on the Fibonacci series. This piece sounds like a Jackson Pollock painting looks—brilliant.

Even though all of these pieces were composed in the last century, they should provide string players with years of challenging ideas to deal with and bring great satisfaction to fans of modern music. Elliott Sharp, indeed, has his own very unique identity! Visit Tzadik at:



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