E SHARP on CAGE
I first met John Cage at the “June in Buffalo” seminar in 1975 where he was one of the guest artists along with Christian Wolff, Earle Brown, and Steve Reich, each there for a few days of lectures and performances of their works. His legend preceded him and expectations were high for all of us over-amped young composers who somehow felt that we were being ushered into an audience with the Dalai Lama of contemporary music. His presence in the packed and stifling classroom was luminous even though I detected a feeling in his demeanor that he might have preferred to be doing almost anything else at that moment. His first talk reiterated themes found in his writings and lectures and he entertained questions with patience.
The scandal that followed Julius Eastman’s interpretation in his solo as part of Petr Kotik’s SEM Ensemble performance of Cage’s “Songbooks” that first night is well-documented and Cage was absolutely furious. He devoted his following talks to the notion of ego and the interpreter’s responsibility. The question still remains unresolved as to the precedence of the composer’s ego over the interpreter’s. The composer opens a potential can of worms when offering liberties in a score. The solution perhaps is to share with the performer a sense of intention for the manifestation of the composition and thereby shared responsibility – a utopian approach within the classic definition of anarchism.
In New York City in 1986, I was to meet Cage again under more relaxed circumstances as part of a series “Mondays at Diane Brown Gallery” organized by Kotik including Cage, the SEM Ensemble, and my solo performance “Cochlear Medley”. In preparing publicity for the concert, Petr arranged for us to meet at Cage’s loft on 18th street to be photographed by Felipe Orrego. It was a chilly rainy afternoon: John made tea and we all made chit-chat. I asked if the tea we were drinking (black, caffeinated) was considered an acceptable part of a macrobiotic diet. John brightened up and stated “Well, I usually start the day very very good but finish it very very bad” and grinning proudly, pulled out a bottle of single malt.
Photograph above by Andras Sterzing
On Corlear’s Hook was commissioned by Dr. Bernd Leukert of the Hessischer Rundfunk in Frankfurt for the first Klangbienalle held there in May 2007. This performance is by the Radio-Sinfonie Orchester Frankfurt, conducted by Sian Edwards. In July 2005, in preparation for the birth of our twins Kai and Lila, my wife, Janene Higgins, and I moved to an apartment on the far reaches of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, an area known as Corlear’s Hook and named for the shape of the nose of one of the Revolutionary War generals under George Washington. Historically a neighborhood of diverse immigrant populations, Corlear’s Hook borders the East River with a view that includes the bridges to Brooklyn as well as that boroughs’ waterfront warehouses and factories, loading docks, the Navy yard, and ferry landings. It is rich in sights and sounds: river traffic, industrial activities, birds, helicopters, planes on the landing path to LaGuardia and JFK. This composition, while reflective of my life during this time on Corlear’s Hook, is neither programmatic nor pictorial, simply a translation of the spectra of my existence from one frequency band to another. It continues in the vein of my other recent formal works with interlocked webs of mathematically-derived rhythms and exchanges and transformations of “genetic” material between groups of instruments to build sonic manifestations including “Radiolaria”, “SyndaKit”, “Calling”, “Evolute”, “Quarks Swim Free”, and “Proof of Erdös”.
Occam’s Razor, 2011 (score)
Oneirika, 2012 (score excerpts)
ELLIOTT SHARP is an American composer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer central to the experimental music scene in New York City for over thirty years. He leads the projects Carbon and Orchestra Carbon, Tectonics, and Terraplane and has pioneered ways of applying fractal geometry, chaos theory, and genetic metaphors to musical composition and interaction. His collaborators have included Radio-Sinfonie Frankfurt; pop singer Debbie Harry; Ensemble Modern; Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; JACK String Quartet; Ensemble Resonanz; cello innovator Frances Marie Uitti; blues legends Hubert Sumlin and Pops Staples; pipa virtuoso Min-Xiao Feng; jazz greats Jack deJohnette and Sonny Sharrock; multimedia artists Christian Marclay and Pierre Huyghe; and Bachir Attar, leader of the Master Musicians Of Jahjouka. Sharp’s work is the subject of a recent documentary film “Doing The Don’t” by Bert Shapiro.
Sharp’s composition “Oneirika” was premiered in March 2012 at MaerzMusik – Berlin and “Persistence of Vision” in April at Sonic Visions in Reutlingen. He was commissioned by Issue Project Room to create “Occam’s Razor” for double string quartet which was premiered at his birthday marathon “E# @ 60”. He has just completd the composition of “Storm Of the Eye” commissioned by violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn for her “Encores” project. He also directed, wrote, and composed “About Us,” a science-fiction opera for all-teenage performers commissioned by the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich and premiered July 2010. In 2009, his music-theater work “Binibon” premiered at The Kitchen and he was featured as Lecteur and composer at Ostrava Music Days. He has also been featured at New Music Stockholm 2007, Donaueschingen Festival 2007, the Hessischer Rundfunk Klangbiennale 2007, Darmstadt Ferienkürse für Neue Musik 2002, and both the 2006 and 2003 Venice Biennale.
Sharp’s installations include “Fluvial”, a computerized multi-channel audiowork; “Chromatine” , an interactive string sculpture, and “Tag”, an interactive audiowork. His electroacoustic composition “Cryptid Fragments” was included in the Bitstreams show at the Whitney Museum, 2001.
Sharp was awarded a 2010 Fellowship in Music Composition from New York Foundation for the Arts; the 2008 Preis der Deutscher Schallplatten Kritiks for “Concert In Dachau”; the 2004 Preis der Deutscher Schallplatten Kritiks for the orchestral CD “Racing Hearts, Tessalation Row, Calling”; and in 2003, a Fellowship from the Foundation For Contemporary and Performance Art.
Sharp’s most recent CD releases include “The Age of Carbon”, a 3CD-box retrospective of his band Carbon; “Octal:Book Two” for solo 8-string guitarbass, “Binibon” – a radioplay version of the work; and “Spectropia Suite” with the ’31 Band, Debbie Harry and Sirius String Quartet. The complete discography may be found at: http://www.elliottsharp.com
He has taught or been an Artist-In-Residence at Atlantic Center for the Arts; Tokyo Zokei University; Music Conservatory of Beijing University; Conservatory of Cuneo, Italy; New England Conservatory; Tama Art College-Japan; and Dartmouth College.