AMN Reviews: Elliott Sharp – Plastový Hrad (2019; Infrequent Seams)

Sharp_Plastovy_Hrad_COVER_1400x1400_James_IlgenfritzComposer, improviser and multi-instrumentalist Elliott Sharp has been a major voice within the downtown New York music scene for decades. Timbre, dynamics, motion, shape and rhythm are always in play in Sharp’s compositional and improvisational practice. His music is a kind of avant-garde “groove” that combines algorithmic thinking with interpretive and improvisatory intuition. His latest album “PLASTOVY HRAD” presents three very different compositions that feature the bass clarinet.


“Plastovy Hrad” is for chamber orchestra with bass clarinet soloist. The composition was commissioned by the Brno Contemporary Orchestra as part of the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the formation of the Czech Republic. In this piece Sharp builds a kind of labyrinth that is somewhat dark and relentless. The bass clarinet soloist is a lone voice that wanders the labyrinth commenting and questioning as it moves through its ever changing surroundings. The cimbalom is prominently used to provide a counter voice to the bass clarinet.  The use of the cimbalom also gives the piece bits of Czech folk sounds that pierce the dark textures often revealing bits of light.  It’s a really interesting piece that is well recorded.  Both the soloist Lukasz Danhel and the ensemble perform with a great deal of power, conviction and subtly.

“Turing Test” premiered at the Venice Biennale in 2012. It is performed by the voices of the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart and the bass clarinet of Gareth Davis. It is a kind of mini-opera where disembodied voices try to understand who they are and where they are. While many of the techniques in Elliott Sharp’s musical language such as cells and looping appear to be at work here, they are used very differently than in other works by Sharp. In this piece Sharp uses these techniques not to construct actively evolving dense textures but clear melodic segments of counterpoint and chords for the voices. Gareth Davis’s wonderful bass clarinet is used to comment and question the voices as they continue their test. It’s a wonderful piece that is beautifully performed. I look forward to hearing more work in this vein from Elliott Sharp.

“Oumuamua” is a graphic score for bass clarinet and electronics. In this piece the bass clarinet is processed by the electronics in real time. In many ways this piece resembles Sharp’s solo electric guitar work, in that there are repeated fragments overlaid in a constant forward motion that occasionally collapses into a sustained sound mass.  The use of electronics here is really interesting in that they are both transformative and interactive. The bass clarinet transforms into clusters of floating sounds that dissolve into duets between the bass clarinet with sounds that resemble berimbau, saxophone and organ. It’s an interesting and wild romp that features Elliott Sharp’s excellent bass clarinet playing.

All in all, “PLASTOVY HRAD” is a really interesting and diverse album that presents three different faces of Elliott Sharp, one of America’s most interesting contemporary composers.

Highly Recommended!

Chris De Chiara

A History of Noise According to Merzbow

Source: Carriageworks.

To the best of my knowledge I first heard a recording of Merzbow almost 25 years ago.

During this time, I was a compulsive cassette trader; demos, live recordings, limited editions, old 7”s, import only releases; you name it, there was someone out there who had it, you just had to find them. In the days before the web, music travelled by post and was copied – tape to tape – by an army of curious listeners, underground writers, musicians and fanzine editors, all eager to share the joys and pains that music brought them. During this time, I was publishing a ‘zine and running a small label which had started in high school and, through those activities I’d developed a network of like-minded music obsessives around the world.

Fanoplane, Love Trio, Joy on Fire, Corey Thuro in DC, June 28

June 28th will be Independence Day early, as four acts — the Fanoplane improvisational collective; Sarah Hughes’ Love TrioJoy on Fire punk-jazz quartet; and Corey Thuro on solo mandolin — combine at RhizomeDC to overthrow the tepid tendencies of contemporary music.

Fanoplane is an experimental music project led by Ted Zook (NS Design Omnibass strung as a basscello) and Bob Boilen (ARP synthesizer), host of NPR’s All Songs Considered.  The project is named for the finite projective plane as defined by Italian mathematician Gino Fano.  In this musical context, Fanoplane is an improvisational project focused on projecting the infinite gifts of the Muse; all performances are unscored, unrehearsed, and improvised extemporaneously on the spot.
This partnership was realized after Bob appeared with Ted as the Boilen/Zook Duo and as a guest musician with Ted’s earlier projects, including Heterodyne and the Lost Civilizations experimental music project.  The group’s debut at Washington’s prestigious Corcoran Gallery in March included guest musicians Jerry Busher (percussion), Doug Kallmeyer (bass; electronics), Maggie Gilmore (vocalizations; flute) and Sonia Maria Herrero (violin); free download:   Guest musicians join as schedules allow.  More recently,Fanoplane performed at Baltimore’s Function Coworking Community; free downloads: (binaural); (stereo).
Sarah Hughes (winds/electronics) joins with Kelton Norris (drums) and Steve Arnold (bass) to form Love Trio, a group that will be playing—appropriately enough—some amazing free jazz.
Joy on Fire returns to RhizomeDC after a wildly successful debut in December.  The only purveyors of punk-jazz anywhere in the Milky Way, Joy on Fire was recently featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered and has garnered praise from Gareth Thompson in All About Jazz and Gonçalo Falcão in his “Best of 2018” list at (Portugal).  Always emphasizing the jump and chaotic saxophones of Anna Meadors, the relentless melee and rocketing guitars of John Paul Carillo, and the drums of Chris Olsen that clatter buildings across the street to pulp,Joy on Fire adds lyrics and vocals of poet Dan Gutstein to help proclaim the group’s fundamental outrage and decency.  Collectively, they hope to scotch the complacent dreams of many good people.  For more information:   “Hymn” on All Songs Considered; Soundcloud.
Corey Thuro is a musician, writer, and artist. For the past few years he has been living in Baltimore developing an original technique and voice for his primary instrument, the mandolin. Along with a dedicated self-guided study towards proficiency on the instrument he has invented and incorporated the use of new techniques, tunings, and ideas. He has performed hundreds of shows solo and in various bands across the U.S. For more information: Check out Corey’s Bandcamp page and SoundCloud page.
RhizomeDC is located at 6950 Maple St. NW, a few blocks from the Takoma Metro station (Red line); music starts at 8pm.  The event is open to all ages; admission is $10.

Coming to Philadelphia

Source: Ars Nova Workshop.

Thursday, June 27, 8pm
HEVM [MV Carbon, Eve Essex, and Hunter Hunt-Hendrix]
Ruba Club, 416 Green Street
$10 General Admission

Please join Ars Nova Workshop and the Institute of Contemporary Art for Dreamweapons, a series of performances celebrating the multivalent influences of Tony Conrad. Tonight features the Philadelphia premiere of HEVM, the trio of MV Carbon, Eve Essex, and Hunter Hunt-Hendrix. David Grubbs, best known for his work with Gastr del Sol, opens.


Thursday, July 11, 8pm
Bill Orcutt – guitar
Chris Corsano – drums
$18 General Admission
Pageant: Soloveev, 607 Bainbridge Street

Ars Nova Workshop is pleased to present the galvanizing duo of guitarist Bill Orcutt, founding member of infamous noise rockers Harry Pussy, and electrifying avant-garde drummer Chris Corsano.

The aggression and experimentation of Miami-based duo Harry Pussy, which featured Bill Orcutt on four-string guitar and vocals, proved to be highly influential on a generation of underground noisemakers, but Orcutt seemed to disappear after the band called it quits in 1997. The guitarist relocated to San Francisco, got a job in software engineering and went almost completely silent for the next decade and change. He reemerged in 2009 with the solo acoustic guitar album A New Way To Pay Old Debts. The overdue return was widely hailed, landing at #3 in The Wire’s Top 50 Release of the Year list and being acclaimed by Pitchfork for its “raw improvisations equally indebted to blues legends like Lightnin’ Hopkins and abstract experimenters like Derek Bailey.”

Orcutt has been on the road regularly ever since, releasing a string of solo albums on his own Palilalia imprint alongside collaborations with drummer Jacob Felix Heule, cellist Okkyung Lee, guitarist Bill Nace, Hayley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux, and Brazilian trio Chinese Cookie Poets. In 2012 he picked up the electric guitar once again, and began a raucous partnership with Chris Corsano.


Friday, July 19, 8pm
John Medeski – organ
Matt Hollenberg – el. guitar
Kenny Grohowski – drums
Ruba Club, 416 Green Street
$20 General Admission

Ars Nova Workshop is pleased to present Simulacrum, the prog-metal organ trio of Downtown alchemist composer, John Zorn.

The most extreme organ trio ever, Simulacrum is yet another wild direction from maverick composer John Zorn, who continues to explore new worlds and new ensembles into his sixth decade. Passionately performed by the unusual all-star trio of John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood), Matt Hollenberg (Cleric), and Kenny Grohowski (Abraxas), this is powerful and fascinating music. Described as Tony Williams’ Lifetime on steroids, the group performs dramatic through-composed pieces that unfold with a cinematic logic. This genre bending music defies classification, touching upon metal, jazz, minimalism, atonality, noise and more. White hot burning intensity from the mind of downtown NY’s eternally youthful hell-raiser performed by a virtuoso trio forged from the worlds of jazz and metal.


Electric Eclectics Festival Lineup

Source: Electric Eclectics Festival. The fest takes place August 2-4 in Meaford Ontario.

Lee Ranaldo & Leah Singer (New York)
Alex Zhang Hungtai & Pierre Guerineau duo (Los Angeles/Montreal)
David First (New York)
Alexis Ohara (Montreal)
Hélène Barbier (Montreal)
Lee Paradise (Toronto)
Freaky Boos (Hamilton)
Cares + WHQB (Toronto)
Bonnie Doon (Ottawa)
Adam Basanta (Montreal)
Freelove Fenner (Montreal)
Alexander Dupuis (Rhode Island)
bBomit (Hamilton)
Lary 7 (New York)
Danielle Dahl (Denmark)
Sandy Ewen (New York)
Anthems of the Void (Toronto/New York)
Honeymoonphase (Toronto)
Leucrocuta (Toronto)
Kai Basanta (Vancouver)
First Winter (Owen Sound)
Malobre (Collingwood)
Joshua Richardson (Owen Sound)
Kevin Griffin & Michael Snider (Meaford)