I like to observe milestones and had the idea to do a small concert for my 60th birthday and present a couple of current projects. I asked Zach Layton at Issue about this, who replied that he and Luke Dubois already had such a plan in the works but on a much grander scale than I imagined! Business & Development Director Michelle Amador came up with the idea to combine my birthday concert with a benefit for Issue at the new space (where construction has only barely begun) at 110 Livingston Street in Brooklyn, and continue the next day at the current space with a marathon concert. My old friends Steve Buscemi, a well-known actor, and his wife Jo Andres, a visionary filmmaker and choreographer, would host the benefit event. Zach asked me what I would most like to present and I mentioned a double string-quartet that I had been thinking of composing, "Occam's Razor" along with "The Boreal." premiered by JACK in Germany in 2009. The double-quartet would be a commission from Issue and JACK and Sirius String Quartets together would premiere the work. Steve, Jo and I also cooked up a multimedia work titled "Trinity" with Steve's narration of an excerpt from "The Thunder, Perfect Mind" from Gnostic texts. In addition, I would perform a mash-up of elements from the Velocity of Hue solo guitar pieces as well as collaborations with writer/performers Tracie Morris and Jack Womack. New Issue director Ed Patuto generated an incredible amount of enthusiasm for the event and the entire staff and board dug in to shape and sell the event (which would include a silent auction of such items as art works by Issue board members Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo). More info about Issue: issueprojectroom.org
I arrived at 3:00 on that Friday afternoon for dress rehearsals with JACK and Sirius quartets. As I was entering the hall, my Godin Duet Multiac guitar in its gig bag got caught for a second in the revolving door—I thought nothing of it as there was no discernible impact. We ran through "The Boreal" with JACK and then "Occam's Razor" with both quartets. Finally, the screen and projector were set up and aligned and Steve and Jo ready to run the dress rehearsal for "Trinity." Imagine my shock when I opened the guitar case for soundcheck and found the neck broken in the back around the 3rd fret—not completely sheared off but most definitely BROKEN. I could see the truss-rod—it was like staring into the open wound of a compound fracture and gazing at your own radius and ulna. Panic! It was already 5:30pm—rushhour on Friday and I was in downtown Brooklyn, so no time to run to my studio in Manhattan to get a spare neck or another instrument as I had to be ready to play at 7:30 (not to even mention the vagaries of replacing the neck)! l pushed the break in the neck back together and poured in a tube of superglue that the Issue technical director had fetched from a nearby hardware store, securing it with a C-clamp until the glue set. Amazingly, the guitar was in tune when the neck was broken and stayed in tune for the rest of the evening. The action was decent and I was able to play the entire concert with nobody in the large audience of artworld and entertainment bigwigs noticing anything out of the ordinary. I did have to avoid the first three frets as the notes buzzed terribly but the rest was fine. It's a real testament to Godin construction or just my dumb luck that the damage wasn't greater. I was half-expecting someone to come up to me after and say "Is that the way you really play or is your guitar broken?"
In any case, the initial "VIP" part of the evening began with "Trinity," a meditation on the symbols of goddesses and motherhood, fecundity, life cycles, death and Kali the Destroyer—light stuff. I mostly used Ebow on the Godin with a patch that I programmed on the Eventide PitchFactor using the expression pedal to control a vocal-like upper harmony to my sustained melodies. The space at 110 Livingston is an old marble hall, former home of the Brooklyn Board of Education, and both visually and sonically majestic (if you like reverb). Eventually, the room will have top sound and light equipment and acoustic treatments to tame its lush echo. For now, I had to work with the sound rather than fight it. For that reason, I chose mostly legato gestures in the score to "Trinity" and focused on overtone sounds during my solo "Velocity of Hue," which I dedicated to the late Suzanne Fiol, founder of Issue. "Velocity of Hue" was a particular favorite of hers and I premiered it at the first Issue space in the East Village. Steve, Jo, and Ed Patuto, as well as representatives of Brooklyn City Councilman Marty Markowitz all spoke about Issue after which this portion of the evening concluded and the party was opened to the general concert audience.
This set opened with my duet with Jack Womack who read a plangent description of NYC in the plausible near-future, an excerpt from his book "Elvissey," to my sonic accompaniment. Tracie Morris then joined me for our piece "Mahalia Theremin." We worked it for over ten minutes, Tracie's voice rising in waves of ululating power and cross-modulating with my slide-and-Ebow guitar wails in the room's acoustics to create acoustically-generated ring-modulated sheets of sound—wild! Next, JACK performed "The Boreal," even its whisper-soft sections meeting with quiet attention and deep listening. In addition to a menu of extended techniques, this completely through-composed work uses bows made from steel ball-chain and from metal springs to generate many of its sounds. Finally, with JACK and Sirius set up across the room from each other, "Occam's Razor" was premiered. The piece uses a simple gesture and process on which to build its sonically complex and vaulted arches. The various climactic sections yield audio hallucinations as a result of difference tones and cross-modulation: choral voices, alien muttering, whispers, wails—but superimposed on a rhythmic lattice that was always shifting asymmetrically but flowingly. I was thrilled at the performance—though the piece really sounded best when the room was empty at our rehearsal one week before!
The next day I brought the Godin back to my studio and the neck wound was even more gaping. It's amazing that the guitar made it through the set. I had a spare Multiac neck, but replacing it was actually quite a chore. It would not have been possible to do it on that day.
Coming up next: E# @ 60 - Part 2 - the March 5 Marathon Concert
More info on JACK: jackquartet.com
Tracie Morris: tracieswebsite.net
Jack Womack: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Womack
Velocity of Hue: emanemdisc.com/E4098.html
E# website: elliottsharp.com
Tour diaries and other writings: http://www.repple.se/datacide/writings.html