May 4 Mary Halvorson and Elliott Sharp Acoustic Duo at The Stone in NYC

May 20, 2010

Though MaryMary and I had played together electrically in 12-guitar versions of my algorithmic piece "SyndaKit," an invitation by Stone guest-curator Henry Kaiser to perform a purely acoustic duo gave us the opportunity to present intimate and unadorned guitar interaction. I've written about Mary's playing (GP Dec. 2007) and I feel she's one of the most original-sounding guitarists in jazz today. Her main guitar is a Guild Artist Award—a 17" carved archtop with a magisterial sound and visual presence. Normally she plays it amplified and processed with delay and distortion—played acoustically in the Stone's confines it sounded big and bright. I brought my 2001 Dell Arte Anouman, a gypsy-style guitar in the mode of the Selmer Grande Bouche D-hole guitars. It has more bass than the typical gypsy guitar and balanced well with Mary's guitar. Our set was completely improvised: we looked at each other and hit "go" for 45 minutes of fast and angular sonic interlock. We often played contrapuntally, whether dwelling on pitches with convoluted single-string runs or focussing on sounds with clusters and extended techniques. Mary has a very precise right-hand picking technique: her single-string flurries are beautifully articulated and ring out. I brought in more extended techniques including harmonics; two-hand tapping; and use of slide, spring bow, and EBow. We followed our epic with a short and snappy improv and called it a night. Interestingly enough, Mary and I are both left-handed but neither of us plays a lefty guitar. We both taught ourselves with what was at hand, which happened to be in both cases, right-handed instruments. The notion of left-brain/right-brain is excessively over-simplified yet there are tendencies associated with each side. One can only surmise about the results of this switch!

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Photo by Peter Gannushkin


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