Elliott Sharp: May 17 - Foliage: Print Exhibition And Performance Series - Reverse Space - Brooklyn

June 10, 2013
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My first solo show in NYC as a visual artist - very different territory for me to explore and pretty exciting! Foliage is a graphic score open to interpretation and realization by any instrumentalist or ensemble of any size; for an extended duration or a succinct hit; as a concert performance or sonic installation. Much of my composed work uses traditional notation, often the most efficient way to convey instructions to such "classical" ensembles as a symphony orchestra. Improvisation also has been extremely important for me, the best way to create social music. But there is another path between composed and improvised that is often best represented with graphics. I first delved into algorithmic and graphic approaches with the pieces Noise Floor and Spectral Shift from 1972 and Hudson River Compositions of 1974. A major impetus in these compositions and work that followed was the creation of a consistent sound design and/or operating system for each piece. Foliage is a culmination of my work in this approach, the closest I've come to presenting the 'look' of what I'm hearing when I compose in my Inner Ear.

Since first plugging an electric guitar into homemade fuzz and ring-modulator in 1968, my strategies for manipulation of sonic materials were shaped by evolution of possibilities in both hardware and software. After acquiring an Atari ST personal computer in 1985, software control and randomization of various parameters became a viable strategy for real-time processing of instruments. Direct audio manipulation in a personal computer became possible by the early '90's and I reveled in the use of this means of creating sound and processing acoustic instruments. However by the turn of this last century and the reality that extreme sounds were quite easy to achieve with only a mouse-click, digital sound processing became devalued and began to lose its appeal for me. I was missing the 'sweat equity' generated by more labor intensive strategies.

In desiring to rely more on acoustic instruments, I tried to devise means of evoking extreme sounds in scores such as Hammer Anvil Stirrup from 1988 which combined computer-generated images with text instructions plus traditionally notated rhythms and pitch-maps to strike a balance between explicit instructions and poetic ambiguity and a sense of process. Scores such as Hammer Anvil Stirrup dwell more in the realm of an oblique narrative, catalyzing the sounds in an arc of time rather than providing a one-to-one correspondence with precise instruction sets. In this way, the score depends especially on the creative interpretation of the performer, allowing them to go beyond any particular set of definitions.

For the string quartet Seize Seeth Seas Seen from 2007, I composed fragments in musical notation and exported them as graphic files which were then subjected to various types of processing in Photoshop, GIMP, and Graphic Converter. The images were inverted, stretched, filtered, modulated with various waveforms, and otherwise distorted to create a score that retained a resemblance to musical notation while manifesting its own visual identity. For a generation of musicians raised on sonics, texture, densities, personal sound editing, and graphic notation of all types, the images evoked a fairly consistent set of gestures balancing both their own personal interpretation as well as my own input and desires. This approach has become the basis for later pieces including this one.

In 2012, I released Foliage as an Ebook of 109 images chosen out of 250 that had been created over the course of two years of midnight oil-burning. This issue led to the inclusion of four large prints in a group show in 2012 and from that, this solo show. Eighty images from the Foliage series were chosen by Reverse-director Andrea Wolf and myself and made into 11x14 Risograph prints - a digital process that yields a print very similar to a silkscreen in texture and visual affect. The subtly-framed prints circled the long narrow room. Janene prepared a 38-minute movie from sequenced images which would be used as the score for the musicians who would be performing each night.

The opening was on May 17, 2013 and the room was packed for the performance of Foliage by guitarist Mary Halvorson and violist Jessica Pavone. They played an absolutely stunning set with gestures sometimes closely linked to the images and transformations of the score and sometimes more oblique. Overall, the effect was deep and powerful. They both took a sonic breath at one point about 25 minutes into the set - just as that second of silence clarified, a dog on the sidewalk barked once loudly: a Cagean injection that was just hilariously perfect and noted by almost everyone.

Other performers in the series included harpist Shelley Burgon, laptop artist (& Max/MSP-meister) Luke DuBois, Dither Guitar Quartet, Mivos String Quartet, bass clarinetist Lea Bertucci, the duo of radio-manipulator Barry Weisblat and contrabassist Andrew Lafkas, alto saxophonist Darius Jones, and poet Tracie Morris. Dither played a blistering set using four small valve amps, enough to fill the resonant space of the gallery with walls of sound from their ample selection of handmade and classic pedals.

The final night of Foliage featured my own intepretation of the score - an interesting recursive process as the score itself was originally a manifestation of my own sonic desires. I brought the Koll 8-string with its magnetic and piezo pickups plugged directly into the stereo PA through Celmo and MXR compressors, Ultra-Fuzz, Boomerang, and PitchFactor. I'd certainly played, seen, and heard Foliage quite a number of times by this night but it was still thrilling to find new possibilities in the images in this sequence. A challenge as well to not rely on ingrained habits and predictable responses - it's a fine line between personal style and self-parody! The resonance of the Reverse space was extremely conducive to intense sonics, both quiet and loud, and I tried to exploit both ends of the dynamic range. E-bow drones sounded fantastic in the room and I was able to find a number of heavy microrhythmic grooves manifested in difference-tones as I slowly moved a slide down the excited string and captured and layered the results.

Foliage Ebook may be found here.

Information about the Reverse show and print editions here.

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