East Village musician and songwriter Elliott Sharp shares the secrets of his avant-garde style


It seems unfair to simply classify Elliott Sharp as a musician and composer, which he certainly is. It should also be mentioned that he is a writer, artist, instrument maker, teacher and producer.

But more than that, his head is a laboratory of ideas that constantly manifest themselves in an incredible variety of projects. He has released over 85 records that run the gamut from relatively simple blues to avant-garde jazz to pure noise.

Sharp’s many collaboration partners include Debbie Harry, Sonny Sharrock, the Kronos Quartet, Christian Marclay and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, but that’s just the short list – and that doesn’t include film scores and installations. sound. As stated in his biography, he was “the first to apply fractal geometry, chaos theory and genetic metaphors to musical composition and interaction”.

It might sound intimidating to the casual listener, but Sharp doesn’t mind if you don’t understand everything.

“Listening to me is a process of psycho-acoustic chemical change,” he explains. “When you hear things, you react in ways that you’re not always aware of. I’m interested in how to invoke in listeners what the game does in terms of my own psychological chemistry. Acting is a transformative experience, just like listening.

Elliott Sharp at the controlsPhoto by Bob Krasner
Sharp in Hélio Oiticica’s PN15 1971/2022 at Socrates Sculpture Park in July.Photo by Bob Krasner
Some of Sharp’s Collection GuitarsPhoto by Bob Krasner
Sharp cheerfully performing Thelonious Monk’s music in a somewhat unorthodox wayPhoto by Bob Krasner

Sitting in his East Village studio, where he’s been based for decades, Sharp recalls playing piano in a recital at Carnegie Hall when he was 7, switching to classical clarinet and having learned the electric guitar as a teenager in 1968.

He says the Ramones changed his life when he heard them in Buffalo in the late 70s and one of the reasons he came to New York in 1979 was the compilation No New York, a vinyl record of post-punk noise that Creem magazine called “Fiercely avant-garde and aggressively ugly music.”

“The first person I met in New York was Dave Hofstra,” Sharp recalled. “I asked him, what are you doing? He told me he was in The Contortions (one of the No New York bands) and I knew I was in the right place.

Sharp was then playing more sax than guitar and took gigs as a bassist, eventually learning the viola and cello while experimenting with the synthesizer and various electronics along the way. Not satisfied with readily available instruments, Sharp created their own line of “Mutantum” guitars and other Frankenstein creations from salvaged guitars and, well, anything that worked.

“Constructed entirely from elements of the garbage can,” Sharp explains, the “violameriyah” is a mixture of a fiddle, a dulcimer and the sumsumiyah, a Bedouin instrument.

“I get some pretty amazing and indescribable sounds out of it,” he says.

Also note the “Arches H-Line”.

“I built it as a tribute to the great luthier and improviser Hans Reichel who was a friend and colleague,” he says. “The name is an anagram of his name. It’s more of a sound source – it’s not tuned to anything in western intonation. It might look like a zither or some weird Star Trek prop.

Work in progress: a vintage 1960s Japanese guitar body that would become one of the guitars in Sharp’s “Mutantum” line.Photo by Bob Krasner
Sharp’s workbenchPhoto by Bob Krasner
The toy guitar is meant to be rewired and used for a future projectPhoto by Bob Krasner
Sharp holding one of his creations, the ‘Arches H-Line’, built as a tribute to his friend and colleague Hans ReichelPhoto by Bob Krasner

Sharp, who is not one to sit still, is in the midst of a number of projects. In addition to releasing other people’s music on his label, zOaR Records, two books will join his previously released memoir “IrRational Music”: “Feedback,” about consciousness and sound, and “Sky Road Stories,” life stories on tour. He has just completed a formal composition entitled “Network” which includes a mixture of notation and abstract and open-ended instructions for 16 musicians.

Next comes a commission from the Multiple Joy(ce) Orchestra which will make its German debut in October. A third album with Helene Breschand as Chansons de Crepescule is nearing completion and a new project with frequent collaborator Eric Mingus, “Fourth Blood Moon”, is also in the works. The duo will perform at Rockwood Music Hall on October 6.

“The pandemic worked for me,” he admits. “I’m quite a compulsive workaholic. I find that each idea feeds another. My ideas come from reading or simply from walking. Often, while walking along the East River, I have formed the seeds of a composition.

These compositions can be the seed of ideas for his string quartets, which he considers probably his most difficult work, or the more accessible cds of Terraplane, which are a good starting point if you’re looking for old-school blues. played in a very modern way.

As for his approach to almost everything, Sharp is determined to throw the cards down and not just find new routes, but create his own.

“People worry too much about grades,” he muses, concluding. “Notes are just a certain narrow sound frame.”

To learn more about Mr. Sharp, visit the website at elliottsharp.cominstagram @elliott_sharpBand camp at zoar-records.bandcamp.com and Facebook at m.facebook.com/pg/JalopyGuitars.

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