Multi-genre avant-garde pioneer Elliott Sharp’s "Momentum Anomaly” suite seems less a formal composition in the traditional sense than a living, breathing, yet-evolving expression woven from the prolific NYC composer’s ongoing explorations technical and artistic in nature. Despite being a personal favorite of Sharp’s, Momentum Anomaly is a story never twice told the same when played live, its core expanded upon and reborn with each retelling. The performances are informed in part by memory, preserving a general structure with anchoring themes and phrases shared, but each realization emerges unique, reflecting the flexible vocabulary of the master’s intuitive connection to his physical tools as well as internal palette du moment.
Experimentation, improvisation, spontaneity, the decision to not fully map out every move in advance—these are all characteristic of Sharp’s creative approach. While his music, whether solo or collaborative, typically embraces a tremendous amount of freedom in execution, it is never carelessly random or guilty of thoughtless, self-indulgent noodling. For decades, Sharp has explored the application of science and math within the musical realm—both conceptually, in composition and performance, as well as tangibly, through the construction and modification of numerous instruments. A lifetime spent voraciously seeking out and absorbing compelling music and influences has him richly versed in myriad musical references spanning centuries and continents. Thusly equipped, Sharp procures an erudite and eloquent body of work which daily continues to grow, giving voice to the intricate, fascinatingly unconventional music of his “Inner Ear”.
I like to imagine that, at the eye of the whirling sonic storm in many a piece from Sharp, is this Inner Ear to which he frequently alludes. A calmness, a zen of sorts, the intellectual nucleus from which his art emanates. Sharp’s work ushers forth from deep within, speaking a very visceral language. Momentum Anomaly reveals no exception. Sinewy sitar-like passages weave in and out, like exotic eastern desert blues or electric mirages broadcast from a distant galaxy. Glittering harmonic slaps, clicks, and bursts fly like high-voltage bits of information down neural pathways, then ripple outward across the synaptic networks of the universe. Momentum Anomaly presents a sense of scale somehow both colossal and micro: one moment might paint an interstellar voyage, the next perhaps an intense spastic battle waged on a mitochondrial level, followed by a deep-sea dive or a pluvial reverie. It is all highly evocative, but in delightfully open-ended fashion.
There is a wealth of sound, energy, and movement in Momentum Anomaly — words like “mercurial”, “kinetic”, even “frenetic” come to mind — but equally important to establishing its flow are the beautifully asymmetric moments of quiet and pause Sharp deftly layers in. Liken it to the chiaroscuro play of light and shadow in classical painting, where the dynamic contrast of one juxtaposed with the other enlivens the composition immeasurably. Beyond the broad strokes lie numerous other elemental gems vital to the complexity to the brew. Microtonalities, unusual tunings, subtle rhythmic variations. Even amidst its dizzying plethora of electronically processed sounds, there is an undeniably live, organic expressiveness to Momentum Anomaly.
With Sharp at the wheel, the next turn is oft-unpredictable, but he has an uncanny way of nailing wildly unexpected segues as fluidly and naturally as restful breathing. Under his joyful guidance, the open-minded are shown a remarkably meditative quality and underlying order to the surface chaos. Whisked through countless planes and secret tunnels, turns, and tangents — never pointlessly — the epic path unfailingly leads us back to the piece's initial point of reference: that contemplative mesmerizing music-box motif that echoes throughout and bookends Momentum Anomaly. From there, we can either ponder the journey past or begin another anew.
VIDEO: ELLIOTT SHARP - Momentum Anomaly
LIVE at Canessa Gallery, San Francisco 10/16/2017 - 37:54