Elliott Sharp

Abstraction Distraction
D’autre cordes dac 181

Thomas Ankersmit

Live in Utrecht

CD Ash International 8.8

Two accomplished sound explorers – a veteran New York-based American and a younger Dutch-born, Berlin resident, independently probe the timbral limits of electronically processed saxophones. Both CD’s are engrossing, with the American’s probably more so, since he’s primarily known as a guitarist.

That person is Elliott Sharp, who during the past couple of decades has evolved a individual catalogue of works touching on Blues, Jazz, Rock, Improv, Contemporary Classical and electronic music. He has played solo, in the Terraplane combo and in collaborations with players as different as guitarist Scott Fields, violist Charlotte Hug and turntablist Christian Marclay. Someone who occasionally adds reed lines to his improvisations, on the seven tracks here Sharp concentrates on tenor and soprano saxophone, modulating the woodwind output through computer-processed analog and digital synthesizers and adding drum samples from Joseph Trump, Sim Cain or Tony Lewis.

Live in Utrecht on the other hand consists of one extended track played by Thomas Ankersmit on alto saxophone, altered and amplified with pre-recorded saxophone and tape parts enhanced by a computer and analog modular synthesizer timbres. Someone who often works with New York minimalist and film-maker Phil Niblock and Sicilian electro-acoustic improviser Valerio Tricoli, this CD captures an installation piece from Ankersmit that depend on the space’s acoustic characteristic.

During the course of this almost 39-minute performance, Ankersmit varies his saxophone line and various whirling, spluttering wave forms through episodes of unexpected fortissimo timbres and chapter-marking protracted silences. At times propelling the aural grisaille to sonic three-dimensional results, he simultaneously mixes reed shrills, mirrored and concentrated sonic asides, plus all the properties that arise from engendering a soundscape consisting of, among other timbres, accelerating wave-form crescendos, signal processed rattles and flanged, and almost aviary flitters, in addition to circular pulses. The oscillations gradually diffuse and granulate while crowning a connective ostinato of pure resonance, until interrupted by dead silence, and then replaced by reductionist crackles, distracted air bubbles and solid drones.

Eventually reed sounds vanish to be replaced by identical reverberating buzzes and what sounds like typewriter key clacks mixed with bird chirps. Eventually, following other pauses, echoing harmonica-like reed parts reappear, building up to harsher and more atonal timbres. Climatically the nasal reed tone and its related partials dissolve into strident, chanting whines.

Conversely, with his creations spread over a few tracks, Sharp has no need of time-marking silences. At the same time his layered and granulated multiple reed lines not only quicken and narrow to sluices and flutters, but also gain additional shape from thumping drum samples and the coarse friction of machine-processed warbles.

A piece such as “Vortex Field”, for instance melds robotically accompanies drum machine pulses with a broken chord set of saxophone split tones. Eventually as the fluttering wave forms downshift, snorting rumbles are modified into ney-like reed trills. Similarly a rock music-like backbeat from the percussion on “Metelegy” accompanies a series of splayed and layered saxophone vibrations. Then a miasma of distorted guitar flanges, processed whirls and altissimo reed cries attain a common finale of pressurized, twisted squeaks.

“Manaus”, the lengthiest and concluding track, draws on variants of all these strategies. Balanced are low-pitched, resonating drum samples, dial-twisting and tumbling synthesizer whistles and Orientalized soprano saxophone reed chirps. As supplementary smears of colored sounds are added, a tapestry of Art Nouveau-like sonic decorations and timbral palindromes enter into the equation, with flutters, shrills and aviary-like chirps predominating. The concluding variation diminishes the oscillations for an emphasized series of squeaking, irregular vibrations.

More than unaccompanied saxophone showcases, with enough breadth to affix reed sounds to pre-recorded samples or outright electro-acoustic sequences, Ankersmit and Sharp may have created unique sonic forms. They’re certainly sounds that should be heard.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1 Live in Utrecht

Personnel: Live: Thomas Ankersmit (alto saxophone, analog modular synthesizer, computer, pre-recorded saxophone and reel-to-reel parts)

Track Listing: Abstraction: 1. Quadrantids 2. Limbium 3. Boot the Plute 4. Metelegy 5. Vortex Field 6. Blown Away 7. Manaus

Personnel: Abstraction: Elliott Sharp (soprano and tenor saxophones and analog and digital synthesizers with computer processing) plus Joseph Trump, Sim Cain and Tony Lewis (drum samples)