Elliott Sharp

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Elliott Sharp
Elliott Sharp.jpg
Background information
Born (1951-03-01) March 1, 1951 (age 72)
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Genres Contemporary classical, experimental, free improvisation, jazz, avant-garde
Occupation(s)Composer, musician, producer
Instrument(s)Guitar, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet
Years active1980s–present
Labels SST, Tzadik, Clean Feed, Intuition, Homestead, Atavistic, Intakt, Extreme, Knitting Factory, zOaR
Website elliottsharp.com

Elliott Sharp (born March 1, 1951) is an American contemporary classical composer, multi-instrumentalist, performer, author, and visual artist. [1] [2] [3]


A central figure in the avant-garde and experimental music scene in New York City since the late 1970s, [4] [5] Sharp has released over eighty-five recordings ranging from contemporary classical, avant-garde, free improvisation, jazz, experimental, and orchestral music to noise, no wave, and electronic music. He pioneered the use of personal computers in live performance with his Virtual Stance project of the 1980s. [6] He has used algorithms and fibonacci numbers in experimental composition since the 1970s, and has cited literature as an inspiration for his music and often favors improvisation. [7] [8] He is an inveterate performer, playing mainly guitar, saxophone and bass clarinet. Sharp has led many ensembles over the years, including the blues-oriented Terraplane, Orchestra Carbon, and SysOrk, a group dedicated to the realization of algorithmic and graphic scores. [9] [10]


Sharp was classically trained in piano from an early age, taking up clarinet and guitar as a teen. He attended Cornell University from 1969 to 1971, studying anthropology, music, and electronics. He completed his B.A. degree at Bard College in 1973, where he studied composition with Benjamin Boretz and Elie Yarden; jazz composition, improvisation, and ethnomusicology with trombonist Roswell Rudd; and physics and electronics with Burton Brody. In 1977 he received an M.A. from the University at Buffalo, where he studied composition with Morton Feldman and Lejaren Hiller, and ethnomusicology with Charles Keil. [11]

From the late 1970s, Sharp established himself internationally. His compositions have been performed by the JACK Quartet, Kronos Quartet, Ensemble Musikfabrik, the hr-Sinfonieorchester, the Ensemble Modern, Continuum, the Orchestra of the SEM Ensemble, the FLUX Quartet, Zeitkratzer, the Soldier String Quartet, and Grammy-winning violinist Hilary Hahn. His work has been featured at festivals worldwide, including Other Minds in San Francisco 2021, the 2018 RuhrTriennale, Huddersfield 2018, MaerzMuzik Berlin 2014, Tomorrow Festival Shenzhen 2012, New Music Stockholm festival 2008, Donaueschingen Festival 2007, Hessischer Rundfunk Klangbiennale 2007, Venice Biennale 2003 & 2006, and Darmstädter Ferienkurse fur Neue Musik 2003.

He has collaborated regularly with many people, including Christian Marclay, Nels Cline, Bobby Previte, Z’EV, Joey Baron, David Torn, Eric Mingus  [ de ], Zeena Parkins, Vernon Reid, and Frances-Marie Uitti, as well as qawaali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, blues legend Hubert Sumlin, actor/writer Eric Bogosian, jazz greats Jack DeJohnette and Sonny Sharrock, pop singer Debbie Harry, and Bachir Attar, leader of the Master Musicians of Jajouka. He was curator of the monumental sound-art exhibition ‘’Volume: Bed of Sound’’ for MoMA PS1, which featured the works of 54 artists including Vito Acconci, Tod Dockstader, John Duncan, Walter Murch, Muhal Richard Abrams, Laurie Anderson, Chris & Cosey, Survival Research Laboratories, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Sonic Youth, and Butch Morris. [12]

He produces records for a wide variety of artists, and has curated several State of the Union CDs, compilations of one-minute tracks by experimental musicians. He releases music under his own label, zOaR music, as well as punk label SST and downtown music labels such as Knitting Factory records and John Zorn’s Tzadik label. Sharp describes himself as a lifelong "science geek", [13] having modified and created musical instruments since his teen years, and frequently borrowing terms from science and technology for his compositions.

Elliott Sharp live at Jazz Festival in Saalfelden, 2009 Elliott Sharp 2.JPG
Elliott Sharp live at Jazz Festival in Saalfelden, 2009

Sharp received the 2015 Berlin Prize in Musical Composition, spending six months as a Fellow-in-Residence at the American Academy in Berlin. [14] He was awarded a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship, was a 2009 Master Artist-in-Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in music in 2010 and 2019, and received a 2003 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award. [15] He has composed scores for feature films and documentaries, [16] created music and sound-design for The Sundance Channel, MTV and Bravo networks; and has presented numerous sound installations in art galleries and museums. Guitar Player magazine’s 30th anniversary issue included Sharp among their list of “The Dirty Thirty – Pioneers and Trailblazers”.

In March 2011, Sharp's 60th birthday was celebrated with a weekend of all-star concert events entitled "E#@60", hosted by Brooklyn's ISSUE Project Room. [17] In March 2021, his 70th birthday was celebrated with a series of concert events entitled “E#@70”, presented by Brooklyn’s Roulette. [18]

Sharp lives in lower Manhattan with media artist Janene Higgins and their two children. [19]



As a leader

with Carbon

with Orchestra Carbon

String Quartets



with Terraplane


Collaborative groups

As producer

As a compilation producer

Recorded film scores and score compilations


Film appearances

Music composed for film

Opera and theater



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