Elliott Sharp, Scott Fields: acoustic guitars
Director Pavel Borodin has been growingly active of late, leaving this miserable commentator huffing and puffing as far as reviewing his production is concerned. Let’s try and attempt a catchup run, starting from this excellent film revolving around the practical (and theoretical) aspects that delineate the time-honored partnership between innovative improvising composers and formidable guitarists Sharp and Fields.
The “theoretical” bit mentioned in the preceding paragraph is located in the “special features” subdivision of the DVD, where the musicians explicate the duo’s rootage and the compositional sources for what they design and conjointly execute. Both gentlemen are inclined to shifting inside and out given structures, setting pitch fields to pick from, and searching for a temporal order coordinating written parts and improvised fragments. Establishing a natural physical flux for such complex ideation is described by Fields as perhaps one of the hardest tasks in the business of writing music outside the rigidness of expectation. I also like to recall a significant sentence by Sharp, according to which working within a chosen system necessarily requires a different perspective in the act of listening; that’s exactly how one should conform to the materials presented in the two concerts comprised by Ostryepolya.
Indeed the fundamental importance of these live sets (taped in Cologne in 2009 and 2010) lies behind a simple, but often forgotten principle: a conscientious interaction is a must. Sharp and Fields teach a lot in that sense as they regularly exchange looks during the performances, nodding in recognition and to change sections, responding to the subtlest nuances (and, why not, harsh scrapes and violent rasgueados) emitted by extremely sensitive steel-stringed instruments. We can observe the differences in the hand posture, the attention in selecting a befitting phrase, note or noise in a juncture, the detectable common ground – free jazz to quasi-stochastic semi-regulation, Bailey to avant-blues, and much more. The trained determination of the manual gesturing and the concentrated expression of each artist are captured by intelligent closeups; this, in union with the first-class timbral attributes of finely crafted guitars, contributes to an impression of proximity exalted by the marked left/right separation of the performers in the mix.
Never anticipate ECM-like reverberations, in spite of a restricted number of occurrences characterized by sparser “gentler” notation and relative scarceness of events; this is, by and large, stuff for audiences able to face recurring trouble (a piece by Sharp is aptly titled “Convolution Now”). Continual clusters, pinched upper partials, spiky dynamics, non-singable lines, dissonant chords, metal tampering, eBow and – above all – a nonconforming attitude towards the act of expliciting unusual ideas via normal instrumentation. And yet, when Borodin’s camera catches glimpses of the scores, you can immediately see that it’s not “normal” methods we’re talking of. Discover the rest for yourselves, and learn something on acoustic problem-solving and acceptance of what is not “harmonic” in a tritely Western meaning.