Grant Recipients Grants to Artists Music/Sound 2003

Elliott Sharp

A black and white portrait of Elliot Sharp. He is bald and wears a black shirt. His profile faces the camera and as he looks forward, he reaches around to hold the top of his head with one hand.
  • 2003 Grants to Artists
  • Music/Sound
  • Composer, Multi-Instrumentalist, Sound Artist
  • Born 1951
  • Lives in New York, NY
  • Additional Information

Besides its immediate financial benefits, the grant confers two profound feelings: one of recognition within the artistic community and one of relaxation and relief, however briefly, from the economic pressures we face as artists.

- Elliott Sharp, March 16, 2005

Artist Statement

My work cuts across genres, traditions, and materials, and manifests an overall approach of transformation and resynthesis. Even when operating within a specific genre, I try to develop a unique vocabulary and syntax for the situation, whether compositional strategy, instrumental technique, or conceptual paradigm. Each of the activities informs and feeds the others. Concerns include rhythmic "groove" on both macro and micro levels, melodic materials inherent in the natural overtone series, processes that lie on the border between order and chaos, notions of density, and use of noise and sounds not usually considered "musical."

A prime example is Syndakit, based on the activities and behavior of flocking birds, African drum choirs, hunting packs, and recombinant amino acids. SyndaKit is essentially a construction set consisting of 144 notated "cores" and a set of simple rules for their use through cycling, imitation, addition, recombination, transposition, and mutation. In the composition Calling, these tools were used to create a fixed score for the symphony orchestra, one version out of many possibilities.

In recent years, I have focused on opera and music theater and composed such works as Binibon, About Us, EmPyre, and Port Bou employing the same approach. Recent years have also seen the rekindling of my interest in graphic notation and the use of visual editing software to process musical notation to create synesthetic scores for the musicians to follow. Such works as Seize Seas Seeths Seen, Foliage, and Sylva Sylvarum function not only as a score but as retinal art.

- 2014


Elliott Sharp is a composer and multi-instrumentalist who pioneered ways of applying fractal geometry, chaos theory, and genetics to musical composition and interaction. Sharp has released over 85 recordings ranging from orchestral to blues, jazz, noise, no wave rock, and techno.

His audio installations include Tag (1997), an interactive audiowork; Chromatine (2001), an interactive string sculpture; and Fluvial (2002), a computerized multi-channel audiowork. He curated the sound-art exhibition Volume: Bed of Sound in 2000 for MoMA PS1, which featured the work of 54 artists including Vito Acconci, Sonic Youth, Laurie Anderson, and Muhal Richard Abrams. With the support of his 2003 Grants to Artists award, Sharp composed Dispersion of Seeds (2003), and Light in Fog (2006); recorded a number of Thelonious Monk compostions for solo guitar; released the CD Radio Hyter Yahoos (2004)and premiered Binibon (2009) at The Kitchen, for which he received Emergency Grant support from FCA.

After receiving his 2003 FCPA grant, Sharp directed, wrote, and composed About Us (2010), a science-fiction opera for all-teenage performers at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich. In 2011, he was commissioned by ISSUE Project Room to create Occam's Razor for double string-quartet for his birthday celebration concert E# @ 60. In 2012, Sharp's Oneirika, for the ensemble Zeitkratzer, premiered at MaerzMusik Berlin and Persistence of Vision, for the Sonic Visions Orchestra (conducted by Sharp), premiered at Sonic Visions Festival Reutlingen. His composition Turing Test for the Neue Vocalsölisten Stuttgart premiered at the Venice Biennale in October 2012. His other projects include the opera Port Bou (2014), which premiered at ISSUE Project Room; Tribute: MLK Berlin '64 (2014), a suite commissioned by the Berlin Jazz Festival; and three string quartets: Tranzience (2014) and Acheron (2014) for JACK Quartet, and Mare Undarum (2013) for Sirius Quartet. In 2014, Sharp debuted a new large-ensemble project, SysOrk, dedicated to Sharp's algorithmic and graphic scores, at Roulette in NYC with the premiere of his Sylva Sylvarum.

Sharp has composed for and collaborated with violinist Hilary Hahn, the Radio-Sinfonie Frankfurt, pop singer Debbie Harry, Ensemble Modern, Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Arditti Quartet, Ensemble Resonanz, blues legends Hubert Sumlin and Pops Staples, jazz greats Jack deJohnette and Sonny Sharrock, multimedia artists Christian Marclay and Pierre Huyghe, and Bachir Attar, leader of the Master Musicians Of Jahjouka. His graphic score Foliage (2012) has been published both as an eBook and as a print exhibition. Sharp has been featured at Tomorrow Festival in Shenzhen, China, New Music Stockholm, Au Printemps in Paris, Donaueschingen Festival, and Darmstadt Festival, both in Germany. Sharp's work is the subject the 2008 documentary film Doing The Don't by Bert Shapiro and he was featured on NPR All Things Considered in October 2012.

Subsequent to his 2003 Grants to Artists award, Sharp was a Master Artist-in-Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts (2009). He is the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship (2010), the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2014), and the Berlin Prize in Musical Composition from the American Academy (2015).

Sharp attended Cornell University from 1969 to 1971 and completed his B.A. at Bard College in 1973. He received an M.A. from the University at Buffalo in 1977, where he studied composition with Morton Feldman and Lejaren Hiller, and ethnomusicology with Charles Keil. Sharp leads the projects SysOrk, Carbon, Orchestra Carbon, Terraplane, and Tectonics.

FCPA-supported “Dispersion of Seeds," 2003.
FCPA-supported “Light in Fog," 2006.
Excerpts from FCPA-supported Binibon, 2009.
Sharp performing on electro-acoustic guitar at the premiere of Venus & Jupiter, 2012.
Elliot Sharp is in the center, playing guitar. He wears a dark shirt and sits in front of a black background.
Sharp playing a Thelonius Monk composition for solo guitar, these recordings were FCPA-supported.
A slightly blurred photograph of a performance with Elliot Sharp playing guitar and leaning forwards towards the camera. He wears a dark shirt and thin black sunglasses. Bright red and green light emanates from the left and right edges of the photo.
Performance still of Sharp performing as TECTONICS, Errata, 1999.