My years of making music in New York City coincided at various times with Elliott Sharp’s. Our musical worlds, however, rarely overlapped. I was playing blues and country music; accompanying singer-songwriters, both struggling and famous; and playing in pop bands that were trying to get record deals (my more avant-garde efforts would come later). Elliott, on the other hand, was at the nexus of all the art that was pushing the envelope during that period, and is still to this day. I never saw him perform live or met him until shortly before I left New York to move to Nashville in 2012, and then it was in a wonderful duo performance with Mary Halvorson.
I mention our parallel lives because, for me, part of the pleasure of reading IrRational Music [Terra Nova Press] was his vivid description of what was going on in the arts venues that dotted Manhattan while I was there—The Kitchen, Issue Project Room, PASS, CBGB—but that, while aware of, I rarely visited. I imagine the same pleasure will also be availed anyone interested in modern guitar and modern music in general, even if they have never lived in or even visited the city, as that world will be only marginally more foreign to them than it was to me.
Sharp’s memoir recalls a life of wall-to-wall creativity by a man of superior intellect, with the fearless soul of an adventurer. He pioneered the use of personal computers and guitar-triggered sampling in live performance. His experimental compositions have been inspired by algorithms, Fibonacci numbers, fractal science, philosophy, and literature.
IrRational Music paints a portrait of a guitarist who studied the basics before developing his own language on the instrument. It is something of an abstract picture as Sharp bounces back and forth in time; sometimes making it difficult to discern what era is being discussed. Combined with a massive number of references to musicians and composers you may or may not recognize, including, but not limited to Christian Marclay, Nels Cline, Bobby Previte, Joey Baron, David Torn, Eric Mingus, Zeena Parkins, Vernon Reid, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Hubert Sumlin, Eric Bogosian, Jack DeJohnette, Sonny Sharrock, Debbie Harry, and Bachir Attar, leader of the Master Musicians of Jajouka, IrRational Music can be a slow read. It is also one you may want to assay in front of an internet device so you can look up names for context, and enjoy YouTube videos of Sharp’s many projects.
IrRational Music is a must-read for any guitarist operating outside the mainstream. Whether or not you are a fan of Sharp’s music, the story of his life as a man dedicated to the pursuit of an artistic vision, come hell or high water, will provide much needed inspirat