American composer-multi-instrumentalist Elliott Sharp presents three distinct orchestral works, in all the bass clarinet is featured as a leading instrument. These works cover Sharp’s rich and idiosyncratic compositional strategies, ranging from instrumental composition for chamber orchestra, a mini-opera that flirts with absurdist, black comedy and a solo exploration of electro-acoustic processing of the bass clarinet, that in its turn functions as an alien orchestra.
The first piece, «Plastový Hrad» (Plastic Castle in Czech) was commissioned by the Brno Contemporary Orchestra with conductor Pavel Šnajdr, as part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Czech Republic. This composition was recorded in concert in March 2018.
Sharp drew inspiration from the literature of Franz Kafka (1883-1924), and especially from the classic «The Castle» («…a single, high-pitched yet strong voice had emerged out of this humming in some quite impossible way and now drummed against one’s ears as if demanding to penetrate more deeply into something other than one’s wretched hearing».); the surrealist poetry of non-conformist Egon Bondy (1930-2007) , and the music of underground rock group The Plastic People of the Universe (Bondy wrote texts for this group), that was active from the late sixties until the late eighties. These references reflect a sociopolitical view of Czech life that yields an inexorable conclusion of dark absurdity. Sharp relies on these kind of dark absurdities to sketch a pessimist, dramatic and labyrinthine score that refuses to adapt itself into a logical, straight-ahead narrative. The bass clarinet acts as the dark and lyrical pole, a counter-voice to the innocent and light cimbalom, that spices this composition with a flavor of Czech folk music.
The mini-opera «Turing Test» (after Alan Turing test of machinery ability to exhibit intelligent behavior, equivalent to that of a human), for the Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart with soloist Gareth Davis on the bass clarinet Gareth Davis, was recorded in concert in Stuttgart in October 2012. This mysterious but playful compositions asks: who are these entities here given voice? Can they themselves determine where they are, let alone their own identities? Are they even human, perhaps an AI or a simulation? Davis provides a perfect counterpoint to the interlocked and sometimes even cacophony voices of Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart. He enhances this enigma with his careful, nuanced interventions and disruptions, moving between precision to total abandon, with great elegance and wise irony..
The third piece «Oumuamua» was recorded in Sharp’s own New York Studio zOaR in January 2019, and titled after the recently discovered and oddly-shaped asteroid of interstellar origin whose name is the Hawaiian word for «scout». Sharp devised a graphic score based on the sounds of the bass clarinet, heavily processed in real-time using a number of hardware devices. The score suggests an an abstract sonic mapping of counterfactual states, as a sonic reflection on the alien spaceship. Imagined as equipped with technologies from beyond our wildest imaginings. The alien bass clarinet here sounds a speaking a friendly language to the earthlings, resonant and spacious but with enough suggestive, game-like melodic hooks.
Brno Contemporary Orchestra conducted by Pavel Šnajdr; Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart; Gareth Davis (bass clarinet); Elliott Sharp(bass clarinet, electronics).