Elliott Sharp

Elliott Sharp
Background information
Birth name Elliott Sharp
Born (1951-03-01) March 1, 1951
Cleveland, Ohio, United States
Genres Contemporary classical, Experimental, Free improvisation, Blues, Avant garde
Occupation(s) Composer, musician, producer
Instruments Guitar, Tenor Saxophone,
Bass Clarinet
Years active 1980s–present
Labels SST, Tzadik, Clean Feed, Intuition, Homestead, Atavistic, Intakt, Extreme, Knitting Factory, zOaR
Associated acts Terraplane, Carbon, Orchestra Carbon
Website www.elliottsharp.com

Elliott Sharp (born March 1, 1951 in Cleveland, Ohio) is an American contemporary classical composer, multi-instrumentalist, and performer.[1]

A central figure in the avant-garde and experimental music scene in New York City since the late 1970s,[2][3] Sharp has released over eighty-five recordings ranging from blues, jazz, and orchestral music to noise, no wave rock, and techno music. He pioneered the use of personal computers in live performance with his Virtual Stance project of the 1980s.[4] He has used algorithms and fibonacci numbers in experimental composition[5] since the 1970s.[6] He has cited literature as an inspiration for his music and often favors improvisation.[5] 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 and Orchestra Carbon.[7]


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.[8]

From the late 1970s, Sharp established himself in New York's music scene. His compositions have been performed by the hr-Sinfonieorchester, the Ensemble Modern, Continuum, the Orchestra of the SEM Ensemble, Kronos Quartet, the FLUX Quartet, Zeitkratzer, the Soldier String Quartet, the JACK Quartet, and Grammy-winning violinist Hilary Hahn. His work has been featured at festivals worldwide, including the 2008 New Music Stockholm festival, the 2007 Hessischer Rundfunk Klangbiennale, and the Venice Biennale 2003 and 2006. 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. Guitar Player magazine's 30th anniversary issue included Sharp among their list of "The Dirty Thirty – Pioneers and Trailblazers".

He has collaborated regularly with many people, including Christian Marclay, Nels Cline, Bobby Previte, Joey Baron, David Torn, Eric Mingus, 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 P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, 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.[9] He also curates the State of the Union CD compilations of one-minute tracks by experimental musicians, and produces records for a wide variety of artists. Sharp describes himself as a lifelong "science geek"[10] having modified and created musical instruments since his teen years, and frequently borrowing terms from science and technology for his compositions.

He has composed scores for feature films and documentaries;[11] created music and sound-design for The Sundance Channel, MTV and Bravo networks; and has presented numerous sound installations in art galleries and museums.

Sharp received the 2015 Berlin Prize in Musical Composition, spending six months as a Fellow-in-Residence at the American Academy in Berlin.[12] He was a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow, a 2014 Fellow at Parson's Center for Transformative Media, and is the subject of Bert Shapiro's documentary Elliott Sharp: Doing the Don't, for Pheasant Eye Film.[13] He was a 2009 Master Artist-in-Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and a 2010 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in music. Sharp received a 2003 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award.[14] 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.[15]

Sharp lives in lower Manhattan with designer/video artist Janene Higgins and their two children.



Elliott Sharp live at Jazz Festival in Saalfelden, 2009

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


Further reading


  1. Classical Composers Database
  2. Atlantic Center has new batch of artists in residence Orlando Sentinel October 2009
  3. Interview by Mike McGonigal BOMB 84/Summer 2003
  4. Maris, E. Elliott Sharp/Tectonics:Solo Beijing Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter, April 26, 2007
  5. 1 2 Ambrose, P. Elliott Sharp’s Instrumental Vision The Morning News, October 4, 2005
  6. Tessalation Row,Elliott Sharp with the Soldier String Quartet All Music Guide
  7. Cleveland, B. Elliott Sharp Guitar Player magazine, April 2007
  8. Sachs, J. From Downtown Manhattan to Finland and Beyond New Juilliard Journal Online September 2001
  9. VOLUME: Bed of Sound Henry Art Gallery
  10. Kruth, J. Interview with Elliott Sharp Perfect Sound Forever, November 2001
  11. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB): Elliott Sharp
  12. Spring 2015 Fellows at The American Academy in Berlin
  13. Bert Shapiro's documentary Elliott Sharp: Doing the Don't
  14. Grant recipients 2003 Foundation for Contemporary Arts
  15. An Auspicious Beginning for Elliott Sharps Seventh Decade The Brooklyn Rail, April 2011
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