Elliott Sharp/ recent compositions

ELLIOTT SHARP : installations and visual art

Distressed Vivaldi

A soundtrack created for the “Model Home” exhibition at the Clocktower Gallery of PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York City, which opened on October 20, 1996. Two minutes of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was sampled into a Mac 2x with SoundTools and manipulated using a variety of software and hardware DSP to generate a sixty-minute piece in four sections. This soundtrack played continuously in the space. It was also duplicated by PS1 in a limited-edition cassette release.


An interactive audio installation created for the "Departure Lounge" group exhibition at the Clocktower Gallery of PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York City, which opened on Mar. 9, 1997. A number of microphones in boxes are placed around the exhibition space, accessible to the public. Signal from the mics is fed to a mixer and routed to a vocoder along with a soft metallic rhythm generated by a Roland TR505 drum machine. The midi output of the 505 modulates the vocoder, a Roland VP70, thereby modulating any audio input to the vocoder. This combined signal is fed to an 8-second digitaldelay and then to a number of speakers situated around the gallery. Through signage, the public is encouraged to enter their “tag” (any verbal utterance, whether a sound or speech) which then enters the soundspace, modulated and recycled. The continual refreshing of input information combined with the relaxed groove of the 505, creates an always-shifting sonic environment reflective of the transient population of the gallery.

VOLUME: Bed of Sound (associate curator)


Opening July 2, 2000, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Volume: Bed of Sound was a presentation of sound in two parts: an exhibition of 58 sound artists presented through headphones; and, in an adjacent gallery, a space designed floor-to-ceiling with speakers for individual and group sound art presentation. A vast number of additional artists were represented in ARC:arc, an audio archive in jukebox form in the cafe. Volume: Bed of Sound was curated by myself with PS1 museum director Alanna Heiss.

participating artists included:
Muhal Richard Abrams, Vito Acconci, Maryanne Amacher, Laurie Anderson, David Behrman, Ed Campion/Andrew Ginzel/Kristin Jones, John Cale, Joel Chadabe, Chop Shop, Chris & Cosey, Cibo Matto, Beth Coleman, Nicolas Collins, Tony Conrad, Cubanismo!, Alvin Curran, Chris Cutler, Tod Dockstader, John Duncan, Christian Fennesz, Ellen Fullman, Matt Heckert, John Hudak, I-Sound, Phil Kline, Keenan Lawler, Arto Lindsay, Alvin Lucier, Paul deMarinis, Kaffe Matthews, GenKen Montgomery, Ikue Mori, Butch Morris, Walter Murch, Phil Niblock, Carsten Nicolai, Genesis P-Orridge, Bob Ostertag, John Oswald, Pansonic, Zeena Parkins, Vernon Reid, The Residents, Frank Rothkamm, Adriana Sa, Michael Schumacher, Sonic Youth, Steinski, Carl Stone, Telectu, Frances-Marie Uitti, Carl Michael Von Hauswollf, and Lauren Weinger.

From the accompanying text, by Sharp:

A distant murmur, a flurry of chirping cicadas, a pounding bass drum, a mass of sliding squeals, a hushed sine tone, an echoing scream, a consonance of lightly bowed strings, a wall of rushing greyness. Turn off your filters, the learned reflex, the already-known, and let the sound do its work. You may be surprised and overwhelmed.

Volume is a measure of space, an enclosure of the intangible, a quantification of that purist abstraction, sound. Volume is also a measure of intensity - the pressure of molecules rushing away from each other and bouncing against the walls of the outer room and of the inner ear [loudness] causing small and rapid changes in air pressure between some 10 times per second and some 20,000 times per second [saturation] , a range defined by the physical construction of the human ear.

Pump up the: “Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. ...If this word “music” is reserved for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century instruments, we can substitute a more meaningful term: organization of sound.” - John Cage

The “organizers of sound” appearing in Volume come from varied domains and engage in activities that evoke a wide spectrum of physical, aesthetic, and emotional responses. The experimenters mine and undermine the core elements of our perceptual engine, hacking and rewiring. Creators of soundscapes reshape the materials indigenous to our everyday environments so that we may hear them as if for the first time and find different modes of meaning in them. Composers working with a new syntax and vocabulary of musical materials derived from the workings of sound itself and forged into tools as yet undefined create music that is alien and exciting. Sculptors and installation artists utilize inextricable sonic elements as an integral part of the whole. The cultural commentators provoke and challenge habits and preconceptions. Finally, the entertainers channel their audio intelligence into popular media, stretching ears wide.

Volume exists in two galleries, both furnished with a giant bed-like structure to encourage the visitor to recline, relax, open themselves to sounds and the possibility of psychoacoustic chemical change at the deepest level. No visual stimulation will be provided in these galleries - with total immersion in this acoustic environment, the sounds will embody themselves across all inputs.

The West gallery has loudspeakers for the “outer ear,” the socialized listener, the receptor of the whole person; the North is equipped with headphones for the audio solipsist, the “inner ear.” Volume is a spa for your ears and body, a sonic sauna: soak in the hottest, retreat to a cool place to regroup, dive in again.

In the North gallery, listening is an intimate transaction between the sound and the person. When it hits the tympanum of the ear in each listener, there is, first, a pure physical reaction, a movement of tiny hairs and a change of chemistry. From this, there is the generation of a signal: from ear to brain, to glands, to spine, to muscles, to bones. The sound becomes the person in the act of reacting to the sound, a closed loop, reflective, reflexive.

Sounds played over the West gallery speakers form a consensus reality among those present. The minute reactions that each listener has to a sound will subliminally affect the perceptions of those around them - the group feeds back on itself, resonating and reinforcing. Brainwaves will be amplified or suppressed; pulse rate or body temperature may increase or decrease; limbs may move involuntarily (dare we say “dance”?); pheromones generated and transmitted. Sounds in this space may be masked by other sounds in the immediate environment or they may amplify and grow.

Volume: A portion of data, with its physical storage medium, that can be handled conveniently as a unit: floppy, harddisk, CD.

Volume is an assemblage of audio initiators manifesting their work through the purely digital medium of the compact disk. Within this disk, meaning is reduced to16 bits of raw data and quantized levels of information: the complex curves of sonic life are encrypted as thousands of on-off blocks every second. The artist encodes allusions, emotions, memories, thoughts, and actions into these disks. In the simple fact of conversion from digital bits to physical sound lies alchemy: a simultaneous decoding into not only the immediate elements that define the sound (its loudness, direction, frequency, transience, and duration) but also its wider context. This hearing is vastly different for each behearer and informed by the varied cultural factors that define who and where each listener is, has been, will be. But. most importantly, that hearing exists on an objective level within the objective nature of the vibrating molecules themselves. This is Volume.


Both musical instrument and sculpture. Four long strings, tuned in ratios of small whole-numbers [1/1, 3/2, 5/3, 8/5 w/ 1/1 = 16 Hz] are mounted into the walls of the room and excited into vibration using electronic bows. Each string has its own amplified speaker - a subwoofer reproduces a mix of all of the low-frequency info.

The sound from each string is also fed into a G4 computer with MAX/MSP software running a patch written by R. Luke Dubois that analyzes the sound and triggers and filters samples of long-string sounds. Visitors to the installation may pluck/touch/tap/rub the vibrating strings at any point to produce a variety of sounds. Certain points, called nodes, will produce distinct tones that will cause the samples to be triggered and played back in the room.

Chromatine premiered on January 24, 2001 at the Dangerous Waves exhibition at the Gallery of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.


A system for flowing audio to create moving soundcurrents within the enclosed space of the Engine 27 gallery in NYC, Fluvial makes use of randomization, filtering, and feedback as its basic processing elements to make full use of the room’s spatialization potential. Originally created for just-intoned acoustic guitar, Fluvial takes on very different characteristics when used with different source materials. In addition to the aforementioned guitars, at Engine 27 the composer added various saxophones and clarinets, percussion and processed percussion, and electronic sounds generated through analog and digital synthesis. The sound manifested by the installation slowly migrated through these four general categories.

Fluvial operated for two weeks in June 2002.

The Max/MSP patch for Fluvial and the spatial programming were written by R. Luke DuBois.


A 2-channel installation of video and sound exploring the awareness of momentary stillness in the metropolis. Collaboration with video artist Janene Higgins, for The Chelsea Art Museum, New York City, in April 2004.


Web-based “living” audio, somewhere between interactive sound installation, podcast, and audio collage.

Sonome generates a continuous stream of sound based on contributions by members of its’ online-community. It will be open to anyone and everyone and simply requires that the participant upload a 3-second audio sample that is typical for their physical location. This sample is just long enough to establish identity and even define rhythmic characteristics. The Sonome software will mix and crossfade the contributed audio so that it seamlessly flows between other samples creating an ongoing and ever-morphing sonic stream. The Sonome molecules will be drawn from an everchanging queue of uploaded sounds. Loops will be built up from these sound sequences with new sounds continually introduced. Sonome will change from minute to minute and day to day. 

A visual interface will display on a global projection where any sound at any point is originating from.

Casual listeners may log on to Sonome at anytime to listen to the stream and view the results.