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Figure Ground

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Album Review

Though composed for four very different films (among them two documentaries — one on the life of gay erotic artist Tom of Finland and the other on transvestites who live in the salt warehouses of New York City), the music on Figure Ground hangs together as a cohesive collection. Somewhat confusing liner notes make it a bit difficult to assign all of the songs to specific films, but a general idea of their distribution is given. The songs seethe and hum with an often erotic energy, with long, vibrating synth tones stretched over layers of shuffling rhythm. A kind of dark minimalism pervades, especially on the first track, "Incandescent," which lumbers on like a somnambulent slave. A strong dance influence can be felt in places, with somewhat tribal drums setting the pace for rhythmic scratching. Indeed, the influence of many kinds of music can be felt on these works, with Sharp pulling musical tricks out of his hat to suit the mood he is trying to create, from bluesy to icy to hyperactive. The nearly frenetic "Letha" is one of the most interesting tracks on the album, combining hypnotizing rhythms and guitar gurgles. Two tracks later, "Nightmare" seems like a score for the yawning gates of hell. This is one of Sharp's most complex and varied albums — nevertheless, it rarely manages to miss the mark.


Born: 01 March 1951 in Cleveland, OH

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Elliott Sharp began playing the piano at six. According to Sharp, he was performing concerts by age eight. Sharp claims that his parents wanted him to be both a concert pianist and a scientist. He gave up piano, first in favor of the clarinet and then the guitar. His interest in science led him to build his own effects boxes for the instrument. He became intrigued with all types of experimental music, from contemporary classical to free jazz and sophisticated rock. Sharp studied anthropology at Cornell,...
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Figure Ground, Elliott Sharp
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