In the delightfully titled Tessalation Row, Elliott Sharp takes the harsh, wonderful, mathematically themed music he had been writing for and performing with his band Carbon and transfers it to the fine string quartet led by David Soldier. It's a compelling fit; one could even argue that Sharp's ideas are more clearly limned in this format than in the rough-and-ready chaos of rock instrumentation. The title track is at once an intensive assault of whipsawing bowed strings and an easily discernible experiment in unusual tunings (here based on the Fibonacci Series) and the resultant overtones. "Digital" uses prepared strings and a two-handed percussive attack to produce a rhythmic piece that shows an odd affinity with gamelan music (and the John Cage prepared piano works of the '40s) while also reminding the listener of his early, primal work with Carbon. In this rather harsh context, a composition like "Diurnal" sounds utterly romantic, awash in sweeps of melodic bowing, a quite beautiful and unique work in Sharp's canon. The closing track, "Re/Iterations," is an enhancement of "Tessalation Row," multi-tracking the quartet and adding a double-tracked contrabass. It tiptoes on the line between sonic overkill wherein the massed strings threaten to become an undifferentiated glob of sound and sheer sonic fascination ultimately, and happily, falling on the latter side of the divide. This is one of Sharp's most probing and rewarding recordings, kicking the art of string quartet writing up the road several yards at least.
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