by Todd Manning
Constellation Records has become a wellspring for a particular strain of Godspeed! You Black Emperor-inspired DIY classical music, but they step ever so slightly out of their comfort zone with the new record by Jason Sharp, Stand Above the Streams.
Hailing from Montreal, Sharp cut his teeth as a saxophonist in the city’s jazz and improv scene before turning his attention to composition. Nowadays, he combines his extended saxophone techniques with synthesizers and, even more intriguingly, various apparatus that transforms his own breathing and heartbeats into sonic material. These sounds, in turn, are manipulated by Sharp and his collaborator, sound artist Adam Basanta, and transformed into music. The results are four powerful movements that blur the lines between the organic and electronic, and between composition and improv.
While each movement is different, the general sound is a fascinating mix of Vangelis’s classic Blade Runner soundtrack combined with the density of Tangerine Dream. There seems to be enough grit to invoke an industrial influence as well. Yet the structure, the slow unfolding of form taking place across the four parts, reveals the work of a composer’s ear.
Layers of drone are stacked upon vague rhythms, most likely coming from Sharp’s own body, but it is often hard to tell from where each sound is sourced. This only changes when he employs his saxophone. Sharp can deploy all sorts of sonic assaults with his sax, as heard in the first part of the work, then utilize a circular breathing technique to lay a foundation for the second and the fourth.
Overall, the use of saxophone seems to provide the most human touch to Stand Above the Streams—ironic, given that much of the source material was derived from Sharp’s actual body. And it is this same irony that fuels this fantastic record. It’s hard not to sink into a cyberpunk reverie listening to this, and maybe that’s the point. We have the functioning of the human body running head on into electronic sound manipulation, and the result evokes a hauntological future. Or, if hauntology is a future that never came true, maybe it is merely the sound of our current condition. The grit and the tension and the anxiety is all accounted for, a perfect soundtrack for our times.
Hats off, then, to Constellation Records. Stand Above the Streams is a great addition to their catalog. It shares the spirit of other releases on the label, but Jason Sharp has an identity all his own. The music here is abstract and challenging, but not difficult to engage with. It is not background music, but both demands the listener’s attention, and stimulates contemplation.
Stream/purchase Stand Above the Streams on Bandcamp: