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Blank Forms Presents: Susan Alcorn at James Cohan

Susan Alcorn is a Baltimore-based composer, improviser, and virtuoso proponent of the pedal steel guitar who has spent over 40 years liberating the expressive potential of the harmonically rich instrument from its conservative role in the country western tradition. Initially inspired by a live Muddy Waters performance to pick up the pedal steel for its ability to play “the notes between the notes”, Alcorn later cut her teeth in country swing bands in her home of Texas before being encouraged by Paul Bley to “throw away the real book” and channel her diverse influences: the spiritual and free jazz of Ornette Coleman, Alice and John Coltrane; the avant-garde classical music of Messiaen, Feldman, and Varèse; and the lyrical phrasing of Roberta Flack and Carly Simon. Incorporating these styles via the philosophy of Deep Listening into the haiku-like economy and heartfelt immediacy of American country music, Alcorn has traversed new paths with the pedal steel, applying its singular attributes (contrary motion string bending, volume swells, natural sustain) and her own extended techniques to everything from group free improvisation to intimate solo composition.

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