Aaron Jay Myers: Clever Machines

, composer

About

Boston based composer Aaron Jay Myers' Clever Machines features his eclectic music for a broad range of chamber combinations, including two works for New Focus veterans, the percussion and clarinet duo, Transient Canvas. Myers brings his varied background as a longtime new music ensemble member and guitarist in many stylistic contexts to his composition work, often organized around modular rhythmic gestures.

Audio

Aaron Jay Myers’ music is wide ranging, taking advantage of the opportunities presented to him by the varied instrumentations at play in the music represented on this recording. Myers’ use of extended techniques is often integrated into the conventional range of instruments, usually as a way to reach past the expressive limits of a phrase, as opposed to a close examination of the phenomenon itself. Clever Machines displays an inventive composer who skillfully marshals the resources available to him to explore a variety of expressive territory.

Skin for tenor saxophone and marimba opens the recording, performed by Philipp Stäudlin and Matt Sharrock respectively. Angular lines in the sax culminate in shrieks and multiphonics, while the marimba initially provides harmonic support through rolled and block chords and arpeggiations before joining in the passagework. A dynamic dialogue develops between the two, culminating in a passage where the saxophone plays fierce glissandi over energized tremolos in the marimba.

Violinist Nicole Parks performs the eight movement solo violin work Lichens II, a series of miniatures that explore rarefied textures on the instrument. In “Fruticose,” taut double stop tremolos lead to sul pont phrases that float into the ether. “Crustose” features microtonal motives and a rich range of scratch tones. “Foliose” is rhythmically propulsive, leaping around registrally to create layers of implied counterpoint. “Byssoid” is ethereal, featuring airy harmonics and tremolando double stops. “Leprose” is a quasi-Baroque bariolage study on the violin. In “Filamentous,” accented double stops are followed by skittering ricochet glissandi, establishing two opposing characters. “Gelatinous” combines murky, shrouded trills with delicate pizzicati, conjuring its name through a gooey ambiguity. In the final movement, “Squamulose,” a somber melodic line occasionally veers into overpressure and is periodically interrupted by punctuations featuring intervallic leaps. The roles are reversed when the lower part switches to interjection and swooping lines in the high register finish the piece.

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Oh, The Irony for two sopranos sets a text by Myers that skewers hypocrisy and lack of humility. Opening with a fluid passage non-texted intonations on “ooh,” Myers’ subsequent setting combines fluid melodic singing, extensions of consonant sounds into extended technique and sprechstimme. Myers returns to the opening texture as a refrain, establishing a dichotomy between the forcefulness of the texts and the atmospheric musical frame he sets up around them.

In Have-Not for the Transient Canvas duo (Amy Advocat, bass clarinet; Matt Sharrock, marimba), shifting harmonies articulated by the marimba provide a pad for the clarinet to play syncopated figures above. Each new series of harmonic progression is closed by a unison figure between the two instruments. As the piece evolves, the instruments mirror and complement each other with coordinated and hocketed accents.

Night of Pan is scored for the unique instrumentation of toy piano, harp, flute, and vibraphone. Myers deftly explores the various types of attacks in this idiosyncratic instrumentation, often pairing vibraphone and harp together as the median between the fluid articulation of the flute and the sharp attack of the toy piano. Whistle tones and murmuring tremolos in the harp create a haunting pad for fragmented melodic material in toy piano and vibraphone. A jaunty middle section features interlocking accented rhythms between the ensemble, before the work marches towards its close with a dirge-like passage culminating in a harp flourish.

The title track, also featuring Transient Canvas, is the only piece on the recording that includes electronics. Dark, enveloping harmonies heard in an organ sound surround the duo as they punch out accents and swells. As the duo becomes more rhythmically active, the electronics become more varied timbrally, articulating the harmonic changes with oscillations and volume swells.

Own Your Own Shadow, performed by the Box Not Found duo (Natalie Cristina Calma Gómez, violin and Kevin Price, bass clarinet) opens with bouncing material in both instruments, interrupted by flowing interjections. Myers breaks the continuity with alternating phrases of delicate violin glissandi over playful clarinet punctuations, followed by cacophonous outbursts of multiphonics and overpressure. The duo dives headlong into careening unison passages. Insistent repeated figures close this energetic showpiece.

Myers joins colleagues clarinetist Kevin Price, pianist Sarah Bob, and drummer Daniel T. Lewis, on electric guitar for the progressive rock influenced final piece on the album, Paroxysm. Driving unison lines between clarinet and electric guitar are punctuated by accents in piano and drum set before Myers breaks them up in prismatic, interlocking figures. The character shifts for quirky Zappa-esque breaks, first in a tutti section and then as a piano solo accompanied by drumset. The pull of the modal harmonies exerts magnetism on the entire piece, often grounded by dense distorted pedal points in the electric guitar.

– Dan Lippel

Produced by Aaron Jay Myers and Nicole Parks

All text and music composed by Aaron Jay Myers (ASCAP)

Recorded, mixed, and mastered by John Weston at Futura Productions, Roslindale, MA

Recording Dates:

  • Tracks 1 & 11: June 25, 2019
  • Tracks 2-9: January 25, 2021
  • Track 10: July 7, 2019
  • Tracks 12 & 15: July 19, 2019
  • Tracks 13-14: August 31, 2019

Photographs by Aaron Jay Myers

Headshot photo by Nicole Parks

Design and Layout by Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com

Aaron Jay Myers

Originally from Baltimore, MD, Aaron Jay Myers is a Boston based composer, guitarist, and educator. He has been commissioned and performed by many musicians and ensembles across the United States. As a guitarist, he has performed many different kinds of music including punk, metal, flamenco, classical, jazz, and more. He is founder of the hardcore punk band, Niffin and the avant-metal band, Kraanerg. He has been giving private guitar lessons since 2002, and currently teaches at home and at various music schools in the greater Boston Area. Myers holds BM and MM in Composition degrees from Towson University and The Boston Conservatory. He studied guitar with Maurice Arenas and Troy King. He studied composition with Dave Ballou, William Kleinsasser, Jan Swafford, and Marti Epstein. He has had additional composition studies with Nicholas Vines and Roger Reynolds.

https://www.aaronjaymyers.com/

Reviews

5

Take Effect

The Boston resident Aaron Jay Myers approaches chamber music with much creativity and diversity, and here he handles electronics and guitar as many exceptional players accompany him across very rhythmic and unpredictable compositions.

“Skins” starts the listen with Philipp Staudlin’s tenor saxophone acting unpredictably as Matt Sharrock’s marimba contributes in exciting, unconventional ways, and “Lichens II” follows with 8 chapters as Nicole Parks displays her violin with both intimate and abstract ideas present in the often quivering delivery.

Elsewhere, “Have-Not”brings Amy Advocat’s bass clarinet and Sharrock’s marimba into fascinating harmonic progressions, while “Night Of Pan” benefits from Sarah Brady’s flute, Sarah Bob’s toy piano, Amanda Romano Foreman’s harp and Sharrock’s vibraphone in a highly and uniquely rhythmic climate.

“Own Your Own Shadow” lands near the end, and displays Natalie Cristina Calma Gómez on violin and Kevin Price on bass clarinet across the adventurous and often cinematic atmosphere, and “Paraxysm” exits the listen with a busy execution of clarinet, guitar, piano and drums as prog-rock ideas enter a quirky and meticulous finish.

Myers has a background in punk, metal, flamenco, classical, jazz and much more, and he brings his rich arsenal of influences to this exciting chamber experience that you won’t regret spending time with.

— Tom Haugen, 6.09.2021

5

Vital Weekly

The beauty of music is you don’t have to pay attention to someone’s career to enjoy their latest offering. This is true of Aaron Jay Myers new album ‘Clever Machines’. I heard his 2018 album ‘But I’m Doing it Anyway’ and enjoyed it but then didn’t think to keep a track of what he might do next. I don’t think me taking my eye off the ball has affected my enjoyment of ‘Clever Machines’, maybe anticipation might have detracted from the music somehow, however, I wasn’t prepared for how much I was wrapped up in the music from the outset.

The standout track is ‘Night of Pan’. The toy piano sounds like sinister lounge music. Shrill flute rasps remind us that all might not be as it seems and the vibraphone is, well, exquisite. It seems to capture everything that Myers was trying to express, but do it in such a way that it exudes fun. Which isn’t what you expect from chamber music. Instead of the challenging listen, we are presented with something that is complex, but easily digestible.

There is something delightful about ‘Clever Machines’. The melodies are wonky but catchy. During ‘Have-Not’ the clarinet feels alive while the marimba dances in the background. Together they create an atmosphere of whimsy that is hard to ignore. However, this isn’t ‘wacky’ music, oh no, there is an element of terror just lurking below the surface. It reminds me of walking on a frozen lake as a child. My legs were slipping and sliding all over the shop, but at the back of my mind was the thought “The ice could break at any moment”. That thought kept me ground and prevented me from trying to showboat. I get that exact feeling during ‘Clever Machines’. While I am totally wrapped up at the moment I’m always aware that it could all come to a devastating end if I’m not too careful.

— Nick Roseblade, 6.08.2021

5

Infodad

Another (+++) offering from New Focus Recordings contains more than twice as much likely-unfamiliar American music, all by a single composer, Aaron Jay Myers. The quantity of material does not, of course, correlate with its quality, but what this disc does do is offer eight Myers works with differing instrumentation, increasing the likelihood that a listener who finds Myers’ approach congenial will discover at least one piece that is worth hearing and rehearing. Skin is for tenor saxophone (Philipp Stäudlin) and marimba (Matt Sharrock), an intriguing instrumental combination whose effect is vitiated by Myers’ determination to go the standard contemporary route of pushing the instruments’ sounds beyond the norm and likely beyond aural comfort – the saxophone, for example, sounding like a foghorn here, an electronic-style screech there. Lichens II is an eight-movement suite for solo violin (Nicole Parks), with each brief movement given a title relating to a type of lichen (Fruticose, Byssoid, Leprose, etc.) and each intended to be reflective in some way of that particular lichen. This is more of an intellectual exercise than an emotive one, and the work again shows Myers’ interest in changing the sound of an instrument to the point of unpleasantness (e.g., the loud scraping in Crustose). But there is some effective violin writing here, notably in spiccato sections and in the use of harmonics, and some of the piece is interestingly evocative of something-or-other, if not necessarily of lichens. The next work on the disc is Oh, the Irony for two sopranos (Rose Hegele and Stephanie Lamprea); this sounds like dozens, maybe hundreds of other works that treat the voice as just another instrument and the words and many non-word syllables being uttered as building blocks of sound for its own sake. Have-Not is a second duet including marimba (Sharrock), this time with bass clarinet (Amy Advocat) – in an aural juxtaposition somewhat more convincing than is found in Skin. Next on the disc is Night of Pan, whose instrumentation is even more interesting: flute (Sarah Brady), toy piano (Sarah Bob), harp (Amanda Romano Foreman), and marimba (Sharrock). This is the cleverest exploration of complementary and contrasting sonic material on the disc, somewhat overextended at nine-and-a-half minutes but filled with intriguing use of the instruments and some especially attractive writing for harp. Clever Machines combines two instruments heard earlier on the disc, bass clarinet (Advocat) and marimba (Sharrock), with electronics handled by Myers himself. The use of electronic sounds is not especially distinctive, and the interweaving of the acoustic instruments does not take the music in any particularly noteworthy (so to speak) direction. Own Your Own Shadow is for violin (Natalie Cristina Calma Gómez) and bass clarinet (Kevin Price). At more than 11 minutes, it is the longest work on the disc, and while it does use numerous comparison-and-contrast elements effectively in the context of a generally energetic presentation, it becomes somewhat over-preoccupied with its own cleverness well before it runs its course. The final work on the disc, Paroxysm, is yet another of Myers’ aural-combination-and-contrast works, here including bass clarinet (Price), electric guitar (Myers himself), piano (Bob), and drum set (Daniel T. Lewis). This is sort-of-rock music, its rhythms and propulsive forward motion more attractive than its thematic (or athematic) material and instrumental interplay. Certainly this hour-plus disc provides listeners with plenty of chances to find music by Myers with which to engage: the works are different enough to appeal to different people in different ways, if they successfully appeal at all.