Aaron Jay Myers: Clever Machines

, composer


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.


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.