Guitarist/composer Aaron Myers-Brooks specializes in microtonal music, specifically writing in a 17 equal division of the octave system that provides a fresh and striking set of intervals and colors to the listener's ears. The works on Oblique balance Myers-Brooks' sophisticated approach to pitch with an equally rigorous approach to polyrhythm, making for a unique musical system existing at the vanguard of contemporary compositional practice.
|01||The 11th and 6th Caves|
The 11th and 6th Caves
|Aaron Myers-Brooks, guitar||3:00|
|02||Prelude and Entity|
Prelude and Entity
|Aaron Myers-Brooks, guitar and electronics||6:56|
Energy Shapes No. 3
|Aaron Myers-Brooks, guitar and electronics|
|08||Triads and Arpeggios|
Triads and Arpeggios
|Aaron Myers-Brooks, electronics||5:46|
Sonata for Solo 17-Tone Guitar
|Aaron Myers-Brooks, guitar|
|09||I. Wistful and Halting|
I. Wistful and Halting
|10||II. Angular and Aggressive|
II. Angular and Aggressive
|11||III. Somber and Deliberate|
III. Somber and Deliberate
Eight HighC Miniatures
|Aaron Myers-Brooks, electronics|
Far from monolithic, the world of contemporary microtonality splinters into many different systems. From just intonation to alternate divisions of the octave and beyond, composers cultivate individual voices and carve their own paths through this subtle world of pitch, reveling in intervallic flavor and new harmonic relationships. One such system is 17 equal divisions of the octave, and Pittsburgh based Aaron Myers-Brooks is an active champion of this beguiling tuning. On Oblique, Myers-Brooks presents his works for 17 EDO electric guitar, with and without electronics and digital piano accompaniment. His sensitive shadings of 17 EDO colors figures that would be at home in equal temperament and highlighting unique relationships that grow from the tuning itself.
The opening track, The 11th and 6th Caves, alternates quickly between clean and distorted passages, establishing a dialogue between the two timbres and between fiery, rock oriented material and incandescent chordal playing. Van Halen-esque artificial harmonics, tapping, and trills take on a unique quality in this pitch system, enhanced by the thick overdrive.
Prelude and Entity for electric guitar and digital piano (tuned to 17 EDO) opens with an expansive harmonic palette, exposing the listener to a more consonant side of the tuning. Gentle polyrhythmic accompaniment in the keyboard supports tolling harmonics and melodic figurations that become progressively more soloistic. Entity is notated proportionally without the steady pulse of Prelude and also becomes more chromatic, passing constellations of pitches between the instruments.Read More
The five movement Energy Shapes No. 3 is a trio for one performer between the 17 EDO electric guitar, digital processing generated in the Ableton Live platform, and an FM synthesizer. “Wisp” establishes a spatialized series of delays that enter at different rates, and begin to pitch shift in beguiling ways. “Oblique” traffics in space age arpeggios that are arranged in irregular groupings, harmonized, and timbrally transformed. In “Chop,” the quixotic flavors of 17 EDO are processed with heavy chorus, oscillating the sound to create a warbling effect, further obscuring the already adventurous pitch landscape. “DeSync” features percolating synthesizer attacks that surround fragmentary phrases in the shrouded guitar part. The repetitive melodic material in “Emerge” has a dystopian, cartoonish quality, with the synthesizer spinning out ascending arpeggiated figures around the guitar’s assertion of the primary line.
Triads and Arpeggios is an electronics alone work that establishes a regular pulse while Myers-Brooks explores various polyrhythms and harmonic relationships in the 17 EDO tuning. Chords are heard either as emerging swells, or as articulated blocks that are rearticulated with a delay effect that fades out. The second section of the piece presents arpeggiated flourishes at different rates of speed.
Sonata for Solo 17-Tone Guitar explores the tuning in the context of a narrative oriented three movement work. “Wistful and Halting” features jaunty rhythmic figures, angular modernist phrases, and haunting sustained sonorities. The middle movement, “Angular and Aggressive,” calls for heavy distortion and metal playing technique, with virtuosic passagework, insistent repeated notes, and palm mutes. “Somber and Deliberate” embodies its title, with watery rolled chords spilling into sustained harmonics and oblique melodic fragments.
Eight HighC Miniatures was created in Thomas Baudel’s HighC music drawing program, software that translates drawn sketches into synthesized sound. While these short pieces are not in the 17 EDO tuning that frames the other music on the album, they are freely microtonal. Myers-Brooks writes that his intention was to “provide the listener a series of alien environments to briefly inhabit,” something he has very effectively done with these evocative, cinematic snapshots. Indeed, the establishment of otherworldly sonic spaces is a hallmark of this entire album, though Myers-Brooks persuasive approach to 17 EDO so absorbs itself into our ears over time that the initially unfamiliar begins to sound natural, opening us up to the wonderful intervallic subtleties contained within.
– Dan Lippel
All music composed and performed by Aaron Myers-Brooks (17 notes per octave electric guitar, electronics)
Track 1 reamped, mixed, and mastered by Colin Marston at Menegroth, The Thousand Caves in Queens, NYC
Tracks 9-11 reamped by Aaron Myers-Brooks at The Shred Shed in Pittsburgh, PA
Tracks 2-19 mixed and mastered by Aaron Myers-Brooks
Guitar by Metatonal Music
Art by Aaron Myers-Brooks
Aaron Myers-Brooks is a composer, educator, and performer of diverse interests who comes to music-making by way of rock and metal’s avant-garde. Born and raised in Greenville, North Carolina by visual artist parents, he developed an interest in creativity at a young age, first via drawing as a child, and later with 4-track home recording during his teenage years, subsequently finding a home in the contemporary classical and DIY rock worlds in college. He completed doctoral studies in theory and composition at the University of Pittsburgh in the spring of 2014. He is currently active as a Pittsburgh-based composer and teacher, and as a guitarist in math-metal bands AutoReplicant and Monochromatic Residua, and folk duo Familiar. Aaron has composed in various styles, but always attempts to maintain a quirky and exciting approach to rhythmic energy in his music. Much of his recent work has focused on microtonal electric-guitar writing, both through alternate tunings, and on his recently acquired 17-notes-per-octave instrument. He has written pieces at the request of the North Carolina New Music Initiative, Collide-O-Scope Music, Patchwork, and Kamratōn, among others. He has participated in the Beyond 2020: Microtonal Music Festival, the Wellesley Composers Conference, the soundSCAPE Festival, the PSO Young Composers Reading, and the Cleveland Composers Recording Institute. As an educator, Aaron has largely focused on teaching Electronic Music and Theory, recently developing The University of Pittsburgh's first Ableton beat-making course, and assisting in the development of a music theory curriculum which integrates a broad variety of musics and perspectives.https://aaronmyersbrooks.wixsite.com/home
Aaron is most well-known for being a microtonal guitarist and composer. He released many albums in the past few years, mostly as an independent, but to my surprise just released an album on New Focus Recordings! To be fair, New Focus sometimes sponsors projects that are more “out there”, such as Real Loud and Ekmeles, so it’s not that surprising. Oblique features compositions for 17-EDO guitar and virtual instruments that go from metal-adjacent (like, solo electric guitar) to decidedly classical (guitar and piano) to experimental electronic music. It’s a really impressive album that is a must for microtonal music-minded people.
— Dave Tremblay, 11.26.2022
Aaron Myers-Brooks is a guitarist and composer who seems determined, for reasons of his own, to out-Partch Partch. True, Partch divided the octave into 43 unequal tones, while Myers-Brooks uses only 17 – and divides the octave equally (hence “17 EDO tuning,” referring to 17 equal divisions of the octave). But Myers-Brooks has his own take on microtonality, and performs his works himself using guitar and electronics – instead of inventing all-new instruments with which to explore his tone system. Myers-Brooks also combines microtones with polyrhythms, creating a strange sound world that tends to be best in smaller doses – a fact of which he seems to be aware, since most pieces on a New Focus Recordings release of his music are in the one-minute range and all run less than seven minutes. Myers-Brooks is actually willing to work in systems other than 17 EDO: one work here, Eight HighC Miniatures, was created using a music-drawing program that does not use the 17 EDO approach. Interestingly, this piece, whose movements range in length from 50 seconds to two minutes, is more atmospheric than the other five works on the disc, all of which employ 17 EDO. The movement titles within Eight HighC Miniatures are actually reflected in the music: “Thunk” really sounds like something thunking, for example, and “Chitter” like recognizably insectoid sounds. As for the 17 EDO pieces on the disc, The 11th and 6th Caves sounds like a series of overdone rock-music riffs (Myers-Brooks also works in rock music). Prelude and Entity uses electric guitar plus a digital piano with 17 EDO tuning, and has a modest forward pulse along with the usual electronic sound overlays. Energy Shapes No. 3 is a five-movement work with its own rock-style elements (in “Oblique”) that contrast with a series of talking-to-themselves electronic sounds that would not be out of place as the background music for cartoons. Triads and Arpeggios is for electronics without guitar, but that turns out to matter very little in terms of the sound of the piece, which zips through the usual electronic bips, boops, skritches, scratches and a few vaguely bell-like clangs and bangs. Sonata for Solo 17-Tone Guitaris an interesting concept marred by constantly over-processed sound. The first movement, “Wistful and Halting,” is far more the latter than the former. The second, “Angular and Aggressive,” is another rock-infused sonic assault that, in this case, does reflect its title accurately. The third, “Somber and Deliberate,” is the only 17 EDO item on this disc that suggests expressive capability rather than an intellectual exercise being embodied within Myers-Brooks’ system. It is an outlier, a welcome one, among the vivid but vapid-sounding 17 EDO items elsewhere on the CD.
— Mark Estren, 12.01.2022
Oblique, an album by guitarist/composer Aaron Myers-Brooks (released on New Focus Recordings) explores microtonality in a unique and idiosyncratic way with the electric guitar as the primary instrument of choice. The music contained on Oblique is entirely composed and performed by Myers-Brooks, all utilizing his 17-tone division of the octave - the last piece being an exception. What I loved about this album is that it offers something for both seasoned listeners of microtonality, but could act as a very digestible early or even first experience with less common divisions of the octave. Myers-Brooks is also a highly skilled guitarist who brings a level of virtuosity to the instrument through various styles and playing techniques.
The first track on the album, The 11th and 6th Caves, gets its title from the use of 11:6 polyrhythms presented throughout the composition, as well as The Thousand Caves New York recording studio where the piece was recorded. It is composed of alternating sections that balance clean and distorted guitar tones to create formal shapes and development. Angular melodies bring out the character of the 17-tone octave structure while the rapid changes of clean tone to distortion create an engaging interplay of timbres and implied style. If you’re a fan of shredding this piece is something you’re guaranteed to enjoy.
Prelude and Fantasy is a work for electric guitar and digitally tuned piano that allows both instruments to utilize the 17-tone octave, specifically in A minor. This piece offers a more placid energy and contrasts well against the frenetic album opener. The slower unfolding allows for the inherent tone colors of the microtonal system to shine through in a more reflective way. Pairing the distorted electric guitar with the piano establishes a nice dichotomy of voices in which they can simultaneously meld together and act as unique elements within a compound texture
Tracks 3-7 make up a multi-movement composition in 5 parts titled Energy Shapes No. 3. This composition is for electric guitar and electronic sounds wherein the guitar is processed in real-time using effects in Ableton Live, along with FM synthesis in most of the movements. Each movement is distinguished by its use of live processing, presence of the synthesizer, and musical material, all of which take unique approaches to these elements. Energy Shapes focuses more on creating sonic environments through combining electronics with an often riff based approach to the guitar rather than the more angular melodic playing found in the first two works, showcasing Myers-Brooks versatility as a both a composer and performer.
In Triads and Arpeggios, Myers-Brooks extracts triads and chords from the 17-tone system, creating a familiar yet somewhat alien soundworld compared to what one might find in an equal temperament system. While similar in some ways to the A minor approach in Prelude and Entity, the overall effect and experience is different in Triads and Arpeggios. It also uses a quasi-random approach to generating the simple chords and arpeggios, resulting in a delightful kaleidoscopic microtonal soundworld, combined with noise elements and percussive attacks to create a rhythmic sound bed.
The Sonata for Solo 17-Tone Guitar was, for me, the stand-out piece on the album. Another multi-movement composed intuitively using the 17-tone system, Myers-Brooks extracts and juxtaposes what he refers to as the “pungent” melodic and harmonic possibilities of the system. He presents material consisting of disjointed rhythms and sustained chords interwoven throughout the outer movements, which have the character of mid-century modernism, while the middle movement is more akin to an improvised solo one might find in heavy metal, assisted by the use of heavy distortion and pinch harmonics. Fans of Dillenger Escape Plan and the thornier side of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of the Mars Volta won’t be disappointed
The final composition on the album, Eight HighC Miniautures, is another multi-movement work that takes up the final 8 tracks. The movements are purely electroacoustic works that use Thomas Baudel’s HighC music drawing program, in which hand-drawn shapes generate musical material. Myers-Brooks refers in the liner notes to his interest in drawing from a young age and how this intuitive approach to music making allows him to maintain a microtonal structure without relying specifically on the 17-tone system. Each movement is a soundscape and sonic environment that explores the possibilities of the HighC program and showcases Myers-Brooks’ unique approach to sound design and his fluid compositional voice.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this album from start to finish. There is a lot of repertoire of the 20th and 21st centuries for electric guitar, and with this album I feel that Aaron Myers-Brooks has solidified a place within that canon. I firmly believe that these pieces should be studied and performed as exemplars of the intersection of electric guitar and microtonality, and otherwise it’s just a fun and varied album!
— Jon Fielder, 12.01.2022