Strange Machines

Exploring the contemporary clarinet

This project began one York day when composer Neil Tòmas Smith asked his friend, clarinettist Jonathan Sage, for some advice on a new piece he'd been working on...

Neil had been wondering about the musical possibilities provided by the rhythmic patterns of bouncing ping pong balls, all set off at different times and from different heights; and – of course – a work for solo clarinet was the obvious outlet! The sketches Jonathan played through that day quickly became an incredible new piece for solo clarinet, Strange Machines, that drew on all the coloristic and virtuosic possibilities of the instrument.

This spark of inspiration – and the remarkably catchy title – acted as a catalyst for a much bigger project: the aim was to record a whole album of contemporary music for the clarinet, featuring little-heard repertoire by established composers and two more brand new pieces.

A combination of enthusiasm, gentle arm-twisting, and an inexhaustible supply of tea and biscuits, enticed a range of additional collaborators. Drawing on the talents of award-winning percussionist Delia Stevens, composers Martin Scheuregger and Christopher Leedham, and recording guru Jon Hughes, the Strange Machines project grew into a 45' minute programme of contemporary music for clarinet and percussion.

Project repertoire

  • Gra Elliot Carter
  • Rituals Christopher Leedham
  • Strange Machines Neil Tòmas Smith
  • Duft Kaija Saariaho
  • The Package Contents Shall Prevail Martin Scheuregger
  • Lied Luciano Berio