fall season in swing

After a long summer vacation, nonce is pleased to announce the concerts for our fall series. We have three major events in three major cities on the east coast, Providence, Boston, and New York. Our fall programming will center around performances of new pieces by nonce composers, and John Cage’s serene masterpiece, Atlas Eclipticalis (1961), an indeterminate work composed from star charts, as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of this piece, and the hundredth birthday of the composer.

In Providence, on November 11th, we will be performing as part of a double bill at Brown University with electroacoustic composer Caroline Park (CPark), on a concert that will feature a new piece by nonce composer Ryan Krause, written for Chris and Derek over the summer, as well as Xenakis’ epic duo Dikhthas from Diamanda and Aaron.

In Boston, December 5th, we will be playing at NEC. Here, Atlas Eclipticalis will be paired with another work seeing its fiftieth anniversary this year, Cornelius Cardew’s early graphic score Octet (1961), playable by any number of performers. We will also hear the first performance of our own Vanessa Wheeler’s new quintet, commissioned by the ensemble.

Lastly, we are thrilled to be performing Cage’s music in New York, as on December 14th, our season wraps up in Brooklyn at the Douglass St. Collective, where we will hear Atlas one last, wintry time, along with more work from our nonce composers.

Stay tuned for more announcements as these concerts approach.


Nov. 11, 2011 8PM

Grant Hall at Brown University // Providence, RI

w/ CPark, and special guests


Dec. 5, 2011 8PM

Brown Hall at New England Conservatory // Boston, MA


Dec 14, 2011 8PM

Douglass St. Collective // Brooklyn, NY

w/ Matt Plummer


Each concert is unique, so we hope to see you at all three!



We are playing in New York tomorrow, May 27th, from 7-10PM, at 250 Broome Street, between Ludlow & Orchard, in a tiny little space and on a busy little street. (Check the event.)

The site is currently host to a great exhibit by Kenny Komer and Boris Rasin, Renewal: Part 1. Through the support of No Longer Empty, and with the help of curator and coordinator, Kai Matsumiya, the two have created a 24/7 installation, in what would be an otherwise abandoned storefront, which sets up a situation where passersby are able to peer in, from the street, and watch a lifelike mannequin staring at a loop of tragic tsunami footage on a large television screen, offering an oblique commentary on how we react to such atrocities as those in Haiti and in Japan, on voyeurism, and on the 24-hour news cycle. The show comes down next week and this is a good way to come see their piece, and may be the last chance for visitors to actually get inside the space before it comes down.

We are bringing three very distinct works from three seminal New York composers down to the city with us for our first New York City nonce event. Aaron Likness will open the evening with Philip Glass’s “Two Pages” (1968), a long, process-based organ piece in which different groupings and orderings of just five notes are expanded, contracted, shifted, and developed in logical yet surprising ways in this hallmark of early minimalism. We will hear the first New York performance of downtown improviser/organist/composer extraordinaire Anthony Coleman’s “Quodlibet – And Proud of It, Man,” a trio he wrote for the ensemble this spring, as well get to see Chris and Kathryn join forces for a bass/bassoon duo, as they trade sounds and exchange flashes of instantaneous creation in Christian Wolff’s “For 1, 2, or 3 People” (1964).

Later in the evening, we will hear four more pieces written especially for our members, Joan Arnau Pàmies’s “Postludes,” for Tony and Kathryn, David Dramm’s “Smackgirl” for Diamanda, and Ryan Krause’s “(time units/wall drawing)” for Diamanda, Chris, Tony, and Derek. But the most fresh and dazzling among them will be the premiere of our own Vanessa Wheeler’s newest work, written for two toy pianos and analog effect pedals, played and operated by Aaron Likness. Vanessa has explored a mind-jangling new world of sounds in the piece, pitting the two toy pianos against each other, one played in the ordinary fashion, the other turned upside-down, flicked, rattled, stroked, and shook, sent through filters, reverbs, and ring modulators to create these other-worldly pinging tones that fly around the room. (Hearing a rehearsal yesterday, I was certain the controls were set to Awe and Startle.) The score itself is quite visually striking, and lays out for Aaron very precise, graphic-based instructions as to the adjustments each of the pedals’ parameters, as well as all the extended playing techniques that are required. Vanessa’s piece deals with three issues ever present in our work: the bold exploration of new sounds; compositional and instrumental rigor; and the issues of playing in small spaces. The title of the piece is simply (and appropriately) “nonce.”

Also in tow for the evening will be solo pieces from Kathryn, Chris, and Derek, a short set of improvisations from some of the group’s members (it being summer in the city, after all), a lot of great friends we are looking forward to seeing, and plenty of Good Times.

Do come.

More on the artists (www.ronkom.com):

Boris Rasin and Kenny Komer are Brooklyn-based multimedia artists who have been collaborating on sculptures,
installations and public art projects since 2005. Their work explores the social, political, architectural and utilitarian
relationships between viewers and their environments. Rasin and Komer are also the founding members of the guerilla
street art collective Concerned New Yorkers.

Salon Braun

Friday evening, we took our show on the road. We were invited to the house of Diane Braun, a board-member at NEC, and a mentor to Kathryn for the last four years. She and her husband hosted a beautiful night of food, wine, music, and conversation for nonce, as we played for their friends and family, a handful of guest composers, and for friends and family of our own. In a charming, stately home, built in the 1890’s in Lincoln, amidst century-old farmland, Diane introduced us as being part of a step she was looking to take in terms of making her house into a sort of salon de musique, in the sense of hosting chamber concerts and soirées, to edify audiences and promote artists, and simply to bring people together as she had in what turned out to be a pleasant and very warm, friendly night of music.

This concert pooled together some of what we’d been up to over our past few shows, along with a few new pieces. Seated in a petite parlor, replete with piano framed by the large porch window, a group of about two dozen gathered. Kathryn opened the evening with Hauto-Aho’s Kadenza, which elided directly into Chris’s subtly nuanced and clearly defined Maknongan, Scelsi’s solo piece (1976), playable by any bass instrument. The work sits within a very small pitch range, and makes its musical statement through minute adjustments in intonation and shifts of timbre, two facets of Chris’s bassoon playing which are always most remarkable, but to hear them in a such a small, intimate space, and in such clear focus as provided by Scelsi’s piece, felt like swaying tightly in a lover’s embrace. Later, Chris, Kathryn, were joined by Ceceilia, when they once again tiptoed above the cloud that is silence in Mark André’s kontra-etude, a performance that had all the ladies swooning.

We heard, Friday, from all three nonce composers. Aaron gave a tender account of Vanessa Wheeler’s gorgeous and unpresumptuously profound Variaçoes de um Acalanto, which is a series of lullaby Brazilian variations for solo piano (and can be heard on our media page). Aaron and Derek presented Joan Arnau Pàmies’s Music for Saxophone and Piano, a slow and very controlled piece, with a sparse lexicon and a beautiful feel for harmony and timbre. The piece presented its sounds as objects in and of themselves, separated from the neighboring sounds and resisting simple contextual organizations in the ear of the listener. A quartet was formed for my own separate piece(s. Chris and Kathryn premiered the piece last spring with two other instrumentalists at NEC, and later, in a slightly different configuration, the two played piece again at a house concert. Since then, it has been played by dozens of other players around the world, but what was unique and special to Friday’s show, was that that night’s ensemble would include the final two nonce members to perform on the piece. Diamanda and Derek joined Kathy and Chris for what was a fascinating, inspired, and deeply personal performance. The group toed the line between control and unfettered self-expression. Every sound in the piece is chosen in the moment, and each event occurs spontaneously, generated by previous events. In this, the players are able to explore sounds and techniques individual to them and their instrument. They must be, however, all the while, responsible for furnishing the other players with the sounds they need to work through the piece’s quite elaborate formal structure.

And, oh, the Ives! To hear Diamanda and Aaron perform the Fifth Violin Sonata is like the musical realization of what would happen if one were able to sit at the table of every feast one’s family had celebrated over the last seven generations, while finishing great novel and a bottle of aged red wine. All the ceremony, the death, the dancing; the pride, the joy, the nostalgia; the tunes, the rhythms, the transformations; to hear all this in such a lovely New England home was as heart-warming and apropos of any performance these two have put together of the Ives these last couple weeks.

Also among the guests was Boston-based composer Curtis Hughes, and, to close the evening, Mrs. Braun took to the piano to accompany Ceceilia for a special finale presentation of Mr. Hughes’s aria for soprano, “I am the Future of the Republican Party,” from his opera Say it Ain’t So, Joe (2009), which takes a humorous look at the spectacle that was the 2008 election year. The piece was sly and funny, but at the same time deftly crafted. Ceceilia sang with great control and, as always, presented her own very clear, well-conveyed stage presence, that allowed the text to speak and the music to emote.

So I’ll say it again: a lovely evening. Big thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Braun, and to all who came out to support us. Really, we have the deepest gratitude for all the Brauns did for us and we look forward to seeing and playing for them again quite soon. And further, we would love to bring more of our music to settings like these, as this performance was one that was so perfectly both “for us” as well as “for them.”

one word

[nonce Concert] 5/11/11. Yes.Oui.Si Space, Boston.

We hear the premiere of a new piece and the debut of a new band from Anthony Coleman, witness the fine-tuned craftings in subtlety and silence that define the work of the hermetic French composer Mark André, experience the big and beautiful vocal orgy that is Pauline Oliveros, all in the intimate surroundings of friends, artists, and musicians. Billed as a Sonic Mediation, each piece, each performance, was in some way that: an invitation to privately and personally explore sounds, both intentional and incidental, in a manner of deep, clear, and cleansing focus. Some of the pieces expanded our awareness outward to include all sounds, in a broad and sweeping, reverberant manner. Others asked the Listener to lean her ear forward, to stand on tippytoes and squint, and carefully let our attention focus inward on the smallest, most subtle detail. From either perspective, each of the pieces occupied very specific, very distinct, variously complex and startling soundworlds in which to do so.

As the night began, Anthony Coleman and Peter Negroponte set fire to the sonic headspace with a nervous, twitching, sadistically funny and heartwarmingly violent set of three short improvisations, heralding the debut of their brave, new organ duo Sabbath Elevators. Next, this same voice was heard again, albeit from a different angle. Nonce’s set began with the premiere of Coleman’s “Quodlibet – And Proud of It, Man,” a trio which we commissioned from him a few months ago. The piece, for bassoon, cello, and violin (Chris Watford, Tony Rymer, and Diamanda La Berge Dramm), was a crisp and twisty little game of hockets and interlocking, whose stuck machines and juicy intervals served to create both tension and levity through its onward propulsion. A completely different soundworld than that of Sabbath Elevators, but still completely Anthony.

John Cage’s Suite for Toy Piano has been getting a lot of life these days, and why shouldn’t it? Of our seven members, Aaron Likness is the one without a portable instrument, and, as the kind of group we are, we don’t often play in the kind of places that have big, ten-foot grand pianos. We play in art galleries, and in people’s homes, and in such spaces what else should one use than that tiny little two-octave kiddy keyboard? Plus, as carefully and coyly as Aaron’s been playing the Cage lately, why would we ever want to program anything else? (Olivia from Yes.Oui.Si made a charming little video of the affair.)

And on we went, further expanding awareness, with two of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Zodiac pieces, the current sign, “Gemini” (Aaron Likness-toy piano), as well as “Scorpio” (Ceceilia Allwein-soprano; Ryan Krause-synthesizer). Stockhausen had his head in the stars, so we sent our ears on a stellar journey of our own, into the storage closet, where there hid Ceceilia. From the main gallery, we heard sizzling, kitschy synth sounds shot up into the air, sent to mingle with this stratospheric female voice that has come from out of nowhere, sweeping, sliding, and soaring through the space. Both Ceceilia and myself are Scorpios, and this collaboration has been one of which we have long been fond, and find befitting of that seductive sign.

Kathryn, Ceceilia and Chris then delved into the silence, with Mark André’s kontra-etude (2001), where bass, voice, and bassoon teeter on the edge of audibility, offering extremely controlled and delicate whisper-glimpses into the tiny fabric of their instruments. The piece creates surprising connections in the ear between the frequencies of each player; pitchless air blown through the bassoon echoes the closed mouth inhalations of the singer mirroring the bowing of the bass’s bridge, all in strict canon. With each of the three entries, the sonic capacity becomes more complex. While the bassist in this piece merely moves her bow across different parts of the side of the instrument, the singer expands this to introduce pitch and vowel sounds, while the bassoonist introduces further changes in timbre controlled through the position of his reed in his mouth and the degree of air pressure, as well as by using just a wee bit of multiphonics, wrung out from the depths of his body and instrument like a canvas stretched upon a canvas.The image of a screen door comes to mind: a grey grid through which we peer from the outside in, highly taut, any direct view mildy occluded, frictive yet vulnerable, and with the sense of feeling that the distance separating us from the object is greater than that of the decidedly intimate surroundings we shared. The music raises more questions (and hairs) than answers, and is one of the boldest pieces we’ve programmed yet.

Joan Arnau Pàmies, our resident European, took us to the next level of focused attention. His Postludes, for cello and double bass (Tony Rymer and Kathryn Schulmeister), is comprised of six miniatures, each lasting less than twenty seconds, filled with highly dense and extremely complex music, in the material itself, and in its interrelations. There is about as much silence between movements as there is actual music, but the information is presented so fast, and is so multi-faceted and implicative, that we are unable to process all of what we hear in the moment. We are constantly “catching up” with what we just heard. Pàmies enriches the whole experience through a startlingly simple technique: the piece is played twice(!). We hear what could pass for an ending: three delicate, soft, consonant tones, interjected by a bustling outburst, before all of a sudden being sent back to the work’s opening to start again. Our memory is challenged, as is our hearing. Is what we are experiencing now the same as what we had experienced before? How carefully were we listening? How is this music heard (or played) differently? Why is this happening? Regardless, we are privy to this jolting and rumbling emanating from the stupendous virtuosity of nonce’s two low string players, as they fly in a full fit of fiery fury across the fingerboard, stopping here and there for a breathless reprieve of the airy and infinitesimally soft, of the fragile, tender, grainy wood tones, all the while exploring the whole range of each of the instruments’ parameters through Joan’s gifted sense of gesture, drama, and orchestration.

Finally, with the room’s attentions tightly focused and awarenesses widely broadened, all ten of us sat down on the floor for Pauline Oliveros’s “One Word,” from her set, Sonic Meditations. We breathed, we hissed, we moaned, we hawed. We had been training and rehearsing her pieces for weeks now, convening occasionally to sit, phonate, and mutually meditate. These pieces are bit like vocal yoga, where one starts by observing their own breathing, and then works their whole being into a state of communion, communion with all that is going on inside one’s own body, as well as all that is going on in the space, in the room, maybe elsewhere. What does it do? It brings you together with your surroundings, with your friends. It opens up sonic perception in a way that can follow one around throughout the rest of their day-to-day doings. It cleanses, it unites, it teaches, and, can actually turn out sounding pretty wonderful. In “One Word,” each member sat, silently, and found a word. This word is then explored, each little consonant coaxed, stretched, and gutted, each diphthong shaped and expounded, each vowel eternal. The word’s parts continue to assemble, the pace accelerates, suddenly we are hearing language, a poem of utterances, occasionally intelligible in their cross-shifting rhythms, elsewhere noisy and blurred as overheard conversations on a train.  (The words chosen included “ricochet,” “canvas,” “control,” “vaccination,” and “biscuit.”)  This is then sped up to the point of impossibility, where the words break and come apart, and we are left with dumbly mumbling musicians bumbling humbly on the floor.

The Oliveros came to a head after almost twenty minutes. Following a brief break, the sonic rinse concluded with Derek Beckvold’s new group Loke, a drony trio featuring Ryan Dugre and Eric Lane, whose multiphonics and analog synths perfectly capped the wild and wonderful ride of our show. Thanks to all those who came, and everyone at the space for making it happen. Please check out yesouisispace.com for more wonderful happenings in sight and sound.

nonce @ Mills, a recap

Last night’s show was a nice slice of nonce. It had all the basic elements of what we set out after in the ensemble’s formation. The group performed as soloists and as an ensemble, with electronics and with improvisation, focusing on recently composed and avant-garde music. And in Mills Gallery: what a space! Big, tall, white walls, lots of room, good sound, sitting right on Tremont Street amongst the three or four other buildings that comprise the Boston Center for the Arts so as to facilitate walk-in traffic from those familiar with the space. (Of course, being right in the midst of the South End on a Saturday night means a little bit of noise sneaking in, but what are ya gonna do?)

The concert was short and compact. We played four pieces in a little under an hour. Each piece was thus able to present itself to the listener quite clearly, so that as one left the show, they were still able to remember every detail. All but one of the pieces came from the last 25 years. Kathryn’s account of Hauto-Aho’s “Kadenza” was quite an engaging opening to the evening. The bass resonated throughout the space roundly through Kathy’s warm and well-projected tone, and the piece’s narrative moved through a variety techniques and characters in a manner humorous and discursive. Following this, was Aaron performing John Cage’s “Suite for Toy Piano,” our one “oldie” for the night (1948), a piece which sounds a bit like Kindermusik for the Abstract Expressionist era. Seeing Likness, a concert-stage virtuoso in his own right, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of this petite little keyboard was quite a treat. And then seeing what range and depth from the instrument he was able to draw was something else. He played with phenomenal control and an engaging, but still dry, charisma, that sent the wild but strangely familiar pings and clangs and ringing tolls of the instrument up into the air with chiming delight – a nice timbral contrast with Kathy’s bass. With his attacks sharp and crisp, his runs of short notes both charged and fluid, his repetition precisely even, Aaron took us through Cage’s “Suite” in a manner intent and focused from beginning to end. Following the two solo performances, Aaron grabbed a second toy piano, and he and Kathy were joined by Tony on cello and myself on melodica performing my own “separate piece(s”. The score was written about a year ago, and can be played by any four instruments. It consists of a variety of symbols and notations, placed in three distinct sections on the page, which are then to be ordered and arranged by the performing ensemble. The piece deals largely with relationships between its players, be them complementary or antagonistic, and serves to create rules and structures around which the performers can freely create sounds and contexts personal to them and to the performance. Closing off our set was an astonishing performance of “Lonh” by Kaaji Saariaho, for soprano and electronics. Ceceilia was joined by Simon Hanes, who manned the electronics. The title comes from the Occitane word for “far away” or “distant,” and the text in the piece (which we hear both live and prerecorded, in English, French, and Occitan) comes from a poem, attributed to 11th century troubadour Jaufré Rudel, that deals with faraway love, the intersection of sacred and secular love, and religious ecstasy. Ceceilia gave a gorgeous performance, her voice so effortlessly and nobly drawing out subtleties, round and confident, loosely rising, as if reaching for something, yearning. She blended perfectly, too, with the electronics, which Simon had worked wonders in controlling, and prepping along the way. After we had finished our set, husband/wife, cello/electronics drone duo mem1 gave a nice sonic rinse to the evening with a half hour set that was spacious and rich, and still retained a focus on the quiet and intimate sounds possible in the cello.

Thanks to Nate, to mem1, to everyone at Mills Gallery, and those involved with Overheard/Underground. We had a great time, and were happy to be able to present all this music to such an audience in that setting. We hope to play there again. Until then, be sure to come check us out this Wednesday, 5/11, at 8pm at yes.oui.si.

nonce @ Mills Gallery, with mem1

Tonight, May 7th, we will be playing at the Mills Gallery in the Boston Center for the Arts, located at 551 Tremont Street in the South End, at 7:30PM. On the program will be two Finnish and two American composers. nonce bassist Kathryn Schulmeister will open with Teppo Hauto-Aho’s “Kadenza” for solo contrabass, followed by Aaron Likness presenting John Cage’s “Suite for Toy Piano.” The two will be joined by Tony Rymer on cello and nonce composer Ryan Krause on melodica on the latter’s “separate piece(s.” The program will close with the glacial sparkling of Saariaho’s “Lonh,” for voice and electronics, on which we will see our resident soprano Ceceilia Allwein mingle with at least three languages and the calls of birds, aided by Simon Hanes, running electronics. Afterwards, cello/electronics improvisation duo mem1 will present a set of their music.

See you there.