created for Liam Byrne (viola da gamba) and Émilie Girard-Charest (cello)
Cousins highlights the contested lineage and relationship of the viola da gamba and the cello. The piece was created using the same orally transmitted instructions for both soloists. Each realization is unique despite carrying the same DNA.
- October 28, 2019, Buenos Aires, Émilie Girard-Charest (cello)
- October 12, 2019, Bristol, Cousins, Liam Byrne (viola da gamba)
Liam Byrne performs Cousins
Unspecified Chamber Ensemble
Created for Decibel New Music
In Palace64, I wanted to explore algorithmic roller coaster building. I created 20+ roller coasters using various formulae, which I imported as paths to Nolimits Coaster. Then, I created a custom 3D environment and shot countless hours of video, which I edited into what you see above! I wanted to evoke the idea of a post-human roller coaster environment reminiscent of a coral reef on an alien planet.
Musically, the piece consists of a pre-recorded track made up of a stretched out field recording taken at Thorpe Park as well as live acoustic instruments. I transmitted this piece to Decibel orally using a series of recorded spoken transmissions. During the performance, the musicians react to both the impossible virtual roller coasters on screen and mental and embodied memories of roller coasters—both real and imagined.
- July 25, 2019 by Decibel New Music at Monash University at TENOR2019 in Melbourne, Australia
Palace64 was created with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts. The roller coaster was created using NoLimits 2, and the video was edited in Adobe Premiere Pro. Special thanks to Cat Hope.
Dive Deep in Blue, My Sweet
Flute, Clarinet in Bb, Violin, Cello, Percussion, Piano, Tape, Video, Conductor and Amateur Theremin
Created for TAK Ensemble
Dive Deep in Blue, My Sweet is a weird water world—a queer puddle through which we can just about make out an infinity mirror made of youtube videos, warbled strains of familiar classical music, strange bird calls and stranger songs. Nothing is quite as it seems here… put your white tennis shoes on and follow me.
(dedicated to Linda Catlin Smith and Cassandra Miller)
Dive Deep in Blue, My Sweet relies on the virtuosity (and generosity!) of performers. For the most part, they perform as individuals (or duos), contributing to a greater sonic environment. The conductor never beats time (beyond potentially giving cues) or indicates expression, but instead acts as a facilitator for the entries and exits of instruments. Partway through, the conductor is even waylaid into playing the theremin!
- March 30, 2019 by Continuum as part of PIVOT 2019 (hosted by the Canadian League of Composers) at the Music Gallery, Toronto
Dive Deep in Blue, My Sweet was created as a part of PIVOT 2019 (hosted by the Canadian League of Composers)
For a copy of the score please contact me.
Unspecified Chamber Ensemble (at least 4 instruments) + solo amplified voice + tape + video
Created for TAK Ensemble
Moonriver32 is dedicated to the memory of my aunt, Patricia Bouk. This piece draws inspiration and material from a number of sources: a recording of a dying carousel playing Moon River, Audrey Hepburn singing the same iconic song in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, my early teenage experience designing roller coasters… The video in Moonriver32 depicts an impossible roller coaster… a kind of whimsical yet nightmarish Audrey Hepburn-themed thrill ride. When I designed roller coasters at an early age, I was concerned with realism. Now, fifteen years later, I am more inspired by conceptual art and Disney’s Imagineering than real world physics….
- March 2, 2019 at the Cluster: New Music + Integrated Arts Festival, TAK Ensemble (Winnipeg, MB)
Moonriver32 was created with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts. The roller coaster was created using NoLimits 2, and the video was edited in Adobe Premiere Pro.
A Hushed Workshop
Created for Heather Roche
A Hushed Workshop was created in collaboration with Heather Roche during Autumn 2019. The piece centres around the oral transmission of descriptions of numerous conceptual machines inside an imaginary workshop. Roche wrote an article about the piece that was featured in Musicworks Issue 132, and a few phrases can be found below:
Luke Nickel has left me a series of sometimes vague, sometimes specific instructions via audio recordings of his voice, which I am only allowed to listen to once, so that I may create a piece… By relying on the creative imagination and memory of the performers he works with, Nickel’s work embodies an ideal form of performer-composer collaboration… He puts an enormous amount of trust in the performers of his music… Luke’s voice is calm as he explains how the process will unfold. His voice is relaxing to listen to, and it already feels like the process of creating the piece will be something for just us, something rather intimate.”
The following recording was recorded by Simon Reynell of the Another Timbre label at the Music Room in South London, and it first appeared in Musicworks Issue 132. Photo credits go to Sam Walton.
A Hushed Workshop has not been premiered yet—if you’re interested in booking a performance, please contact Heather Roche or myself.
I acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.
Two Performers (laptops/keyboards, amplification, and projection)
Created for the Parkinson/Saunders Duo
Transcribing is a piece for two typists. During the performance, both typists transcribe (audio → text) the same archival audio material. Though they each only listen to their own audio track, the audience hears both layered on top of each other. Because the act of transcription involves pausing and rewinding the material to accurately type it, the audience hears a stratified, looped, fragmented, and stretched version of the original audio recording that gradually reveals the source material.
This piece was originally developed for the Parkinson Saunders duo for BBC’s ‘Hear and Now’, and has been recorded in three different versions using different source materials. The video on this page features Alex Mah and James Saunders, and was recorded at the Bath Spa University TV Studio as a part of Open Scores Lab. The video was cut together by myself, and features archival material from www.archive.org and a found cassette from Sweet Thunder.
- July 2018, Luke Nickel and Jennie Gottschalk, MonkeySparrow (online)
- January 2018, Alex Mah and James Saunders, Bath Spa TV Studio (recording)
- October 2017, Parkinson Saunders Duo, BBC Hear and Now at the Wellcome Collection (London, UK)
String Orchestra (55432)
Commissioned by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
For the last three years, I have not written a single note of music. Instead, I’ve made pieces collaboratively with musicians using any means except musical notation. I’ve made pieces that consist solely of orally-transmitted descriptions of an imaginary factory. I’ve made pieces that chew up existing music and spit it out into tangled new configurations. I’ve made pieces for art galleries that contain only speaking, not a note of music to be heard.
This piece for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra marks my return to traditional musical notation. But with it I bring the great joy and endless possibility that I found using these other compositional methods.
In writing for the MCO, I have chosen to use Barber’s Adagio as a source material. I’ve always been intrigued by the first musical phrase of the piece: the succulent chords, the sense of floating tension…
I like to imagine Barber’s Adagio as a great ship that sails calmly through our collective subconscious. In my piece, aaadagio, we listen to what lies beneath the behemoth ship. What turgid melodies swirl through the deep? What creaking sounds does the ship make while weathering a storm? How does light sound when it glints on the water.
A former composition teacher would often jokingly ask me what the effect would be if I used Barber’s Adagio to end of one of my compositions. This piece is my answer.
(aaadagio is dedicated to Chris Paul Harman, to whom I owe my love of musical provocation)
- April 26, 2017, the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra (Winnipeg, MB)
I acknowledge the support of the Manitoba Arts Council and the SOCAN Foundation
For a full score or recording, please contact me
Commissioned by Everett Hopfner
Oshima, which Hopfner learned in a series of late-night radio transmissions, sonically sketches a character from Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore in a sparse deconstruction of jazz and darkness.
March 12, 2017, Cluster: New Music + Integrated Arts Festival by Everett Hopfner (Winnipeg, MB)
Full performance recording live from Cluster Festival
who’s exploiting who
Commissioned by the Thin Edge New Music Collective
I developed Who’s Exploiting Who collaboratively with the Thin Edge New Music Collective in January and February 2016. There is no written score for the piece, and as a result it relies entirely on the ensemble’s collective memory to be realized.
Before each TENMC rehearsal, I corresponded individually with every member of the ensemble via a temporary audio file that I posted privately on soundcloud. These correspondences contained recordings of my voice describing musical parameters, metaphorical text and logistical instructions. During rehearsals, the ensemble patched together a collective understanding of the piece based on their individual memories of the original correspondences. I was not present for rehearsals, thus allowing the resulting constellations of their new insights to supersede my original artistic impulses.
Who’s Exploiting Who is based on one of my favourite songs released in 2015 — Exploitation by Roísin Murphy. I fed various musical fragments of the original song through my somewhat scattered memory as well as the (less scattered) memory of the TENMC. The result is (hopefully!) a kaleidoscopic and hallucinogenic exploration of complete musical obsession.
Roísin seems to like the arrangement…
- February 16, 2016 at ArrayMusic by the Thin Edge New Music Collective (Toronto, ON)
SATB Choir + Percussion
Open Duration (c.a. 10 minutes)
Commissioned by Architek Percussion and Viva Voce
Smokescreen is an orally-transmitted piece created in collaboration with Architek Percussion and Viva Voce in Montreal.
To create the piece, I used a late 14th century work by Solage (fumeaux fume par fumée) as the source material. This mysterious and beautiful motet is stretched into glacially slow intervals punctuated by hazy static and shimmering choral resonances (how’s that for a program note!)
- January 17, 2016 at Salle Bourgie, Architek Percussion and Viva Voce, Directed by Peter Schubert (Montreal, QC)
- April 4, 2016 at Sala Rossa, Architek Percussion (Montreal QC)
I acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.