Set of 37 images for digital display
Created for Cluster Festival XI: Digital Edition
I have been a co-director and co-curator of Cluster Festival for the past 11 years.
Cluster: Fictional Edition is a response to the cancellation of what would have been my final physical festival before handing the organization over to the brilliant Ashley Au.
In this space of absence, I have been thinking about festivals that weren’t. Festivals that might be or might have been. Imaginary spaces in the cracks between festivals.
The documentation images of Cluster: Fictional Edition were created using machine learning. I trained StyleGAN on over 1400 photos taken between 2010-2019 at various editions of Cluster Festival. StyleGAN learns the features of these photos, and creates a module that is trained to produce infinite new images that occupy the space between the original images. I have spent hours within this stream of images, blurring my eyes a bit, looking for those that feel the most like real performance situations.
To my eye, this collection of new images perfectly carries the DNA of Cluster. I can trace their component parts: a glittery curtain from Matthew Robin-Nye’s installation at Cluster 2018 becomes the robes of three mysterious performers; the LED lights that featured so heavily in Cluster 2010-2015 create a purple blue glow; ice from Gil Delindro’s installation at Cluster 2014 now covers the floor of a gallery; light stands multiply and become tangled… My memory can already make these pictures.
This is the Cluster of my dreams.
- May 2020 at Cluster Festival XI: Digital Edition online
1080p, 2 channel audio
Created for CMHK
- October 15, 2020, Hong Kong Arts Centre, CMHK Sound Forms Festival
Impossible Roller Coaster Tutorials 1-3 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.
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.
Sound Design + Music
Game/installation by Darko Masnec
I created the sound design and music for a new game by Dark Masnec! The object of the game is to grow a beautiful set of plants through adjusting various numerical parameters. I created a number of electronic audio tracks that represent the plants so that each time you play you get a different shifting soundscape.
“Byl-ka is envisioned as a set of possible digital translations of the herbal world and how the concept of flora can be redefined in a digital surrounding. In a simple interface, we can see empty planter and five elements. The elements we can manipulate with are in control of growth, appearance, and life of the plant. Light, color, transparency, sound, attention, and combination of these five elements are a base to cultivate your digital plant. Each element can reach a value of a maximum of 100 points. The player is trying to find balance among all of the elements to achieve homeostasis: the optimal conditions needed to reveal the plant. There are more than 8 billion different possible combinations of intertwined elements.
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….
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.
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
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.
- 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.
Open Duration (c.a. 10 minutes)
Commissioned by EXAUDI
I developed The Strange Eating Habits of Erik Satie collaboratively with James Weeks and the EXAUDI vocal ensemble in London, UK as a part of Sound and Music’s Portfolio scheme. The piece was created in several meetings occurring over the course of a year (2014-2015). 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 meeting, 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 silently watched, often allowing the resulting constellations of their new insights to supersede my original artistic impulses.
The manner in which the piece transforms and decays continually over time is reflected in my musical dismantling of the work’s source material: Erik Satie’s Choral Inappetissant from his Sports and Divertissements (originally written for piano).
- October 17, 2015 by EXAUDI (London, UK)
I would like to acknowledge the support of Sound and Music in the creation of this work.
Commissioned by Mira Benjamin
[factory] originated as a set of 22 verbal scores linked by a geographical map, with each score representing an individual conceptual area or room. Mira Benjamin, the original performer, and I agreed upon a risky proposal: she would read the scores only once and then delete them, allowing the work to exist solely in her memory and inviting forgettings and linguistic permutations to infect the ephemeral score-object itself. Mira is now the living score for the work, voluntarily responsible for its transferral, transformation and translation.
- March 2014, Mira Benjamin, Cluster: New Music + Integrated Arts Festival, Winnipeg, MB
- May 2014, Mira Benjamin, Oslo, Norway
- August 2014, Mira Benjamin and Isaiah Ceccarelli, nu:nord, Oslo, Norway
- August 2014, Mira Benjamin and Isaiah Ceccarelli, London, UK
- January 2015, Michael Baldwin, Huddersfield, UK
- June 2015, Mira Benjamin, Music and/as Process Conference, London, UK
- July 2015, Michael Baldwin, Hundred Years Gallery, London, UK
The following is an excerpt from an interview between Jennie Gottschalk and Mira Benjamin. This interview has been excerpted in Gottschalk’s Experimental Music Since 1970.
JG: So I wanted to talk about the process around these pieces… about the transmission of scores, what possibilities there are for an experiment to take place in that activity, at that intersection.
MB: Luke uses the term “accessing” – someone who wants to know [factory] must access an archive of sorts.
JG: So you’re the archive?
MB: I’m a living score – one of six or so people who house Luke’s various pieces. The only currently active living score, I believe.
JG: Is your memory the score of [factory], or you yourself?
MB: That distinction is not really made. My relationship and dialogue with my own memory is an essential part of the process of actualizing these pieces. It is inevitable in this process that I will forget and unintentionally ‘rewrite’ certain elements, and that each act of relaying a piece will feed back into my own memory. The original artifact of [factory] will degrade and this is the creative, transformative process that is opened by this approach. This process is all about contamination.
JG: Would it be in keeping with the spirit of the project to actually ask you to relay a piece [factory] to me now?
MB: If I started telling it to you now, your interview would just be full of “redacted”s! *laughs* To allow memory to take priority in this process, I can only transmit pieces during a dedicated accessing session, and they can’t be written down or transcribed.
The following is an excerpt of an accessing session between Michael Baldwin and Mira Benjamin
MBa: Before we dive directly into this, I’m curious to know what the bounds of the score are. So, for example, in our conversation today, at what point do you begin transmitting [factory]? Is it intermittent throughout the conversation or is there a moment at which it is delivered?
MBe: This entire conversation is the score for [factory]. Everything we talk about contributes to it. When I actualise [factory], I base the performance on my memory of Luke’s texts in combination with an understanding of the mentality of the project. That’s why I was telling you about the map before.
MBa: Sorry, just so I’m clear, is this a part of [factory]?
MBe: Yeah, this is one of the rooms, it’s called [redacted] or [redacted]. So you’re in a situation where either you allow a memory to, or can’t stop a memory from, [redacted]. And it could be [redacted], or it also could [redacted]. Because of the conditions of the first room I gave you, I think it allows for that. And you just [redacted].
Four or More Speaking/Singing Performers
2015, rev. 2018
In White Fang Field Recording, I ask a group performers to silently read text from White Fang by Jack London. When they encounter words that they deem to be related to sound, I ask them to read out loud. The idea of this work is to link two historic Canadian practices, field recording and literature, both of which rely heavily on Canada’s unique geographic landscape. In other versions of the work, performers sing while reading silently to punctuate silence with harmony.
- March 2018, Cluster: New Music + Integrated Arts Festival — Polycoro (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada)
- May 2017, Arnolfini, Bristol Art Book Event — Luke Nickel, Josie Hypatia Grounds, Bernie Hodges, Leo Chadburn
- December 2015, Sanctum (Bristol, UK)
- December 2015, Bath Spa University — Material Ensemble led by James Saunders (Bath, UK)
- June 5 2015, Bang the Bore, Cafe Kino — Mike Pony, Josie Hypatia Grounds, Seth Cooke and Dan Bennett (Bristol, UK)
Four Speaking Performers
String Quartet #1 is a 15-minute spoken-word performance for an ensemble of four performers, examining ideas of transcription, redaction, sound, and silence. The work draws on the presentation style of a string quartet (chair formations, dress, and music stands) to dissect the boundaries between rehearsals and performances, sounds and silences. There are no actual stringed instruments present in the work.
String Quartet #1 was created in residence at the Arnolfini Gallery (Bristol, UK) as part of the event Sound, Silence, and Listening: An Afternoon with Christine Sun Kim.
During the work, four performers enter, bow, and take a seat at four chairs in a semi-circle. When the piece begins, each performer reads from a separate script featuring only their part. Lines are triggered at specific times but performed at varying speeds. Conversation is deconstructed, allowing clouds of words and phrases to create their own rhythm. Meaning emerges and retreats.
The text in the work is a direct transcription of a rehearsal by the Obsession Quartet from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The musical content is removed, leaving gaps of silence in the performance. During these silences, the original musical composition is absent, allowing the audience space to reflect on previous musical descriptions.
The work can be re-staged with transcriptions of any string quartet rehearsal.
- August 12, 2016 in at Tick Tock at AceArt — Ian Mozdzen, Jillian Groening, Natasha Torres-Garner, Delf Gravert Dir. Sasha Amaya (Winnipeg, MB)
- July 28, 2016 at Darmstadt — Dir. Weston Olencki (Darmstadt, DE)
- March 19, 2016 in Winnipeg at the Cluster: New Music + Integrated Arts Festival (Winnipeg, MB)
- December 5, 2015 at CCRMA — Bethanne Walker, Helen Newby, Chris Wood, Weston Olencki (San Fransisco, California)
- Premiered: April 25, 2015 at Arnolfini —Jessica MacDonald, Bernie Hodges, Josie Hypatia Grounds, Christopher Morgan (Bristol, UK)
made in collaboration with Quatuor Bozzini as a part of Composer’s Kitchen 2014
I created Made of My Mother’s Cravings in collaboration with the Bozzini String Quartet between June 2014 (Montreal) and November 2014 (Huddersfield). My goal for the project was to investigate the ways in which memory could be used as a process to transform not only musical material (as seen in works by Lucier, Fox, Saunders, and Walshe) but musical scores themselves.
I held private meetings with each member of the quartet, telling them different aspects of the work (pitch, form, affect, timbre, reactions, relationships, concepts, etc). Some information was to be shared with the group, while some was to be kept private. I asked the quartet not to record any of the conversations. The group then assembled the piece using their individual memories of the score, and performed the piece in Montreal. Six months passed by, and the group remounted the piece in Huddersfield, UK. Because there was no written or recorded score, the quartet had to play the piece from memory. Several extraordinary musical transformations occurred. The piece continues to exist solely in recorded artifacts (akin to documentary photos of performance art) and the memory of the performers.
Because living scores exist solely in my memory and the memories of the performers, generally re-performances are instigated by the same ensemble or musician (thus illustrating the transformation of the piece over time). However, living scores can be made transferable either via temporary audio recordings of spoken instructions (which expire after one view/listen) or surrogate conversationalists (as in a game of telephone). These methods ensure the living scores retain their essential ephemerality, which allows for their vibrant transformation over time in human memory.
- June 2014, Quatuor Bozzini (Montreal, QC)
- November 2014, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Quatuor Bozzini (Huddersfield, UK)
Full recording found below:
Sometimes the sound that doesn’t sound makes the loudest sound—even if it’s all in our own heads. Even when conducting a silent activity such as reading a book, our ears—or perhaps our mind’s ear—can be abuzz with a cacophony of word-sound relations. Canadian literature has always seemed to me inextricably linked to the country’s vast landscape. Concurrently, Canadian sound artists have long been preoccupied with field-recording these same landscapes. In this work I make a small conceptual leap, binding together these two fields and textually “field-recording” the landscapes of some of Canada’s finest literature. The spaces may be imagined, but the sounds are real.
Read the published text here
Runner up in MusicWorks’ Sonic Geography Writing Contest 2015
Traditional score + Audio Guide for Soloists
SATB Choir + Two Drones + Bass Instrument or Voice
Commissioned by Canzona
- Nov 1, 2015 — Pro Coro (Edmonton, AB)
- March 2, 2014 – Canzona Choir (Winnipeg, MB)
An excerpt of the score can be found below:
Living Score / Software
Four Speaking Performers
Conversation Piece is a live panel discussion/performance for four ad-hoc participants (no preparation necessary) which investigates natural vs. arbitrary proportion in spoken conversation, and how these factors relate to meaning-making and social dominance. Participants have two short conversations of equal length. Questions arise: is this a game? A social engineering tool? Will participants struggle to produce meaning in light of restrictions? How does this change or authenticate the experience? The act of merging performance and panel discussion radically re-positions the panel discussion as an internalized act of research rather than an externalized method of dissemination.
- June 2014, Bath Spa University Early Stage Researcher Conference, Corsham, UK
Two or more performers
In my duet, I create modules (using square brackets) in which I place musical material for the two instruments performing. One is blue, the other pink. I provide arrows that indicate which choices the performers have, and certain other symbols (numbers within the boxes, text indications) to indicate duration. The score is a map because it allows for a full navigation of musical material, but in a sense functions more like a dungeon in a video game than a traditional map. Certain things change by returning to certain places, such as durations, and certain things (such as those yellow modules that are linked with a dotted line) are only unlocked by returning to other modules a certain amount of times.
By creating this type of musical structure, I allow the musicians to perform and realise a piece of music that is elastic, modular, and ever-changing, yet still born of the same kernel idea. I use this approach because I believe it invites the musicians involved to engage more closely with the material, be more active in the performance, and invest in creating a realization that is true to themselves as players.
- August 2013 – Pressure Waves, Harrington/Loewen Duo, Winnipeg, MB
- January 2014 – Mira Benjamin and Isaiah Ceccarelli, London, UK
As performed by the Harrington Loewen Duo:
As performed by Mira Benjamin and Isaiah Ceccarelli: