Alex Carrette | On 21, Mar 2014
University music schools have very often been the centre of musical development and innovation.
One clear example of this is Nonsemble, a group of musicians who formed at the University of Queensland in 2012.
The brainchild of composition student Chris Perren, Nonsemble combines the traditional string quartet with keyboard, drums and guitar.
This allows Chris, who does most of the band’s composing, to branch out from what is traditionally expected of classical groups.
This can clearly be heard with their often disjointed lines of music which, for some strange reason, seem to blend so well.
Right after a practice session at their stomping ground of the University of Queensland, I caught up with five of Nonsemble’s seven musicians to ask them about what makes their music unique, how they deliver it and their upcoming show Dots + Loops.
Present at the interview were Chris Perren (main composer and guitar), Kieran Welch (viola), Flora Wong (violin), Sam Andrews (violin) and Briony Luttrell (cello).
CD:Â Can you tell me a little bit about the history of Nonsemble?
Chris:Â I’m doing a composition Ph.D. [at the University of Queensland], and I previously played in rock bands but I wanted to do something, I guess, a little more classically-focussed. These guys were all studying. Briony and I, we met at QUT. So I just pulled it together initially to play a bunch of compositions that I’d written and that was fun so we just kept doing it.
CD:Â Playing music as complex and intricate as yours, how do you go about writing new material?
Chris:Â I arrange most of it. It’s different to a normal band in the sense that it’s notated and it’s fairly structured. Like, we tinker with it, but mostly the footprint is just there.
CD:Â So it’s done in that very classical style?
Chris:Â Exactly. So, most of the original compositions, I’ll do. But more recently we’ve all started doing arrangements of songs, like our own compositions.
Kieran: So, at our last gig, we played a piece by a composer called Ben Heim, a young composer. So we’re looking to broaden it a bit but I think it’s always been mainly based around Chris’ compositions. I guess, if we wanted to be more up ourselves, we could have been called the Chris Perren Band (laughs from everybody).
CD:Â What sort of reaction do you usually get from audiences?
Chris: People seem really interested.
Kieran:Â It felt nice at the album launch. I think we’re always trying to not be like a classical group. It was at a venue in West End and it was pretty chilled, BYO, people standing up and stuff. But when we played, people sat down, were really quiet. It wasn’t because it was expected of them. I think it was because they were really interested in what we were playing and thought that maybe it deserved a little more concentration than your normal club gig.
CD:Â Despite the fairly ‘out there’ nature of your music, you’ve managed to secure spots at festivals such as Restrung and Harvest. How have you managed to get shows like that?
Briony:Â [Getting selected for Restrung] was just connections. Half of it’s knowing the right people, the other half is dumb luck, putting yourself out there.
Chris:Â With Harvest it was a matter of just applying to their arts program. They like to put on more local stuff that had a bit more of an artsy focus because it’s more of an artsy festival.
CD:Â Does having seven musicians create problems with trying to coordinate everyone?
Kieran: Yeah, everyone’s pretty busy, so we have to try and work it in. But at the same time, having everything notated helps with that as well. But definitely it’s difficult to get together in a rehearsal room.
CD:Â And following on from that, how do you balance being in Nonsemble with work and study commitments?
Kieran:Â I’m lucky. I’m sort of doing this for my masters. I realised that I could combine my passion for this kind of music with a research masters so I will be combining the two.
Chris:Â For me, it was part of my Ph.D., so it made a lot of sense to put my time into it.
Flora:Â And I think all freelance musicians end up juggling [different commitments].
CD:Â Do you try to tell a story with your music even though there are very few singing parts?
Chris:Â It’s about stimulus. [Previous release Practical Mechanics] was more just inspired by a bunch of ideas. Inspired by the idea of what technology meant to human beings in the 20th Century and this idea of technological optimism. That informed a bunch of moods and ideas that went into the pieces.
CD:Â What can you tell me about Dots + Loops?
Kieran:Â It’s a concert that I came up with. The concept follows on a bit from my honours thesis. I had the idea of a more overall theme to show how electronic music has been influenced by modern classical music. To sort of have a logical conceptual progression from say, a minimalist piece, through to Nonsemble, and then finish it off with a DJ set. So it started off with a really clear concept in my head and I asked Chris if we could debut ‘Go’ and he very kindly agreed to finish writing it. So that’s the idea for this first concert. Then I realised that I’d like to make it into a series. I’m just about to lock down the second concert and I’ve got plans for a third and fourth.
CD:Â Following on from that, what are Nonsemble’s plans for the rest of 2014?
Chris:Â So this piece that we’re playing next week is called Go Seigen vs. Fujisawa Kuranosuke. It’s basically [about] two champion Japanese Go players playing a game against each other in 1953. It’s like chess, so all the games are recorded and kept for study purposes. So getting that piece recorded and finished will be important.
Kieran:Â I’m really keen to do this other idea we have, old working name of Popular Mechanics, I don’t know if we’re calling it that now. [It’s] another bunch of pieces that Chris wrote which may be a little more popular-leaning. We’ve actually got singers in it. But we’re keen to give this year a big push.
What:Â Dots + Loops
Where:Â SYC Studios, 37 Manilla Street, East Brisbane
When:Â Saturday, March 22
How much:Â $15
More info:Â Also playing at this event is Armas Quartet and Airport.