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An evening with Nicolas Collins

Music by Nicolas Collins

Whereas the focus of much electronic and computer music is on novel sounds, I am equally – if not more – enaged with technology’s potential to organize musical behavior.  Tonight’s concert features two compositions in which a computer directs players, of both acoustic and electronic instruments, via projected scores, and one work for a highly unstable analog circuit that must be played by 12 hands.


Roomtone Variations (2013)

Brackets [after John Cage] (2014)

Salvage (Guiyu Blues) (2008)


Program Notes

In Roomtone Variations the resonant frequencies of a room are mapped, in real time, through controlled acoustic feedback, and projected as staff notation.  The strongest, most resonant pitches appear first, at the left, the weakest at the far right.  Once the staves are filled the musicians improvise variations on the notes as they are highlighted, gradually stepping through this site-specific “architectural tone row”.

Brackets is intended for instruments whose sounds and performance gestures are ill-served by traditional Western notation: homemade circuits, analog synthesizers, computer software, turntables, etc.  Each musician selects a number of distinct “gamuts” that can be produced on her or his instrument.  In the spirit of John Cage’s Four6, these are different sounds “with fixed characteristics”.   A computer program randomly selects amongst the gamut numbers and assigns each occurrence a time interval (bracket) in which it is to be performed.  Brackets is an occasion for expressive improvisation within specified time constraints.

Salvage attempts to re-animate deceased or discarded electronic circuitry: cell phones, computer motherboards, fax machines, etc.  Six players use probes to make connections between a simple circuit of my design and the electronic corpse; feedback between my circuit and the components on the dead board produces complex patterns of oscillation that change in response to the slightest movement of the probes.  A seventh player “conducts” the performance by periodically signaling the others to suspend the current sound texture by holding the probes as still as possible.



New York born and raised, Nicolas Collins spent most of the 1990s in Europe, where he was Visiting Artistic Director of Stichting STEIM (Amsterdam), and a DAAD composer-in-residence in Berlin. From 1997 – 2017 he was Editor-in-Chief of the Leonardo Music Journal, and since 1999 has been a Professor in the Department of Sound at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  An early adopter of microcomputers for live performance, Collins also makes use of homemade electronic circuitry and conventional acoustic instruments.  His book, Handmade Electronic Music – The Art of Hardware Hacking (Routledge), has influenced emerging electronic music worldwide.

Nic Collins is Konrad Boehmer Visiting Professor at the Royal Conservatoire during the

month of April 2019. Konrad Boehmer Foundation



kHz kollektiv 

KHZ kollektiv is the analogue electronic ensemble of the composition faculty of the Royal Conservatory. A variable group of  about 6-10 students run by Yannis Kyriakides, that meets weekly in the Karlheinz Stockhausen studio. The group explores the performance and composition possibilities of historic electronic instruments and their modern counterparts, using improvisation and open/interactive score strategies. In the past they have performed various projects including in The Holland Festival, Rewire, Sound of Silence Festival and even in Russia.

This year a new group is formed with Wilf Amis, Pema Bennardis, Kasper de Oude, Wilson Leywantono, Danya Piilchen and Soley Sigurjónsdóttir. They will perform two open score works by Nic Collins:
Brackets [after John Cage] (2014) is a piece inspired by the “time bracket” works of John Cage, where sounds selected by each player, specific to their instrument (in this case all modular synthesizers), are played following a computer generated live-score. In Salvage (Guiyu Blues), the players reanimate on an old circuit board by performing on it with test-probes.

April 1 20:45


Arnold Schoenbergzaal, Royal Conservatoire

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