About N F Chase
by Lemia Mahayni (Vancouver BC)
If you just listened to an unusual piece of music and you couldn’t identify all the instruments that were used, you may have been listening to a Nicholas Chase composition. “Even to people who know me, I’m totally enigmatic in terms of style...but there are tells,” says Chase. One tell is his knack for fully assimilating unusual instruments into his music, rather than featuring them. Playing a music stand with a bow, working a DJ turntable, and reggae-dub melodica have been elements of his compositions in the past. Because they are fully incorporated, unless you catch a live performance, you may not be able to identify the sounds, or realize that they are not computer generated. As he puts it, “I really do integrate things, I’m not a gimmick guy.” The result has been described by the LA Times as “the Rite of Spring meets Metallica.”
Chase was first recognized by the media in April of 2000, when the LA Times made his MFA Thesis a featured ‘pick’ in the Editor’s Profile. That multimedia ‘rave’ opera, e1>3ktr=A [Elektra], integrated traditional opera singing with industrial drum and bass musical accompaniment, DJ turntables, video, and a set that was a costume rigged with speakers. But the piece of music that put him on the map was sP!t, which used DJ turntables as instruments. After a very well received premier performance at California Institute of the Arts, sP!t was included in the programming of the California E.A.R. Unit for two years, and a subsequent piece commissioned, also to be featured by the California E.A.R. Unit. Later, his work with improvising trio NIRUSU III earned him the moniker “eye/ear explorer” from the LA Weekly. He has consistently been recognized in the United States and Europe, with nods like the Andy Warhol Competition Performance Award and a recent residency at theJanaçek Academy of Music in the Czech Republic.
He counts himself fortunate to have been taught by seminal modern music masters like James Tenney, Stephen L. (“Lucky”) Mosko, Bunita Marcus, and Morton Subotnick, to name a few. “My best teachers didn’t teach me about music, specifically. We got along because we shared a philosophy. As a student, I didn’t know how to activate my philosophy. They taught me about how to live life, and out of that person comes the music that I write.” As a composer, he has clearly become fully ‘activated.’
He initially trained in the visual arts and graphic design, even exhibiting and, recently, working as both an exhibits director and a gallery director in that field. Coming from this hybrid background, he feels strongly that composition “is a gateway between disciplines.” He believes that gateway would not only lead to greater understanding between disciplines, but also create a climate in which art as a whole would grow in new and exciting ways. “People in the arts should learn composition and then apply it to their discipline rather than learning the discipline first, which closes doors between disciplines, because people speak different jargons and reference different works.” He recently began writing his manifesto, which extends to all art forms. “One of my missions is to demystify the hierarchy of art. There should be no boundaries between Deadmau5 and someone composing for an orchestra. They should be able to exchange ideas as equals.”
Chase is in the process of forming his own performing company under the rubric of The UFOrchestra and is currently working on a number of new compositions and concerts for new works.
N F Chase's music has been hailed by Strad Magazine as 'brilliant,' the Los Angeles Times as 'flamboyant, avant-garde' and 'brawling...the Rite of Spring meets Metallica,' by the Albuquerque Journal as 'crackling, witty,' by the Whittier Press as 'seamless, powerful... spectacular' and, dubbing him 'Eye/Ear Explorer,' the LA Weekly writes of his short opera 22, 'the human brain at its most imaginative.'
Chase earned his MFA in Composition/New Media and Integrated Media from California Institute of the Arts studying with Morton Subotnick, Bunita Marcus, Stephen L. Mosko, and additionally with Ziad Bunni of the Aleppo Conservatory of Arabic Classical Music, and James Tenney. In 2011 he earned PhD candidacy in Integrated Elecgronic Arts at Renssellaer Polytechnic Institute working with Pauline Oliveros.
Chase has been commissioned by the California E.A.R. Unit, the Long Beach Opera, Viola Plus, Ltd. as well as Swiss bassist Cristin Wildbolz, first violin of New York's Ensemble Sospeso, Mark Menzies and internationally renown flutist Dorothy Stone to name a few. Other notables who have performed his music include New Zealand's 175 East, South West Chamber Music, and the Philadelphia Classical Symphony from whom he received a joint award from the Symphony and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for the Andy Warhol-inspired work tw!TcH.
His interactive electronic audio/visual work has been featured with the San Francisco/Bay Area Illuminated Corridor, the Center for Electronic Art, Information and Technology (CEAIT) Festival in Los Angeles. Chase was a headlining artist at Stanford University's "Music from the Edge" contemporary music festival at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), and presented Transmissions, an interactive audio/video composition, as part of a public installation at the 2008 Whitney Biennial.
Significant world premieres include Considering Light by the Sonic Liberation Players in Los Angeles, the electronic multi-channel music-and-light ballet Ngoma Lungundu and Songs of the Thirsty Sword for piano, interactive computer and video, headlining two festival openings (New Music Plus+ - Czech Republic, Music By The Eyeful - San Francisco), and the world premiere of Street Mix No. 1 - New York Above Ground for ensemble performing in the street, part of the Darmstadt/New York Festival at Brooklyn’s Issue Project Room. Last year Chase premiered Gin Blossoms and Broccoli Boutonnières for flute and sampled records at the Other Minds Festival in San Francisco.
As a performer always in pursuit of unusual musical possibilities, Chase has performed on music stand, mannequin limbs, lying inside a piano, on a bicycle—and more traditionally as a vocalist, and as a solo pianist—on the instrument keys. Chase is former frontman to the pop act Soul Parish, who topped the European Indie/Gothic club charts with their dance single Lilith featuring opera soprano over drum machines. He's since appeared performing electronics and DJ turntables as a soloist, with his own touring ensemble, and with the California E.A.R. Unit. As an improviser and visualist, Chase has worked with Russian pianist/improviser Roman Stolyar, Ben Miller, Miya Masaoka, and as NIRUSU III with renown harpist/improviser/scholar, Susan Allen, and British bassist, Rus Pearson. In fellowship at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany, he contributed bi-lingual voice-over to a series of programs on BauhausFM German radio.
Chase is founder of The UFOrchestra whose serial film/performance project Eleven Ideas (eleven.mas-lab.org) has been staged and screened in Hollywood, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Helsinki, and was featured on upstate New York WMHT public television. Chase is also Founding Director of the Musical Arts/Sound Laboratory (www.mas-lab.org) and Chase Ateliers, an organization committed to inter--disciplinary and experimental collaborations, which boasts affiliations with the likes of US jazz legend Yusef Lateef and Meredith Monk expat, Steve Lockwood.
As a producer Chase has worked in the recording studio with notables Tom Erbe, Bob Bellerue, Lucky Mosko, Grammy award winner Jeremy Zuckerman, and produced the work of Annie Gosfield for Zadek Records, Anne LeBaron for About Productions, California EAR Unit for Bridge Records, Mark Menzies for Mode Records, Morton Subotnick for Wizard Music, Cristin Wildbolz for STV/Unit Records Switzerland, and his own recordings released under the "Chase Ateliers" moniker.
His musical scores have been hailed as works of visual art and were featured in Shifter Magazine (2010) and Emergency Index (2012) and have been sold framed at auction in Switzerland.
In 2000 Chase was awarded the first President's Alumnus Award from California Institute of the Arts, and was nominated for the Herb Alpert Award in Music in 2003. In 2008 the German documentary Wie kann Es in Buchenwald so schoen sein? for which he wrote the soundtrack, was nominated for the German Alternativer Medienpreis. In 2011 the Eleven Ideas project received the McKinney Award in Literature and Technology from Resselaer Polytechnic Institute. Chase was also recipient of the inaugural Other Minds Composer Fellowship that year.
N F Chase is currently thriving as an independent artist—this fall he collaborates with Heidi Duckler Dance Theater NW and will tour the UFOrchestra, premiering a body of original compositions that integrate Yoga and Buddhist mind/body practices with traditional Western Conservatory musicianship. Chase's research and original theoretical discourse on that will be available in his forthcoming book, The Cat Who Loved Flowers: A Musical Quest for Silence. You can hear about Chase's ideas in a podcast about the soon-to-be-released recording of Bhajan for violin and computer at www.nfchase.net.