"WHEN WE BELIEVE IN THE INNATE CREATIVE ABILITIES
WHICH IS EQUAL TO ANYTHING PRODUCED BY TRAINED PROFESSIONALS."
– MAGGIE NICOLS
Two different weeklong Nameless Sound residencies brought Maggie Nicols to Houston, one in February 2009 and the other in April 2016. A fan of Maggie’s music, I had long wanted to bring her for a public performance. A few years prior to Maggie Nicols' first Houston visit, Nameless Sound had begun offering workshops for young people with learning disabilities and for people on the autism spectrum. Like most developments in Nameless Sound’s workshop program, it began with a need and an opportunity. Not having any experience in this area, our practice was a form of research, especially at the beginning of this initiative. In turn, this research informed the evolving practice. The initial need was one for participation and inclusion.
I was still giving after-school trombone lessons in Houston-area middle schools and high schools. One young student of mine loved music, but didn’t feel comfortable in the school band. He was on the spectrum, and didn’t feel accepted by the band director. After a casual conversation with his mother, I offered to host a music workshop for him and any other kids on the spectrum who they may know. His mother got a group together and Jason Jackson and I started feeling our way through this new initiative. It was a new world to us, and many questions immediately presented themselves:
What is the potential for sound making and improvising as an alternative to verbal communication?
What are the therapeutic possibilities of making music with people who may be particularly sensitive to sound?
What are the possibilities of therapeutically delivering sound to them? To their bodies?
What are the dangers?
The initial response to the public announcement of these offerings presented the first of many challenges to our learning curve. What does it mean to identify that people have “special needs.” The arguably dated term casts a wide net, as if the identifier “autistic” doesn’t already encompass of such widely differing conditions. The range of young people who signed up for these first classes challenged and strengthened our ideal of inclusiveness. Though we were feeling this out in the dark, we were armed with the flexibility of our improvisational practice and our openness to possibilities. I consider a handful of remarkable parents to have been our gurus in these early sessions, in addition to some key volunteers who were experts in the field.
It was all very exciting for us.
We’ve learned a lot from Maggie. The way she embodies compassion and trust in the improvisational moment is fundamental to her pedagogy and her art. In that improvisational moment, she goes into a special place where experience and focus combine with empathy and compassion. Hearing all and affirming all voices, she is fully responsive and totally musical. She is unafraid to be herself. And others are empowered by that strength and her empathetic listening to be themselves too. It is something that can’t be performed, it has to be lived.
As workshop facilitators, we can’t imitate it. But having experienced it first-hand, we can know that it is real. And that it is effective. It’s a charisma and a love. And indeed there is a serious discipline behind it. I’ve seen unbelievable things happen in the room with Maggie. Where chaos swirls and swirls and swirls. Figures of authority, teachers and counselors, think they are doing her a favor by trying to exercise their power and get people in order. Maggie tells them that there is no need for it.
Everything is OK.
She has no fear in that moment. The authorities let go. The people further become themselves. Maggie just listens.
And she sings. And she loves. And listens and sings and loves until the chaos starts to take musical form.
I’ve seen situations that seem be completely unhinged, nearly breaking apart. And with patience and trust and listening and music, they coalesce into unknown beauty. Total freedom. Total autonomy. Total social harmony. It is radical. It is musical. It is beautiful. And it is very real.
– NAMELESS SOUND FOUNDING DIRECTOR DAVID DOVE
WE WOULD LIKE TO THANK OUR FEATURED ARTIST, WORKSHOP PARTICIPANTS, AND ALL THE CONTRIBUTORS.
WITHOUT YOUR PRESENCE AND AWARENESS WE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO PRESENT AND PRESERVE YOUR STORY.
AN EXTENDED THANKS TO ALL OF YOU WHO HAVE WEATHERED THE STORM, DISCOVERED COLLABORATION, COMMUNITY,
OR SIMPLY, FOUND A SPACE OF CALM THROUGH SOUND.
MAGGIE NICOLS is an experimental vocalist, dancer, and performer.
Born in the late '40s in Scotland, Nicols quit school in her mid-teens to work as a dancer at the Windmill Theatre, and a year later, secured her first singing gig in a local strip club. In addition to some traveling as a dancer, which included several months in Paris, Nicols became a dedicated jazz fan and began singing around Britain, sometimes collaborating with bebop pianist Dennis Rose. In 1968, she joined an early improvisational group, with John Stevens, Johnny Dyani, and Trevor Watts, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, and the group performed that year at Berlin's experimental festival, First Total Music Meeting. Around this time, Nicols also began collaborating with the Scottish percussionist Ken Hyder (who had recently moved to London), and formed a vocal group called Voice (which had one self-titled release) with vocalists Brian Ely, Phil Minton, and Julie Tippett — the latter two were also in another band with Nicols at that time; Keith Tippett's enormous ensemble, Centipede. Nicols and Julie Tippett also led a release for the FMP label in the late '70s, called Sweet and S'Ours.
By the late '70s, Nicols became an active feminist and co-founded the group OVA, as well as the Feminist Improvising Group, with Lindsay Cooper. She also organized Contradictions, a women's workshop performance group that began in 1980 and dealt with improvisation and other modes of performance in a variety of mediums including music and dance. Over the years, Nicols has collaborated with other women's groups such as the Changing Women Theatre Group, and wrote music for a prime-time television series "Women in Sport." Nicols has also collaborated regularly over the years with pianist Irene Schweizer and formidable bassist Joelle Leandre, including tours and recordings (Les Diaboliques on Intakt) as a trio. In addition to this is her ongoing collaboration with Ken Hyder. The duo incorporates elements of the traditional tunes of their shared Scottish background into jazz improvisations in their most recent project, Hoots and Roots Duo (their album In the Stone was released in the '90s on Impetus Records). Other continuing projects for Nicols include a duo with pianist Pete Nu (they have 1980s albums on Leo Records including Don't Assume), a singing duo with her daughter Aura Marina, and Light and Shade, a project with lighting designer Sue Neal.
Maggie Nicols has performed internationally for several decades, including solo performances at the Moers Music Festival and a number of other creative and improvised music festivals. She has worked with many improvisers from all over the world including drummer Gunter "Baby" Sommer, British soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill, Anna Marie Roelofs (who leads the group the Waste Watchers), the Australian Relative Band (with Jim Denley), the Loverly Band, Trevor Watts' Moire Music, and Al Dente. She recently released album titled, Creative Contradiction: Poetry, Story, Song & Sound.
NAMELESS SOUND FOUNDING DIRECTOR: DAVID DOVE is a trombone player, improviser, composer and workshop facilitator. He is the Founding Director of Nameless Sound, which began in 2001 as a branch of Deep Listening Institute.
MANAGING EDITOR: VERONICA ANNE SALINAS is an artist, writer, researcher, and listener. She is currently studying Deep Listening at The Center for Deep Listening at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and has an MFA in Sound from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the 2020 ALBA sound artist-in-residence at Experimental Sound Studio (Chicago, IL), an editor at the sound-based publication, The Eaves, and creator of the urban listening project, Chicagou Land Sound. Her essay, "Sounding La Raza Cósmica" is featured in the anthology, Latina Outsiders: Remaking Latina Identity (Routledge). She has worked with Nameless Sound since 2014.
AUDIO ARCHIVIST: RYAN EDWARDS is a producer/recording engineer and improvising musician (guitar/voice/viola) based in Houston, TX. His work in recording is predominantly with classical and improvised/experimental music. Amongst many projects, he was mastering engineer for the Houston Symphony’s Grammy winning recording of Berg’s Wozzeck and many of his recordings of Nameless Sound concerts have been released commercially. He has worked with Nameless Sound since 2003.
VIDEO ARCHIVIST: DON WHITE hates writing boilerplate fluff about himself and would rather be editing video. A lifelong musical omnivore, he loves coffee, cats, Frank Zappa, and looks forward to being able to attend live performances again someday. He has worked with Nameless Sound since 2003.
NAMELESS SOUND ADMINISTRATIVE COORDINATOR: ANTHONY ALMENDÁREZ is an artist working in music composition, sound, noise, improvisation, performance, fixed media, and moving image. His work challenges the hierarchy between audio and visual stimuli confronting their respective stereotypes in relation to identity. Almendárez ultimately seeks to inject new modes of storytelling that are inclusive of histories and collective memories of those thriving along the margins of society. He received a BA in Music Education at CSU Dominguez Hills, an MA in Music Theory and Composition at Marshall University in WV, and is currently a candidate for the MFA in Sound Art at Bard College, NY. He has worked with Nameless Sound since 2018.
JUSTIN JONES is a singer living and working in Richmond, Texas. He is a former Nameless Sound Artist-Facilitator.
REBECCA NOVAK performs with a constellation of instruments and objects including cornet, glass vases, Autoharp, shortwave radio and piano. Trained as a classical musician in Chicago and later becoming a visual artist and improvisor in Houston, Novak has produced text-based and visual scores and performances that merge music with writing, acting, movement, drawing and sculpture. As an improviser, she has performed, recorded and toured in Annotation Trio with artist-percussionist Gabriel Martinez and poet-guitarist Ronnie Yates, and in the trio Garden medium with guitarist Sandy Ewen and electronic musician and vocalist, Carol Sandin Cooley. In addition to duos with percussionist Anders Zelinski and electronic musicians Steve Jansen, Rachel Hulsey, and Anisa Boukhlif.
IVETTE ROMÁN-ROBERTO is a pioneer of experimental voice performance in Puerto Rico. She was also a leading initiator of the movement of the “Performeros De Los '90s” (The Performance Artists of the '90s). Her performing career started in the mid '80s collaborating with the experimental theater group LAPD (Los Angeles Poverty Department) in California. Roman-Roberto has participated in Gatherings at the New York University Hemispheric Institute (Monterrey, MX and Lima, Peru), and has performed in art spaces like the Goya-Aragon Gallery (Zaragoza, Spain), Casa Luna (El Salvador), Container (Florence, Italy), and DiverseWorks (Houston, Texas).
JOE WOZNY is a musician and writer living in Houston, TX. He writes songs as Nancy's Son, plays in various bands that come
and go, enjoys improvising with the wonderful members of the Houston improv community, and does other fun stuff like theater and podcasting. He pays his bills wrangling data for public health research.
PHOTOGRAPHERS: Special thanks to Carol Sandin Cooley.
POSTER DESIGN: Special thanks to David Wang and Rene Cruz.
RESOUNDING VISION AWARD INVITATION DESIGN: Special thanks to Chris Lockwood.
NAMELESS: 20 YEARS OF SOUND LOGO DESIGN: Lillian Evans.