Ensemble in focus – Northern Contemporary Collective

This is the third in a series of blogs where I introduce OCA composers (or, indeed, anybody else who might be interested) to UK-based ensembles, particularly those that are new, exciting, and focus on performing recently composed music.

The Northern Contemporary Collective (or NCC for short) was set up in 2017 by young, Yorkshire-based professionals. Although music is a central part of what they do, they also include artists and dancers as part of the collective, and they specialise in collaborative performance.

Despite having only existed for a short period of time, they have made a pretty significant impact on the new music scene in the north of England. The first time I saw them play live was at the Sounds Like This Festival in 2018, and they were excellent; they performed a wonderfully atmospheric piece by Pauline Oliveros (whose music you should investigate if you do not know who she is!)

What is so exciting about the NCC, though, is their flexibility and commitment to trying anything, programming works across a wide range of contemporary genres, working with artists of varying disciplines. They don’t appear to care whether they fit neatly into a stylistic ‘box’, and they take an admirably explorative approach to everything they do:

The ensemble itself is large and varied, featuring orchestral instruments (flute, violin etc.), instruments associated with popular genres (saxophone, bass guitar etc.), and electronics. Perhaps the most unusual instrument, however, is the bass oboe, which possesses a wonderfully melancholy sound:

In addition to playing conventionally-notated music, NCC is particularly adept at interpreting graphic scores (a topic I covered in a previous blog ), employing a wide array of extended techniques to create evocative timbres:

The interpretation of Waves is, in my opinion, the most successful of NCC’s SoundCloud output. The title might suggest something natural; either tranquil or thunderous. However, perhaps owing to the electronics and white noise, this performance has a sinister, alien-like quality to it that I find very attractive.

NCC recently ran a successful call for graphic scores, and will be releasing some intriguing recordings and videos in the near future.


Also published on Medium.

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