Editor’s note: Given the rapid spread of the coronavirus omicron variant, please heed local health authorities’ safety recommendations as they’re updated, and check event website for coronavirus requirements and the latest information.

Experimental music. Contemporary classical and post-classical. Free improvisation. Electroacoustic. Sound installation. Avant-garde … There’s a bewildering babel of labels used to try to classify artists who are defiantly unclassifiable.

Seattle has long been a hub for such activity, which is also known by the ambiguous umbrella term “new music.” Since 2007, the nonprofit organization Nonsequitur has provided an affordable platform, for performers and audiences alike, where this creative work can be experienced: the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.

On Jan. 29, Nonsequitur introduces its latest adventure, SOUNDbox. Inspired by a rethink of the organization’s mission when the Chapel was shut down during the pandemic, SOUNDbox will be a monthly series curated by local artists representing the vital variety of this new-music scene.

“The curatorial piece — deciding who gets the gigs — is where the real power is,” says Steve Peters, Nonsequitur’s director and co-founder. With input from the guitarist, improviser and composer Carlos Snaider, Peters devised a new model to ensure sharing of that power.

SOUNDbox involves a team of four Seattle-based curators, each of them entrusted with creating three programs at the Chapel throughout the year: along with Snaider, they include polymath/writer Omar Willey, pianist Marina Albero and flutist Leanna Keith. Each curator in turn, working within a budget, has carte blanche to invite artists of their choosing, whether local or from outside Seattle.


“We want SOUNDbox to have a festival feeling to it, to become an event that is connected to the community,” says Heather Bentley, a classically trained violist who is a beacon in the experimental-improvisatory milieu. She envisions the audience for SOUNDbox to be “people who are interested in art as a social and cultural driver, who go to plays and visual art shows and want to check out another dynamic happening that is going on.”

Bentley mentions the upcoming show on Feb. 11 curated by Albero, which will feature Cornish graduate Tristan Gianola’s “Millennial Sunset” for amplified string quartet, electric guitar, electronics and narrator. “The piece is about his response to climate change and what the concept of ‘the future’ is for a person of his generation.”

Recently named to Nonsequitur’s four-member board, Bentley refers to the Chapel as “an absolute treasure of an acoustic space.” She hopes that the varied curators’ close followers will grow attached to the series with the kind of enthusiasm shown by members of book clubs and curated playlists.

What were the main criteria for selecting the four curators for this inaugural season? “The most important one was to choose people who are driving forces in our artistic community,” according to Bentley. Another factor was “to get away from exclusively male-dominated curation” and bring in a diversity of voices more representative of the community.

Bentley herself will take part in the first event, a special Curators Concert on Saturday, Jan. 29, which offers a chance to see all four in performance. The concert will be structured as subsets of solo improvisations and various formations of the artists bookended by sessions featuring the entire group.

Willey, for example, a virtuoso of the spoken word, will perform in a trio with Snaider and Keith and some of the other ensembles, with his poetry linking the acts together. Bentley describes this format as “a wonderful and unexpected place where musical magic emerges. I think it’s going to be an amazing confluence of energies.”


“We decided that we need more options for experimental music, not fewer,” says Willey. A deeply thoughtful critic, filmmaker and photographer as well, he began publishing The Seattle Star, an online journal of politics and culture, 10 years ago.

Willey was in fact originally scheduled to kick off SOUNDbox with the first of his curated events earlier in January, which had to be deferred due to the coronavirus omicron variant. For his March 18 slot, he has chosen the Vancouver, B.C.-based electronic harpist Elisa Thorn.

“I’m a big fan of collaboration and the Creative Commons in general,” he says, “which grants a license to the public to share or build on one’s creative work as long as the original creator is credited and the user follows the terms of the license. My plan is to invite cutting-edge artists who have specifically made their music to be shared and distributed freely.”

“The hope is that SOUNDbox will get people to reconsider that maybe there’s a little more interplay to be had not just between genres but also between the artists and the idioms that are available to them, so that we don’t work ourselves into a corner.”

SOUNDbox Curators Concert

8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29, Chapel Performance Space, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N., Seattle; tickets available at the door on sliding scale $5-$20; masks required, along with proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test (check for updates); nseq.org.