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Charles Nichols

Charles Nichols, Associate Professor - Composition, Creative Technologies

Charles Nichols
Charles Nichols, Associate Professor - Composition, Creative Technologies. Photo credit: Jeff Heveron

School of Performing Arts
242-N Squires (0138)
290 College Avenue
Blacksburg, VA 24061
 540-231-5335 |

Composer, violinist, and computer music researcher Charles Nichols explores the expressive potential of instrumental ensembles, computer music systems, and combinations of the two, for the concert stage, and collaborations with dance, video, and installation art. His research includes spatial audio, data sonification, motion capture for musical performance, telematic performance, and haptic musical instrument design.

He has worked with ensembles including the Beo String Quartet, Earplay, FLUX Quartet, Hypercube, Klang String Quartet, loadbang, PEN Trio, Sapphire Trio, Third Angle Ensemble, and Transient Canvas, and soloists including Brett Deubner, Susan Fancher, William Lang, Darragh Morgan, Sarah Plum, Kathleen Supové, and Steve Vacchi.  He has collaborated with choreographers including Jane Comfort, Scotty Hardwig, and Amy Ragsdale, and artists including Paola Zellner Bassett, Meaghan Dee, Marie Yoho Dorsey, Zach Duer, and Joan Grossman.

Nichols has received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Science Foundation, New Music USA, and PROP Foundation, and awards from the Institut International de Musique Electroacoustique de Bourges, Fundación Destellos, American Prize in Composition, National Academy of Music, Iowa Composers Forum, Montana Arts Council, Peoria Civic Federation, ABLAZE Records, and Phi Beta Kappa.

His recent premieres include Flutter, Pulse, and Flight, three movements for amplified flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and computer, that he performed on computer with Earplay, in the Meyer Constellation sound system at the Taube Atrium Theater in San Francisco, CA; Bluestone, for alto saxophone, electric guitar, piano, and drum set, performed by Hypercube, at the Charlotte New Music Festival in Charlotte, NC; Meadows of Dan, a structured improvisation for amplified trombone and computer, that he performed on computer with William Lang, in the 134.2 channel immersive spatial audio system of the Cube at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA; and Beyond the Dark, ambient synthesized sound and sonified space weather data accompanying kinetic installation art and 3D lighting, that he presented with architect Paola Zellner Bassett, at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.  In the band Modality, he plays electric and MIDI violin, bass guitar, and computer.

NIchols teaches Composition and Creative Technologies at Virginia Tech, is a Faculty Fellow of the Institute for Creativity Arts and Technology, and previously taught at the University of Montana.  He was a Technical Director at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) at Stanford and a Research Associate at the Center for Studies in Music Technology at Yale.  He has composed as a resident at the Ucross and Brush Creek artist retreats, conducted research as a visiting scholar at the Sonic Arts Research Centre at Queen's University Belfast, and taught computer music workshops at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, Banff Centre, CCRMA, and the Charlotte New Music Festival.  He has earned degrees from the Eastman School of Music, Yale University, and Stanford University, where he studied composition with Samuel Adler, Martin Bresnick, Jacob Druckman, and Jonathan Harvey, computer music with Jonathan Berger, Chris Chafe, Max Mathews, and Jean-Claude Risset, and performance with Charles Castleman and the Cleveland Quartet.

  • Composition, Creative Technologies
  • PhD, Stanford University
  • MM, Yale University School of Music
  • BM, Eastman School of Music

What is the most satisfying or rewarding moment of your artistic process?

As a composer, the most satisfying moment of my artistic process is when the music starts to assert itself, leading the organization of the piece.

What gives you the most satisfaction as a teacher?

That moment during a lecture, when a student lights up with understanding, gives me the most satisfaction as a teacher.

What is the most important quality for any student in the performing arts to cultivate?

Persistence or perseverance is the most important quality for any artist, especially for students and young artists.