The sound of violence

Illustration by Alan Geske

Nicholas Krueger confronts the assumption that violent screech is a term for the sound made by a novice violin student playing the instrument for the first time. Classically trained at Centenary Suzuki School in Shreveport, Louisiana, he later studied violin at the University of Manitoba with Oleg Pokhanovski, and is now known by his performance moniker Violent Screech.

“I’m a violin teacher too and I do experience lots of screeching. It usually takes a student at least five years to get a good tone,” Krueger tells the Manitoban. “The learning curve is very steep – you  have to love the instrument to make it through those first couple years. Once I crossed this threshold, the instrument opens up so much, you can mimic almost any sound you want and play so many different genres.”

This project is his first foray beyond traditional approaches to his instrument. He used to play classical violin for himself, friends, and family.

Krueger spent last year honing his skills as Violent Screech at various performances in Winnipeg, including a guerilla sound and noise show and an event at premiere arts venue Zsa Zsa West.

He is set to play at Cluster: New Music and Integrated Arts Festival a week before his self-titled debut is released at the Purple Room in March. The show opens with music by Heartbeat City and will include a performance of Arvo Pärt’s composition “Fratres.” Krueger himself will be joined by vocalist Rayannah and bassist Quintin Bart.

Krueger is releasing the album independently: the songs were engineered by local musician J. Riley Hill (The Fo!ps, RasTamils, Mulligrub, and J. Riley Hill and the Magic Bears), under Hill’s new production project called Mortfell Recording.

“The whole album is about my experience with home. Half my life was in Louisiana and the other half here,” says Krueger. “I love both these places, but feel conflicted about them. Louisiana of course has a history of slavery and continues to be a hotbed of bigotry. Winnipeg has a continuing history of genocide towards indigenous people.”

“When I wrote this album, I was thinking a lot about how I live on land that is not mine and the genocide that occurred here,” says Krueger. “So it became a very political album.”

The album starts off with the song “Tree,” which describes how something that takes a long time to grow can be easily destroyed. The next song is “Forest Floor,” about what happens after the destruction. The closing songs, “Our Hands,” and “Our Breath,” move toward hope.

“The loop pedal lends itself so well to solo violin, as the violin can be bass, percussion, treble, and carry the melody,” says Krueger. “I think it’s just a result of technology that is now being used in different genres.”

He is one of the newest artists in this field, which includes Owen Pallett, Andrew Bird, and Hannah Epperson.

“Although those three artists use the same medium, they are all quite different in sound, and all doing great things,” says Krueger. “Andrew Bird is folk-pop, Owen Pallett is neo-classical, and Hannah Epperson is pop.”

“I’d say my biggest influences are Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Bach, and I would consider myself ambient-classical. Of those three, my music is most influenced and similar to Owen Pallett, especially his album He Poos Clouds, which is his most classically influenced album.”

Krueger plays on an acoustic violin from Winnipeg luthier John Weier, and an RC300 pedal. For Krueger, the pedal is a tool for live performance, and he plays about half the time with only the violin, not using the pedal or amplification. He composes without the pedal, using it afterwards to play the parts he already wrote.

“I really like how personal the loop pedal makes my shows, that every sound has my interpretation of the music,” says Krueger. “However, for the sake of sound, if I could hire a string quartet for every show, I would.”

The album release is 8 p.m. on Mar. 14, at the Purple Room at Frame Arts Warehouse (318 Ross Ave.). Contact info@violentscreech.com for tickets ($10 in advance, $12 at the door).