Thomas Nicholson (b. 1995) is a Canadian composer whose work investigates extended just intonation. His creative practice centres around a deep exploration of untempered frequency relationships, taking cues from acoustics, theories of perception, and sociology.
During his adolescence, he studied composition and traditional Western music theory privately with Dr. Martín Kutnowski at St. Thomas University in his hometown of Fredericton, Canada. From 2013–2017, he studied composition with Christopher Butterfield at the University of Victoria (BMus). In 2017, he relocated to Berlin, Germany to study at the Universität der Künste (MMus, 2017–2021) with Marc Sabat, whom he assisted teaching in intonation theory seminars.
Nicholson and Sabat have collaborated on several academic and artistic research projects as well as publications revolving around a mutual interest for examining various possible approaches to “Harmonic Space” that may be interesting in music composition. In 2020, they published a revision and extension of Sabat and Wolfgang von Schweinitz’s original Helmholz-Ellis JI Pitch Notation, which has already become a standard throughout Europe for notating music in just intonation.
Since 2018, Nicholson has been a member of the Berlin-based Harmonic Space Orchestra, a collective of 15 musicians who meet regularly to research their shared interest in searching for new ways to sound precisely tuned intervals (mainly produced by acoustic instruments) in an inclusive and pluralistic creative environment. He is also a member of Plainsound Music Edition, which is a curated, interdisciplinary virtual edition featuring open source, non-commercial sharing of experimental, perception-driven artistic work and research. There is a major, but not exclusive focus on the practice of microtonally extended just intonation.
In his compositions, Nicholson’s sources of inspiration stem from a broad range of fields and contexts, ranging from mathematics and physics to graphic design, music history, psychoacoustics, philosophy, and interdisciplinary artistic collaborations. Fascinated by the inherently microtonal nature of extended just intonation, his compositions since 2014 have engaged with the often-mysterious interactions between threads of counterpoint and the psychoacoustic phenomenon of harmonic fusion. He is repeatedly drawn to the intricate question of the “enharmonic,” in both historical and modern senses of the word, within the framework of extended just intonation. He often works with various miniscule, yet remarkably expressive connections between tones (points in Harmonic Space), which seem just beyond the reach of perception until contextualised by special harmonic conditions. He especially enjoys composing for smaller settings consisting of two to four musicians and is devoted to researching as well as developing tools and methods for navigating the practical challenges of realising microtonal music in various forms.