“These are all free improvisations,” added violinist Claudius Agrippa.
Rehearsal continued as the band hammered out their setlist for that night’s show, which would take place at a hobby room in Allston.
“I think we should designate conductors for sections of the piece,” Agrippa said after playing a piece. “When you’re that person, just let the group know how you feel.”
The members of the Nebulous Quartet are all classically trained musicians who met at Berklee College of Music. On the violin, Fabienne Jean, 25, from Dorchester, and Agrippa, 22, from Brooklyn, who also sings. Noah Leong, 23, from Detroit, plays the viola. Pinheiro, 24, the cellist, is from Rio de Janeiro.
The group began as a directed study in early 2020, Agrippa said, under the guidance of a Grammy-winning cellist and professor at Berklee. Eugene Friesen.
“Eugene played with us,” Agrippa said. “Eugene was an active member and actor, at least for rehearsals, just to develop our sound throughout our creation.”
The group rehearsed once a week without prepared material, just improvising for two hours.
“Eugene would always start something, a great idea, and we would play on it,” Leong said. “What ended up emerging wasn’t something super jazz or super classical, it was a conglomeration of everything we listened to.”
They had to go on hiatus once COVID hit but reformed in 2021, with Pinheiro taking the place of cellist Freddy Renaud, who was moving to San Francisco. The band began looking for gigs and recording opportunities.
“We are the Nebulous Ensemble,” Agrippa told the crowd at the Allston venue. He was wearing the same Ray Bans and the same gold shirt he had worn to rehearsal. “We’re a string quartet making music you’ve probably never heard before.”
Much of Nebulous’ sound comes from experimenting with electronics, a key interest of Leong, who specializes in electronic production and design at Berklee. They run their instruments and mics through Ableton music production software to add a myriad of possible effects, and some members keep a pedal board at their feet for easy access. They also have a Novation Launchpad, a MIDI controller that connects to their Ableton effects.
“We put this in front of the audience and have someone come up in the audience every minute or so and, not knowing what’s doing anything, spend 30 seconds playing with the contours of the sound,” Agrippa said. “We will have an interactive concert.”
“Portuguese song,” someone in the audience shouted, referring to the songwriting of Pinheiro, who started creating tracks during COVID.
“I’ve always been afraid to start something out of nowhere,” Pinheiro said, “but then I started writing these lyrics as a way to practice whatever I was feeling during those dark months.”
In addition to performing live, which may just mean rehearsing in a park, the Nebulous Quartet tries to record as much as possible, Agrippa said.
“Our first collaboration, the release of our first album, was with this artist Mei Semones“, Agrippa said. “The album is truly indicative of the sound of Nebulous and the greatness that can be achieved just by instinct and natural expression.”
Semones, who just graduated from Berklee, said the members of Nebulous played with his band regularly before entering the studio to record his May EP “Sukikirai.”
“I would describe them all as very melodic, very expressive,” Semones said. “I don’t know of any other bands here that do anything like what they do.”
The quartet have a busy summer ahead, with plans to hold a series of free concerts and record their debut album. The first is a free show Saturday from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the Institute of Contemporary Art. They will also perform at the Mission Hill Arts Festival on July 23 (tickets are available at eventbrite.com).
The group just received a $10,000 grant from the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture Opportunity Fundplus $5,000 from the same program Agrippa received as an individual.
“The majority of the money will go to organizing free concerts in Roxbury and East Boston, neighborhoods where the quartet members live and grew up,” Agrippa said.
Agrippa added that Nebulous is working with the city to set up free summer workshops at Boston schools.
“Hope is to inspire, more than anything,” Agrippa said. “As a young string player, I immersed myself in what I thought was possible, and hearing people do really cool stuff that’s modern and maybe songs that I would recognize, I feel like that would be important.”
The quartet performed four songs at this DIY venue to a packed crowd of college-aged listeners who clapped after each track.
“We are all strong on our own and creative on our own,” Jean said. “I can think of this creative line, and Noah would flip it, and then add to it, but then two other people do the same process, and then the end is what our music is.”
Sam Trottenberg can be contacted at [email protected]