Ensemble Noamnesia, a collective formed in 1987 by local impresario of the avant-garde Gene Coleman, is as hard to pin down as the music it performs: Coleman, who doubles as conductor and bass clarinetist, is the only constant in its lineup, drawn from the city’s classical and improvised music scenes. For his second annual Sound Field festival, which runs through the end of the month, Coleman has assembled a Noamnesia roster featuring oboist Kyle Bruckmann, flutist Lisa Goethe, violinist Nell Flanders, cellist Marina Peterson, and percussionist Steve Butters, among others–rigorously trained, open-minded performers with the flexibility to handle unconventional notation and extended techniques alongside more customary displays of virtuosity. Over the years Noamnesia has introduced hundreds of pieces to Chicago; it’s especially dedicated to the work of freewheeling Europeans who’ve plugged into the energy of the avant-jazz community. The group has advocated for important younger composers still obscure in the States (Gerhard StŠbler from Germany, Karlheinz Essl from Austria, Salvatore Sciarrino from Italy), as well as paid respect to aging giants slighted by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Boulez-centric programming, like French musique concrete pioneer Luc Ferrari. This weekend’s free Noamnesia concerts honor the 54-year-old Sciarrino with a two-part retrospective of his work: program one includes three solo pieces (for flute, viola, and piano) as well as the string trio Codex purpureus and the quintet Centauro marino; program two is anchored by two performances of the 27-minute Infinito nero (“Eternal Darkness”) for female voice and eight-piece ensemble. Sciarrino’s music is austere and hypnotic, delicate and complex in texture, and often agonizingly restrained. Infinito nero employs some of his favorite extended techniques–rubbing and tapping on sound boxes, exhaling through wind instruments without playing notes–to create a hallucinatory melange of clicks, sighs, and squeals depicting the ecstatic outbursts of a late-16th-century nun; the singer alternates between dazed silence and rapid, incoherent muttering. Guest performers include mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley and pianist Amy Williams; Rei Hotoda conducts program two. Friday, October 12, 8 PM (program one), and Saturday, October 13, 8 PM (program two), Renaissance Society, Cobb Hall, University of Chicago, 5811 S. Ellis; 773-702-8670.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.