The Prince Edward Island-based Atlantic String Machine features two violinist, a viola player, a cello player and a bass player. (Facebook - The Atlantic String Machine photo by Monica Lacey)

Atlantic String Machine brings unique East Coast sound to Quesnel Feb. 6

The five-piece ensemble has won several awards and collaborated with many well-known artists

When you think of a string ensemble, you may think first of classical music. With a repertoire that moves from classical to jazz, to pop and even to heavy metal in one concert, Atlantic String Machine is giving audiences even more to think about.

Atlantic String Machine (ASM) is described as “a dynamic ensemble of string players who perform as many styles of music as they can fit into their portfolios.”

Based on Prince Edward Island, the five-piece ensemble has established itself at the forefront of new and exciting arts groups throughout the region, according to ASM’s website.

“Their unique approach comes from a desire to keep live music relevant, transformative and, above all, entertaining,” states their biography. “In their efforts to keep themselves and their audiences engaged, they seek out interesting collaborations with other artists, unexpected venues for concerts and write their own arrangements and compositions, keeping their repertoire fresh and alive.”

ASM features Sean Kemp on violin, Karen Graves on violin, Jeffrey Bazett-Jones on viola, Natalie Williams Calhoun on cello and Adam Hill on bass.

Williams Calhoun is one of the original ensemble members.

“We all kind of found ourselves on P.E.I. and had connections to each other,” she said. “I met the original bass player, and he knew our original violinist, so the three of us got together, and then I knew our second violinist, and the other two guys knew our viola player, so they kind of brought him, and I brought the second violinist, and we all met one April. [It was] just a weird happenstance of arriving in a small community and getting connected and figuring out we had something good.”

One of the most noticeable things that sets ASM apart is that they are a quintet.

“When you look at string groups, you mostly see string quartets, and we’re a string quintet, which means we have the bass as well,” said Williams Calhoun. “We really enjoy that extra depth to the group. Especially as the cellist, it’s really nice not to be always stuck with playing the bass lines — I can give the bass lines to somebody else, and that gives me a little bit more freedom.”

As well, ASM writes its own arrangements.

“We tend to kind of come to the group and say ‘I really want to do an arrangement of…’ — I came to the group one day and said I wanted to do an arrangement of ‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica, so we find ourselves doing just a really, really eclectic and wide variety of repertoire,” said Williams Calhoun. “I don’t think there is anyone else necessarily who does what we do in that kind of a formation. So we’re certainly not a classical ensemble completely — we dive in and out of a lot of things.”

“I don’t want to say we have short attention spans,” she added with a laugh, “but we can have lots of interesting things for us, and then our audiences, I always say at our concerts when we’re talking about things that our concerts are kind of like sonic whiplash — you start off in one area, and then you get dragged somewhere else. It’s also like the weather on P.E.I. where if you wait five minutes, it changes to something completely different.”

Since forming in 2015, the group has earned multiple awards from Music PEI (Achievement in Classical or Jazz in 2016, 2017 and 2019), and their debut album, Lost Time, received two East Coast Music Award nominations (Best Classical Recording and Best Classical Composition in 2017). The band has also been featured at festivals across the country.

Over the past few years, ASM has performed with artists such as Sarah Slean, Duane Andrews, Paper Lions, The Once, James Keelaghan, Meghan Blanchard, Rachel Beck, and Adrienne Gallant. They have also appeared on recordings by Lennie Gallant, Irish Mythen, and Dave Gunning.

Their newest album, The Bayfield Sessions, builds on that spirit of collaboration by featuring guest performances of original songs by Ian Sherwood from Nova Scotia, Catherine MacLellan from P.E.I., Nathan Wiley from P.E.I., Matthew Byrne from Newfoundland and Alicia Toner, who is from New Brunswick but now living on Prince Edward Island.

In May 2019, members of the Atlantic String Machine set up their own recording studio in the basement of the Bazett-Jones was renting. That first week of May also happened to be East Coast Music Week in Charlottetown, and the ensemble invited Sherwood, MacLellan, Wiley, Byrne and Toner to record with them. The singers brought a song with them, and ASM arranged the song for strings, then they recorded them all together live-off-the-floor late at night.

“It was a really fun thing to do,” said Williams Calhoun. “We just kind of challenged ourselves to record it ourselves because we wanted to get an album done, and we didn’t really have the money to go into a studio and do it that way. It was a bit of a D.I.Y. project, but it turned out really well.”

Williams Calhoun is originally from Vancouver Island and has lived on P.E.I. since 2009.

“We love it,” she said. “Especially, I really think that the group, had we formed this group somewhere else like Toronto or Vancouver, it wouldn’t have taken off as well as it did on P.E.I. because P.E.I. has such a small musical community and such a supportive musical community. They really are. We’ve been embraced by everybody, and it’s really helped us get ourselves going, so we have such close ties to P.E.I.”

Atlantic String Machine brings its unique sound to Quesnel Thursday, Feb. 6 as part of the Quesnel Live Arts concert series. The concert beings at 7:30 p.m. at the Chuck Mobley Theatre at Correlieu Secondary School, and tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for seniors and students. Tickets are available at Green Tree Health and Wellness, K-Max, Save On Foods, The Occidental and at the door.

To learn more about Atlantic String Machine, visit

For more information about Quesnel Live Arts, visit

READ MORE: Tickets go on sale for 2019-20 Quesnel Live Arts season Sept. 7

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Live music

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here


The Atlantic String Machine released its second album, The Bayfield Sessions, was released in 2019 and features collaborations with many well-known singer-songwriters from the Maritimes. (Facebook - The Atlantic String Machine photo)

Just Posted

Quesnel Waveriders win 77 medals at home meet

Twenty Quesnel swimmers won medals during the Feb. 8-9 event

Forestry Hockey League: BCS reclaims top spot

BCS rolls over Bear 5-1, while Serenity snaps losing streak with a 4-3 win over Fraser River

Letter to the editor: Quesnel Good Cheer program helped 638 families in 2019

Volunteers thank the community and vow to keep looking for a solution to keep Good Cheer going

Forestry Ink: Using salts to capture and store solar thermal energy?

Regular columnist Jim Hilton shares more information about solar energy

Community contributions recognized during Quesnel Gallery of Honour presentation

The Quesnel & District Community Arts Council recognized Bert deVink, Jack Nelson and Destinee Boyd

VIDEO: Ottawa wants quick, peaceful resolution to pipeline protests, Trudeau says

The protests have manifested themselves as blockades on different rail lines across the country

Canucks acquire forward Tyler Toffoli from Kings in push for playoffs

Vancouver sends Schaller, Madden, pick to L.A.

New highway proposed between Alberta and B.C.

The route would connect Red Deer to Kamloops

Wet’suwet’en and B.C. government have been talking Aboriginal title for a year

Coastal GasLink says it has agreements with all 20 elected First Nations councils along the 670-kilometre route

Trudeau tightlipped on plan to end protests ‘quickly and peacefully’

The prime minister, who cancelled a two-day trip to Barbados this week to deal with the crisis at home

B.C. budget expected to stay the course as economic growth moderates

Finance minister said ICBC costs have affected budget

Canadian standards for coronavirus protection to be reviewed, health agency says

The protocols set out how health workers should protect themselves and their patients

Monday marks one-year anniversary of man missing from Langley

42-year-old B.C. man, Searl Smith, was last seen leaving Langley Memorial Hospital on Feb. 17, 2019

BC Ferries sailings filling up Family Day Monday

More than 20 sailings added between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen for long weekend

Most Read