The "experiment" in the inaugural Boise Experimental Music Festival in 2006 had almost as much to do with the event as it did with the kind of music showcased.
"This style of music emulates life," organizer and improvisational musician Krispen Hartung said. "It's like having a conversation."
Now in its fourth year, Hartung has made some changes to the festival to try to bring in larger audiences than in years past. It's now called the Boise Creative and Improvised Music Festival; it will include a panel discussion; several artists will exhibit and paint in mini galleries in the venues; events will take place at Neurolux and the El Korah Shrine Temple; an avant garde play in which an iPod and an analog tape recorder duke it out has been added to the mix; and from the time it starts at 3 p.m. on Friday, April 24, until it ends at midnight on Saturday, April 25, it's all free. Hartung also added a locals-only showcase with performances by himself, Tim Andreae, Gretchen Jude, Stardust and Floomdorm.
Though the previous festivals saw audience numbers that weren't dreadful, Hartung would certainly like to see more.
"Last year, we had about 150 people [during the course of the festival] show up," he said. "That's not bad. I've been to festivals in Seattle and San Francisco that had 40 or 50 people. So I'm not complaining. My vision is just much broader."
By choosing not to charge admission, Hartung believes people will be willing to take a risk, whereas a $10 ticket kept a lot of them away in previous years. And if they still don't come? Hartung won't call it quits. He'll just scale back next year with fewer musicians. The exposure to this kind of music is that important to him. And maybe if he doesn't get it out there, it doesn't get out.
"There aren't a lot of venues for this genre; you don't hear [this kind of music] on the radio; you can't dance to it; you don't see it in bars," Hartung said. Much like an actor pulling dialogue out of his hat, a comedian cutting up off the cuff, or a dancer interpreting a composition she's hearing for the first time, these creative and experimental musicians often have no idea where the music will go or what shape it will ultimately take.
Regardless of their tools—guitars, keyboards, drums, cellos, harmoniums, pianos, flutes, saxophones, theremins, Japanese string instruments, voices, strange electronic boxes, appliances—they build songs without the constraint of blueprints. They ignore time signatures and syntax, such as those found in rock or classical music. They ignore the tenets of a verse-chorus-verse form. They don't rely on hooks. The music is organically formed, the discovered rhythms and tones guiding its creators. It's minimalist, it's repetitive, it's ugly, it's beautiful, it's easy, it's difficult. This music covers the spectrum of human response, and not just those of the musicians, but of those surrounded by the unpredictable sounds, sounds that are different from musician to musician and minute to minute.
"Depending on when you go ... you could hear something radically different. You might come in and say, 'That sounds like a rock band to me.' You come back an hour later and say, 'That sounds like a jazz quartet.' Come back again and say, 'That sounds like noise,'" Hartung laughed.
Rob Wallace, a percussionist and postdoctoral fellow at Guelph University in Ontario, Canada, will perform with saxophonist Colter Frazier on Friday night playing drumset as well as shakers, bells and more.
"[I'll play] percussion instruments not usually thought of as instruments: pieces of wood, paper, toy saxophones, the floor, my head, etc!," he wrote in an e-mail to BW.
On Saturday, Wallace will host a panel discussion in which he'll explain how improvisational music relates to a larger purpose and the work he's doing in a Canadian program called "Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice."
"Improvisation in the United States was and is particularly important for oppressed peoples who had few other options for cultural expression," Wallace wrote. "The practices of improvised music—starting with styles like early jazz and blues—have traditionally been a way in which African Americans could give expression to ideas and philosophies that they were denied in the political and legal arenas.
"Many improvisers indicate that what they do in music is just an artistic version of how they survive; they improvise," he wrote, adding that the ICASP project is one of the only university-based projects to formally study the ways in which understanding improvised musical practices can potentially inform an understanding of larger sociocultural interaction.
Possibly understanding the implications improvised music can have can help further an understanding of the music itself. Hartung is certain that audiences will learn something new.
"For somebody who has never heard this music, it's like seeing a new color for the first time. You can imagine a new color of blue, but we're not talking about blue. We're talking about a whole new color."
Friday, April 24, 3-7 p.m., FREE, Neurolux, 111 N. 11th St.; Saturday, April 25, 12:30 p.m.-midnight, FREE, El Korah Shrine, 1118 W. Idaho St. For more information, visit www.b-cimf.com.