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It’s all hands on deck in experimental music fest in Somerville

Someone makes sounds with a spoon and a slinky while composer Michael Pisaro discusses his thoughts with the group of artists.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/Globe staff

SOMERVILLE — Elizabeth A. Baker, a self-described “New Renaissance Artist” from St. Petersburg, Fla., replaced her combat boots with ballet slippers and stretched on the floor of the Washington Street art center early Tuesday afternoon. “I do a lot of stuff with movement and live interactive electronics,” she explained. Baker, one of seven guest artists at an experimental music festival this week called the co-incidence residency, is the founder and director of the Florida International Toy Piano Festival. “I’ve mapped Wiimotes and hidden them in drums, because every human looks stupid waving around Wiimotes, but if you put it in a drum, all of a sudden it’s a beautiful art piece,” she said, grinning infectiously. “It’s magic.”

The world of experimental music is so wide that to define it is almost impossible. It plays with, subverts, and breaks the rules of practice and performance of music, encompassing a vast variety of sounds and experiences. This week, the center is throwing open its doors for the co-incidence residency, a festival with every event free to the public for observation and participation.


“We wanted to make this festival a model of how we find the experimental music world,” residency co-director Luke Martin, 24, said at Washington Street on Tuesday. “Oftentimes it’s friends getting together, playing each other’s pieces, donating their apartments, helping each other out. So that kind of leads into the communal aspect, and thus, of course, inviting in the actual community and having anyone who wants to participate come.”

Martin, who lives in Allston, befriended co-director Aaron Foster Bresley, 28, at the Atlantic Music Festival in 2015. “In a weird way, we’re less directors and more curators,” said Foster Bresley. “We want people to develop their own style. Whatever will come out of it is really up to them and not something that is imposed.”


The residency is hosted by Non-Event and is supported by various grants and organizations including the Somerville Arts Council.

Composer Michael Pisaro, who taught both Foster Bresley and Martin at CalArts, is the week’s invited resident artist. On Wednesday, before workshopping his piece, “Beings, Heat and Cold,” Pisaro hailed the “egalitarian, collective” spirit of the event.

Explaining his piece to a group of guest artists and community members before playing through it, Pisaro encouraged all present to listen to one another. He emphasized his lack of a concrete vision for the piece, which can be performed by any group of instruments, voices, and other sound-making materials. “You’re going to learn as much from sounds that other people make as you learn from sounds that you make,” he said. “When someone makes a sound, the silence following the sound is kind of the most critical thing.”

Baker sat on the floor with a small toy piano, colorful cords connecting to effects pedals. One man hefted a double bass. A few people sat in front of electronic setups. Foster Bresley held a keyed plastic wind instrument that his grandmother had found at the dollar store, which, when played quietly, was demonstrated to produce beautifully pure tones.

Each day, two artists workshop their pieces, and every score is available on the festival’s website to allow community members to follow along and join in. The week will culminate in an all-day concert on Sunday, “From Sunrise Until Completion,” in which each artist will present their piece. “Oftentimes, pieces are limited in scope by the length of the concert, so this is an avenue to let people write the long crazy piece that they’ve always wanted to do. An all-day concert is perfect for that,” Foster Bresley said. “We’ll be starting at 6 a.m. and going until everyone’s piece is done.” Breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be served, and attendees are encouraged to contribute dishes for the potluck-style meals.


“We approach this residency as an experimental music piece, a social piece,” said Martin. “The organization of [the festival] is a lot of bringing people together, to interact in ways in which we may or may not know what happens, and that concert is like a condensed form of that. So we don’t know when it will end. We don’t know how all the pieces will turn out as they go. We’re letting that develop as it will throughout the week.”


At Washington Street, Somerville, through Sunday. www.coincidenceresidency.com

Zoë Madonna can be reached at zoe.madonna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.