Playing It Unsafe at the Unsound Festival
Second Annual Adventure in Experimental Music (and Noise) Aims to Cultivate Innovation and Improvised Collaborations

Large or small, music festivals tend to coalesce around genres or markets. Maybe it's bluegrass or indie-rock, maybe it's teenage head-bangers or suburban professionals. There's usually a brand and a demographic.

But then there are slippery concepts, like New York's second annual Unsound Festival, which resists categorization. First produced in Krakow, Poland, where it's been staged every October since 2003, the event's amorphous sprawl might loosely be termed an adventure in experimental noise, both lyrical and corrosive, driven by a slew of international collaborations.

The 10-day, multi-venue event began Friday with, among other things, a series of "Unsound Labs," electro-acoustic summit meetings at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn—one of many venues hosting the festival, which is co-presented by the Polish Cultural Institute in New York and Goethe-Institut New York.

But as the schedule progresses, so does Unsound's scale and focus.

On Monday, one can attend a screening of F.W. Murnau's silent horror classic "Nosferatu" at BAMcinématek in Brooklyn, with a live score by the Norwegian performer Svarte Greiner, the innovator of an ambient music subgenre called "acoustic doom." Then on Wednesday, one could head uptown to hear the Polish Sinfonietta Cracovia orchestra at Alice Tully Hall as it pays tribute to Krakow novelist Stanislaw Lem's science-fiction classic "Solaris," on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. The concert features music by Steve Reich and Krzysztof Penderecki, as well as a commemorative piece by composer-performers Ben Frost (Australia) and Daniel Bjarnason (Iceland)—with video manipulations from the Andrei Tarkovsky film "Solaris" created by Brian Eno and Nick Robertson.

"The program focuses on innovative music," said Mat Schulz, an Australian who launched the Unsound Festival in Krakow, where he's lived since 1995. "Often it involves technology, but not always. This idea of 'innovation' keeps the parameters of the festival in place in curatorial terms, which allows us to make the canvas very broad."

Mr. Schulz, a published novelist, began assembling intimate concerts in Poland in 2002, encouraged by his brother, who was doing the same in Australia. "It started out as a hobby, very much a Krakow underground event," Mr. Schulz continued, "organized by myself and a bunch of enthusiasts, taking place in cellar bars and small rooms." After a few years, the Krakow city council began to lend financial support, and the festival expanded. In a short time, it has since rippled across Europe (where various satellite festivals pop up every year) and New York, where its spirit of grassroots collaboration has found a kindred embrace.

"I like people who push the envelope," said Carlos Giffoni, a Brooklyn-based sound artist who curates his own No Fun festival every year. On April 9, Mr. Giffoni will host a potentially rowdy assortment of Unsound performances called "Oceans of Noise," at the Littlefield venue in Gowanus. The theme is "abstract electronic improvised music," which might swing from the harsher sounds preferred by Mr. Giffoni to the hybrid jolt of Instant Coffee, a combo featuring M.C. Schmidt of the electronic-music duo Matmos and jazz bassist Lisle Ellis. "For this kind of music, you really want a strong sound system."

Alexis Bhagat, who will host an event Tuesday at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater with his experimental-music concept ((audience)), has a similar concern. Along with fellow curator Lauren Rosati, Mr. Bhagat presents "Cinema for the Ear," for which a Dolby 5.1 surround system is optimum. Every two years, ((audience)) compiles an evening's worth of music from composer submissions meant to evoke a movie-related theme—just without any movies being projected. The theme proposed for this unique Unsound program was "Horror: the pleasure of fear and unease." But many composers took that too literally. "We had to step away from that," said Mr. Bhagat, who decided to use pieces that were less obvious in approach, such as New York composer Bryan Jacobs piece that manipulates audio snippets of "actors in scenes of extreme turmoil."

If occasionally frustrating, the fun of such collaborations is that no one ever knows what they'll get. So when sound-artist Taylor Deupree delivers one of his rare live performances at Issue Project Room on Saturday, it will be a surprise even to him. Part of an evening of one-off duo and trio improvisations, the concert will find Mr. Deupree playing his electronic rig alongside German drummer Gunter Muller. "I don't think we've even met before," said Mr. Deupree, who lives in Westchester County.

Though a rehearsal is planned, it will offer the performers only a rough sketch of ideas. That's ideal for Mr. Deupree, who these days doesn't even bring his laptop onstage. He uses a nest of guitar pedals and looping boxes into which he might plug a lap harp. "I wanted to get some humanity back after working so cleanly for so many years," he said. "It's great not to be afraid of some dirt."
Taylor Deupree