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The screaming life

The Cross-Pollenization Festival
By SUSANNA BOLLE  |  October 8, 2007

Experimental music occupies a space on the margins, at the outer limits of established genres. With little institutional support, it survives in its many incarnations — noise, avant-rock, improv, sound art, and the like — thanks to the efforts of performers, organizers, and enthusiasts who keep things humming at the envelope’s edge. This Saturday, October 13, starting at 5 pm, the Cross-Pollenization Festival at the Piano Craft Guild building in the South End throws the spotlight on Boston’s thriving experimental-music fringe. The one-day mini-festival features local veterans like pianist Stephen Drury, saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra, and trombonist Tom Plsek plus relative newcomers like trumpeter Forbes Graham, guitarist Kevin Frenette, and analog synth player Ernst Karel.

This is the second year of the festival, which is organized by percussionist Ricardo Donoso and guitarist Nathan Ahlers of the Calliope Quartet. The idea for Cross-Pollenization grew out of a series of weekly improv sessions held in the space at Piano Craft. “We had been tossing around the idea of doing larger shows for a while,” Donoso explains, “but the all-too-familiar-five-people draw was keeping us from actually doing it. In the end, though, I figured if I invited 20 musicians to play, at least they’d be present to see the other performers.

“The main purpose of that first festival was to showcase a new generation of improvisers in collaboration with older, more-experienced players, and to have an exchange of ideas between the two. The first festival consisted of musicians playing in ensembles both predetermined by myself and by randomly picking names out of a hat. It went on for nine hours, and, surprisingly enough, people showed up, and some even stayed for the entirety of the show. The positive feedback I received from both players and audience members was incredible. I realized people were interested and wanted to hear this music, so here we are . . .”

Subtitled “From a Whisper to a Scream,” this year’s festival indeed runs the gamut in terms of volume — from the Undr quartet, who are pioneers of ultra-quiet, ultra-spare “lowercase” electro-acoustic improv, to the Eisenberg/Jefferson/Dorsey trio, who feature the startling operatic screams of Noell Dorsey.

There are also plenty of wild cards. “Who knows what Stephen Drury and the Callithumpian Consort are going to do?”, Donoso asks. “But those guys blow me away every time I hear them. The Undr quartet is usually terrifyingly quiet, and I suspect their set will be one of the evening’s most talked-about performances. Dave Gross could easily go between demonic saxophone squeals and his brilliant ‘quiet’ work. Ernst Karel and Jorrit Dijkstra will probably fluctuate all over the audible spectrum. But the great thing about all these musicians is that you go in expecting to hear one thing and they give you something entirely different.” (You can find the full Cross-Pollenization line-up, with set times, at

What’s more, the shows are free, so you can come and go as you wish, but Donoso encourages you to “come prepared for a full seven hours of experimental music. There will be a short intermission about halfway through, so people can tear their eyes out, get some food, or just take a break from the music — really, it can get pretty intense.”

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