Magda Mayas, photo credit: Wojtek Cornet

This week, the Theatre Project hosts the fifteenth annual High Zero Festival, an expansion of the avant-garde Red Room that has since expanded to include various improvisational musics and free jazz.

Over the span of this week, starting on Wednesday through Sunday, High Zero will host a myriad of exceptionally talented musicians. The lineup consists of performers from all over, starting with local and vital improvisational community in Baltimore and expanding out to include international artists from Asia, Latin America, and Europe.

The musical performances will consist of impromptu collaborations that both audiences and musicians have never heard before. Such performances are difficult to understand let alone imagine, but performer and organizer Bonnie Jones took the time to clear up what High Zero is, and why anyone outside the improvisational music scene should give it a shot.

Simply put, the music that High Zero holds is awesome. With every concert impossible to replicate exactly, the lure of High Zero is appealing to those who seek something that can’t be experienced again.

“You can’t make improvised music again,” Jones said. “Every time someone plays improvised music, it only happens once. You can make all the same sounds, and you can attempt to replicate the experience of that, but it will never be able to repeat itself. It’s an unrepeated, ever evolving, process.”

Tomomi Adachi

Tomomi Adachi

The process in itself is complicated. All the performers stem from jazz, rock, and improvised musical backgrounds, creating an atmosphere that highlights a unique creative process.

“This is a festival where people do not arrive preparing to play something that they already know,” Jones explains. “They arrive prepared to play something that will unfold in front of them based on the musicians they’re playing with, the musical ideas that emerge through the collaboration, different things in the environment that actually shape the music.”

Focusing on a genre so idiosyncratic, it’s difficult to describe the improvisational and experimental music of High Zero without understanding the subjectivity of each performance. The environment that the musicians are set in shape the music in an experimental far more than fifteen years in the making.

“Improvisation goes outside of riffing alongside a motif, and you just do whatever you want. You make decisions based on what’s happening, what other musicians are doing, what your awareness of the group sound is,” Jones explains.

Aside from the nightly concerts, starting on Thursday, the musicians of High Zero will change up the variables of their improvisational experiment for a Saturday matinee and for their final performance. During Saturday’s performance, musicians will perform to 16mm films of Baltimore having never seen the films before. All artists will put their instruments down for the festival’s final performance created by organizer John Berndt, in which musicians will create a non-sonic performance.

Before getting lost in the improv-rabbit hole, what Jones wants newcomers to the improvisational genre to know is that the creatively structured freedom that High Zero showcases is for everyone.

“The music is not a music of elite people who want to exclude you, the music is the music of people who care deeply about this form or this idea or this way of making music that is related to freedom,” Jones said.

Outside of the nighttime concerts of High Zero, the festival will also present other special events that started on Monday with experimental film screenings. Wednesday will host various dance performances with both improvisational and prerecorded music. Workshops will also take place at various locations throughout the week, while the main concerts are focused on Thursday through Sunday.

With so much to offer, the question isn’t whether or not the improvisational shows are comprehensible, the question is: are you willing to challenge yourself and find out?
To find out more about High Zero and it’s specifics visit:


Misha Marks, photo credit: Alejandro Quiroz


Gino Robair, photo credit: Jane Richey

Gino Robair, photo credit: Jane Richey


Birgit Ulher


Starts Thursday, Sept 19, 2013. Get the full schedule.