What is High Zero?

High Zero is the premier festival of Improvised, Experimental music on the East Coast, being fully devoted to new collaborations between the most inspired improvisors from around the world.

Lasting two weeks in total, the festival brings together 22 core musicians, but also involves a much larger subculture of musicians in Baltimore and on the East Coast. Unlike many related festivals, High Zero is not narrow in terms of sensibility or subculture, but rather widely inclusive of all the different types of experimental music-making in the moment. The fact that half of the festival's core participants are from Baltimore speaks to the depth of Baltimore's experimental music subculture, which in recent years has grown to be one of the richest cities in the country for experimental art.

The festival has a unique structure. HIGH ZERO is focused solely on new collaborations in freely improvised experimental music. Internationally famous musicians play side by side with younger "unknowns," united by their commitment to the musical imagination. Each year, Baltimore becomes a fertile meeting-ground for a large group of inspired players, drawn from a fascinating international subculture.

The festival exposes large audiences to this radical music in its pure form. Large-scale public concerts, recording sessions, workshops, and guerilla street performances are all part of the heady mix. The players are carefully selected by the festival's organizers for their intense, unique music, whether it is based around dramatic intensity, humor, specially designed instruments, original approach, raw sound, or nearly superhuman instrumental technique. The resulting collaborations challenge the limits of music and delight by their audacity, expressiveness, immediacy, and innovation. It isn't about stars or established projects; it is about the most uncompromising and stimulating new improvised music we can bring together.

To say the High Zero Festival is an unusual event is an understatement. Not only does the festival intend to provide the audience with extremely varied, inspired and ingenious experiences, it is also a major challenge for the improvisors, who are put in contexts where their stock personal musical languages may not work, pushing them into terra incognita.

This year's festival again promises to be the best yet, with new performers and unpredictable music. We hope to see you at the High Zero Festival, and hope that you will spread the word to anyone you think might be interested!

How Does The Festival Get Produced?

The High Zero Foundation was incorporated as the official organizing body of the festival and received nonprofit 501(c)3 status in July 2002. We are actively soliciting donations of support to fund the festival. We continue to make the festival a yearly event with an ever-growing visibility and documentation while maintaining the standard of non-pandering and undiluted approach of the previous years. High Zero is just one facet of this living culture--and we strongly encourage organizers of experimental music to continue to develop their own venues and platforms, and audiences to pursue live music. The Red Room performance series also continues in Baltimore, presenting an average of 50+ performances a year.


This year's festival is supported by the Creative Baltimore Fund, a grant program funded by the Mayor's Office and the City of Baltimore.

Who Are these People?

High Zero is a vivid outgrowth of a real, unbounded subculture of people producing spontaneous genre-transcending music around the globe--so called "free improvisors." There is no clearly unified philosophy here, but instead an intensity of existential investigation and expressions of imminent freedom. The festival focuses attention on EXPERIMENTATION--a widening and exploration of possibilities, and on IMPROVISATION--real-time aesthetic risk-taking, flexibility, and sensitivity, and "raw mental processes" revealed without objectification or reductionism. If you would like to taste the possibilities, try our YouTube channel.

Can I submit Something?

No, and here’s why. High Zero is entirely invitation only, and draws heavily from the pool of musicians who have played in the Red Room weekly series and from the organizer's collaborators. If you want to play in High Zero, playing at the Red Room is a good place to start, but the selection process is heavily curated by the organizers of the festival.

High Zero in The News

"Some of the most intense new music being made anywhere, on everything from oboes and one-of-a-kind instruments to the human body itself... unforgettable performances."
- The Wire, London

"The continent's finest four days of all-in improv and otherwise musical exploration"
- City Paper

"So highly singular that it corresponds to nothing that has been heard before."
- Maryland Public Television

"An utterly confounding yet utopian vision of musical possibilities..."
- The Wire, London

"The premier showcase for spontaneous sound."
- National Public Radio

"Weekend Pick"
- The New York Times, Mid-atlantic edition, September

"Could there possibly be a better place for a festival of cutting edge, improvised music than Baltimore? ...four days of wildly adventurous and completely extemporaneous music..."
- Washington Post, September

"Baltimore is becoming a crucible for serious experimental music produced outside of academia and concert halls."
- ArtPapers

"High Zero has become one of the premier festivals for experimental music in North America, pulling in fans and musicians from all over the U.S. and the rest of the world every September."
- Stylus Magazine

"The first two years (of High Zero) drew press attention from fringe-oriented music magazines such as Cadence and The Wire, but the fest also won the notice of more mainstream outlets such as The Washington Post and National Public Radio's All Things Considered. But more importantly, each festival provided several days and nights of cataclysmic, creative music, improvised on the spot by players who had often just met. From sonorous tone poems to raucous squonk fests to sounds so unusual that they seem fresh to the planet (to all three in the same set), the music of High Zero has proven a feast for any adventurous music lover."-Lee Gardner, City Paper

"No one walked away disappointed, as this year's first annual HIGH ZERO Festival of Experimental Improvised Music left the large crowds at every session enthralled."
-Steve A. Loewy, Cadence Magazine

"A striking glimpse into the avant-garde and a creative process limited only by the imagination."
-Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun