It’s easy for one’s ears to get comfortable listening to the sounds that regularly come drifting off the radio — background music, singalongs, crowd-pleasing jams that everyone with a head and heart can get on board with. This complacency can form a barrier in the head, a moat around the mind, preventing anything subversive from entering. That’s why experimental music is a joy and challenge to listeners interested in stretching their boundaries. At its best, experimental music can force us to look at a predictable form of entertainment and contort it into something new. Music is generally considered art, but that’s easy to forget if music becomes the aural equivalent of mashed potatoes. Events like the Olympia Experimental Music Festival are tools to aid the listener in approaching music from a different point of entry. Frequently difficult, always unexpected, the festival returns for its 23rd year, welcoming 24 bands to Olympia for a weekend of mind-melting and brain-expansion.
Ashley Shomo, lead organizer of this year’s Olympia Experimental Music Festival and experimental musician in her own right, spoke about how the uninitiated may approach this type of music, and about ways to explore the festival in general. “It’s a memorable experience,” she says. “The artists are communicating themselves fully and without limits. They are dedicated and diverse. They are using instruments and making sounds in ways that surprise and convey depth. Also, the artists are nice people who truly appreciate the support. So, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s worth a try! It’s also OK to wear earplugs if you like,” she adds.
Calling a band or piece of music “experimental” can mean all sorts of things, whether these bands lean on bombarding our ears with noise or whether the band is more interested in expanding consciousness. For those unafraid of exposing themselves to a panoply of sounds, it’s worth noting that this year’s festival is stacked with performers who have established themselves as local innovators. “This year was focused on Pacific Northwest,” says Shomo, “and I just tried to keep things diverse within that focus. There is a wide range of instruments coming to town, including some homemade oscillators, a harp, and a Slovakian shepherd’s flute. … I just love experimental music and everyone has a different way to go about it. It’s all exciting.”
Some of the South Sound’s finest experimental artists will perform this year, including Dead Air Fresheners, Derek M Johnson, Liquid Letters and Eric Ostrowski. These artists have established themselves as having no interest in going soft on their listeners. Audience members approaching this festival should expect something utterly strange and beguiling.
What: Olympia Experimental Music Festival
Where: various including Obsidian,
414 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia
When: Friday – Sunday, June 23-25
How much: free – $8
Learn more: 360-490-4425 | OEMF