If there’s a consistent thread running through the lineup of artists scheduled for the Big Ears Festival, it’s a spirit of adventure. There’s not much else that connects composer Philip Glass to Cincinnati sonic explorer C. Spencer Yeh, who mixes drone, noise, and electronic composition as the one-man band Burning Star Core. The lineup does reflect, though, the amorphous and uncategorizable nature of post-World War II avant-garde and experimental music, which became even more confounding with the rise of psychedelic rock in the 1960s and the collision of academic theory, performance art, and pop during the punk and post-punk periods of the 1970s and early ’80s.
Elements of musique concrete, minimalism, and free improvisation can be detected throughout the Big Ears lineup: Glass’ name is nearly synonymous with minimalism, even though he’s worked in more symphonic and lyrical forms for the last 30 years or so; the electronic collages of Baltimore duo Matmos bear the influence of musique concrete, in which musical and non-musical sounds are combined and manipulated; the processed guitars of Fennesz trace back, in some small way, to the early electronic compositions of Pauline Oliveros; Australian instrumental trio The Necks and Ned Rothenberg represent two very different approaches to improvisation; and former Swans leader Michael Gira, with his self-lacerating hymns of depression, might be regarded as an advocate of Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty. Then there’s the disco party theorist Dan Deacon, whose concerts are as much interactive performance art as music performance, and transgendered chamber-pop singer Antony Hegarty, fronting Antony and the Johnsons.