Beyond the edges of jazz, electronic and new music is a world of sound that defies easy classification. It's a genre that pushes musical boundaries, explores the unknown and challenges our perceptions of what we understand as music.
This is the rationale behind SoundOut 2014, a celebration of "free improvisational, free jazz and experimental music", which begins at Theatre 3 on January 23.
The 2014 event marks the fifth SoundOut festival, its director, Richard Johnson, says.
"We held the first festival in Canberra in 2010, when a number of international musicians were touring Australia and agreed to perform with us." The event has grown and is now "a bristling explorative sonic arts event".
"The growing popularity of the festival is evidence that Canberra has grown up enough for music as specialised as this to have a focus here," he says.
Johnson says he wants the festival to "stretch people's idea of what music is about, to approach sound as a literal thing rather than something tied to a particular instrument''.
This year's event comprises a group of artists never previously gathered together - and unlikely again - in the same configuration, he says.
Returning for the festival is the popular Jim Denley, one of Australia's foremost improvisers of new music. He'll also lead a group of musicians in a free outdoor performance on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin, near the National Museum of Australia, on January 24 at 12.30pm. This performance will be followed by a panel discussion entitled "Improvisation and environmental playing".
A number of overseas performers are taking part in the festival. V & A Duo, from the UK and US respectively, will explore the combination of voice and violin accompanied by the work of Australian experimental filmmaker Louise Curham. Netherlands-based musician Cor Fuhler will delve into the world of the ''prepared piano'', in which objects are placed on or between the piano strings to alter its sound. Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhrand French dancer Maya Repillion will explore the combinations of dance and music, while bass players Slawek Janicki (Poland) and Australian-born Clayton Thomas will investigate new soundscapes.
Some of the Australian musicians performing in the festival include the Overtone Ensemble, from Melbourne, who use vibrations from metal rods to create new sound sculptures and Ross Manning who works with invented instruments and appliances.
Canberra artists will include drummer Evan Dorrian, tenor sax player John Porter, alto sax player Rhys Butler and trumpeter Reuben Lewis.
A special festival night extension will be held at Smith's Alternative Bookshop on February 7 from 7pm, with artists including Canadian clarinettist Francois Houle and the Australian wind ensemble Psithurism Trio.
During the festival performances, musicians will have the opportunity to become impromptu composers. Creating works on the spot might seem nerve-wracking, Johnson says, but musicians "create their own conversational language that evolves over time".
In addition to organising the festival, Johnson will also perform on clarinet. Privately trained, he has pursued a part-time career in freeform improvisational jazz for some years. By day, he is a sound preservation officer at the Australian War Memorial. He says the festival now enjoys the generous support of artsACT. This year's event has also been made possible by support for individual artists from the Norwegian, Canadian and Polish governments.
"Each year, I send out emails and use social media to network with artists, all over the world, seeking expressions of interest to perform in the festival.
''Social media has made it possible for more people to engage with free improvisational and experimental music."
Audiences have been increasing over the years, he says, indicating a greater preparedness for Canberra music lovers to engage with the new and unknown.
What excites Johnson most about the festival each year is the almost inexhaustible combinations of musical collaborations that are possible.
"For the musicians, it's an international dialogue that makes possible the unfolding of new music structures. For audiences, it's a chance to come, see and hear new music unfold."
- SoundOut Festival 2014: Three nights and two days of innovative music at Theatre 3, Ellery Crescent, Acton from January 23 to 25 (bookings: 6257 1950) and February 7 at Smith’s Alternative Bookshop (6247 4459; tickets at the door). Visit soundout2014.blogspot.com.au or call 0439 045 365 for more information.