From handmade acoustic instruments to powerful distorted electronics, from teenage phenoms to music-world veterans, KZSU's "Day of Noise" represents an eclectic range of sounds and styles. What its diverse artists have in common is a commitment to experiment live on air for the Stanford University radio station's annual 24-hour event.
"'Day of Noise' is a celebration of all strange and beautiful music," event organizer and KZSU DJ Abra Jeffers said. "Noise," in this case, broadly refers to genres including but not limited to free jazz, drone, ambient and minimalism.
The station will host live performances in half-hour and hour-long sets, all broadcast from the campus studio, located in the basement of Memorial Auditorium. This year's "Day of Noise" runs from midnight on Friday, Jan. 29, to midnight on Saturday, Jan. 30, and can be heard on 90.1 FM and at KZSU.
The event first took place in 1995 and was put together by former KZSU DJ Joseph Brenner (who goes by the DJ name Voice of Doom) but eventually went on hiatus, happening sporadically in the early 2000s. Jeffers, who hosts an experimental/ambient music show on the station, learned about "Day of Noise" and, with a team of volunteers, resurrected it as a regular event in 2012.
Founder Brenner posted a mission statement of sorts for the event on KZSU's website.
"The 'Day of Noise' event has always been about the freedom of non-commercial radio to deviate from the standardized conceptions of what the audience wants or needs. ... The listener has the feeling that at any moment, anything might happen, because anything can," he wrote.
This year's lineup will feature 36 Bay Area artists and groups -- some who have played before, such as high school freshman pianist/composer Henry Plotnick and "transcendental mini-orchestra" The Lickets. Others, such as Gretchen Jude, are participating for the first time. Jude will be a guest with the duo Oa, which has played in the past.
"I love local and community-based music events," Jude said. "I love the unusual format and venue -- if you can call radio a venue? -- and also I love noise."
Her songs range stylistically from folk and singer-songwriter to ambient soundscapes of nature sounds and background conversation to synthesized droning. To Jude, improvisation means that she tries to "respond to what I hear and feel without resorting to habit or traditional forms and without being distracted by harsh self-judgment."
She uses a variety of instruments: hand-built noise-making devices, a laptop, and a traditional Japanese instrument called a koto, for example. She's studied and performed classical Western music, jazz, Japanese music and recently earned an MFA for her studies in electronic music and improvisation.
"What I end up doing at any given moment depends a lot on the context and collaborators. In this case, since the performance situation is new to me, I haven't even decided what instrument/set-up I'm going to use. Something with electronics and voice, probably," she said.
"As long as I've lived here," Oa member Matt Davignon said, "KZSU has been a champion of supporting local weird music."
Oa's sets are improvised and feature only samples of people's voices, using bits of vocals as "musical building blocks."
He described making experimental or "weird" music as "very freeing."
"As I gradually transitioned from playing more rock-oriented genres of music, I started seeing the scope of rules associated with those genres," he said, such as the expectation of predictable rhythms patterns, chord structures and song construction. Rather than having no rules, he said, experimental artists create their own.
"Listening to the music that other people make, it feels like the systems that they use are peeks into their unique personalities, which is something I really love about the genre," he said.
"I think the event itself is important," Oa bandmate Hugh Behm-Steinberg said, "because it provides an annual snapshot of new music in the Bay Area -- year in, year out, here's what's going on -- and we're happy to be in that particular picture."
Behm-Steinberg is primarily a poet and formed Oa with Davignon after the two collaborated on a poetry/experimental music performance that utilized pre-recorded vocal snippets, tape machines, effects pedals and other equipment. For him, being an experimental/improv artist "is about exploring what you can do with gear ... while listening closely to what the people you're playing with are doing with their gear, responding in turn, but in a really fun, lively way."
Berkeley-based "electroacoustic ambient music" group The Lickets (Mitch Greer and Rachel Smith) play a variety of instruments -- some synthesized, some classical -- and have been playing together since the late 1990s. Their main instruments are flute and cello, combined with electronics.
The Lickets first played "Day of Noise" in 2012. Greer described a "mystical state of endurance" that goes along with the continuous broadcast, comparing it to traditional gamelan performances that last throughout the night, only with more variety.
"It's great to hear improv for breakfast, and then maybe something really strange and psychedelic at noon," he said.
For any potential listeners who may be intrigued but unfamiliar with the experimental music world, Jeffers said, "Tune in and try it! The range of sounds covered by the artists is huge and there is a new performance every half hour, so if you don't like what you hear at any point, just try tuning back in later."
"Even if you don't listen all day, there's something really cool about just knowing it's happening," he said, "and you can dip in and out of it for a full cycle around the sun and just know it's going on."
What: KZSU's "Day of Noise"
Where: Tune in at 90.1 FM and or kzsu.stanford.edu.
When: Jan. 29-30 (midnight to midnight)
Info: Go to KZSU