The individuals performing in High Zero are drawn from among the most interesting experimental musicians we can find, with an attempt made to create a balance between Baltimore, North America, and Europe. Musicians are selected for the depth of their imagination, their abilities in free improvisation, and their commitment to collaboration.

Musicians in High Zero 2002:


Jim Baker - (Chicago) - analog synthesizer, piano

One of the most potent of the Chicago experimental and free jazz scene, keyboardist Jim Baker's sound is uniquely and identifiably his own whether through the rigid chromaticisms of the piano or the incredibly plastic timbral transformations of his synthesizer assaults. A frequent collaborator of Carol Genetti, Michael Zerang, and Ken Vandermark in Chicago, Baker was unfortunately unable to attend High Zero 2001 because of the 9-11 air blockade last year. We are extremely glad to have him this time around.



Michael Barker (Baltimore) - bass, theremin, laptop

An affable and dedicated performer in many improvised concerts and the composer of his own electronic music. He plays in various improvised ensembles, few of which last more than the time performing, playing fleeting and aggravated music that empathizes with the tortured and the fragmented. Recently he has consistently performed with the PIMA group who integrate improvised music, dance, and video. Theremin and laptop experiments. Doubling as a video maker and visual artist, he says that he hopes you are well. [MP3 Sound]



Vattel Cherry (Baltimore) - bass, miscellaneous instruments

At the heart of the free jazz revival of Baltimore beats Vattel Cherry, passionate and disciplined bassist. Awhirlwind of improvisational integrity, he is the founder of the new Harmonic Baltimore Festival which began this year at Morgan State University, and has a personal list of collaborations and recordings with an all-star list of jazz musicians (including Charles Gayle, Jackie Blake, Paul Murphy, Joel Flutterman, Brother Ah, and many many others). Cherry's music - which is integral with his religious faith - expresses a passionate conviction of jazz as an experimental medium for experiences of the sacred, as well as for emotional and political transformation. His music has an openness and intensity which is extremely unusual, to say the least. [MP3 Sound]



Mike Cooper (Rome) - steel guitar and electronics

Starting in the mid sixties as a solo country blues singer and slide guitar player, music legend Mike Cooper was one of the handful of acoustic players who pioneered the British Blues Boom. Playing with and alongside such blues legends as Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White, Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker and Jimmy Reed, his 1969 LP Oh Really!? is widely acclaimed as one of the best acoustic blues albums of the period.

"...a quantum leap into Folk - Jazz..." (Folk Roots)

In the early 1970s he recorded five solo albums which chronicle - through his own songwriting - a fascinating shift from pure blues on through to free jazz. Collaborating with jazz, improvising and avant-garde musicians (in particular South Africans Dudu Pakwana, Harry Miller, Louis Maholo and Mongezi Feza, Zimbabwean composer and arranger Mike Gibbs and British saxophonist Mike Osborne) he produced some of the first, and finest, rogue folk. By the late 1970s he had begun to develop a parallel career and establish himself on the free-improvised music scene, working with members of the London Musicians Collective such as Keith Rowe, Max Eastely, Steve Beresford, Paul Burwell, Eddy Prevost, David Toop and dancer Joanna Pyne. In 1983, with sax player Lol Coxhill and drummer Roger Turner they formed The Recedents, now in its third decade of innovative electro-acoustic free improvising: "...a dadaesque event of profound silliness and sublime wonder; breathtaking, mischievous and magical, taking eccentricity to the heights of zen bliss.." (Coda Magazine). His attempt to attend last year's High Zero festival was cut short by the air blockade.



Eric Letourneau AKA Benjamin Muon (Quebec, Canada) - voice, hyperinstruments, computers, low-fi technologies, and balinese flute

«Dear all,
I teach Wednesday 25 afternoon at the College. I can leave Montreal Wednesday 25 at 8PM or anytime later. I would come back to Montreal Monday September 30 or Tuesday October first AM. My passport name's is Andre Eric Letourneau, born Oct 25 1967. Passport number is VF716306. I am canadian. I am a intermedia artist. For my work, I travelled through China, Indonesia, Europe and North America for the last 15 years. My pseudonym is Benjamin Muon.» - Eric Letourneau. [mp3]



Julia Hammid (Baltimore) - voice, miscellaneous small instruments

Julia Hammid has been immersed in listening, sound-making and movement from her earliest years. She has finally given up trying to distinguish between these arenas. Her childhood summers were spent tuning her ear to nature. She ventured onto the improvisation scene in the 70s, working with Charlie Morrow and his Ocarina Orchestra as well as Kirk Nurock and his Natural Sound Workshop, both in NYC. More recently, she studied Voice Movement Training with Paul Newham and deep listening with Pauline Oliveros. Since moving to Baltimore two years ago, she has been a regular at the Red Room's monthly Crap Shoot. She has stubbornly resisted being called a musician but takes advantage of every chance to play. She was a performer in the Artscape 2002 Soundshift installation and is a member of the group Falling Tone Rising with John Berndt, Kristen Toedtman, Dan Breen, and Calvin Tullos.



Tom Boram (Baltimore) - guitar, sitar, synthesizer

Stochaistic composer Tom Boram studied twelve-tone and computational methods of high complexity with Nori Applebaum and Vincent Charles Peale at IRCAM in Paris in the early 80's before moving on to create his own completely deterministic form of composition which analogizes musical forms to receding sheaves and other structural devices of Topose Theory. As a young man, Boram was highly affected by reading Rene Thom on Catastrophe Theory and so decided to dedicate himself for life to a restrained form of dandyism which he considered to be both a reaction against Europe AND The United States--a commitment to a nearly static 18th century world outlook. He lives and works in Baltimore with his three cats and a large collection of original hand-carved puppets.



Thomas Lehn (Germany) - analog synthesizer

Considered by many of those in the festival to be one of the best improvising synthesists of all time, Thomas Lehn's fantastic music blends elements of lyricism, twentieth-century fragmentation and technological possibilities of sound transformation into something new. Also a crack modern-classical pianist, Lehn's technical abilities border on science fiction. Based in Berlin, he is an ardent free improvisor and has toured the United States repeatedly, including many amazing concerts with drummer Gerry Hemmingway, and his trio, KONK PACK. [MP3 Sound]



Kristen Toedtman (Baltimore) - violin, piano, voice

An inspired recent addition to Baltimore's free improvising community has come in the form of classical multi-instrumentalist Kristen Toedtman. A professional singer with strong conventional training in piano, violin, and saxophone, Toedtman has an unimpaired sense of curiosity which propels her passionately into a wide variety of musics, ranging from the avant-garde of improvisation to classical recitals and highly developed interpretations of cabaret music, all of which she attacks with imagination and amazing ears.



Helena Espvall-Santoleri (Philadelphia) - cello, banjo, electronics

Amazing, passionate cellist transplant from Stockholm, Sweden, Helena Espvall-Santoleri now lives in Philadelphia and frequently contributes her stinging harmonies to Baltimore concerts. She has a remarkable musicality and is in many ways the hier to the music of Tom Cora, with whom she shared a similar firey approach and similar lyricism. Helena is also notable for being an extremely 'conductive' improvisor, holding together large groups with her carefully chosen gestures--a kind of intuitive musical bridge-building.



Ben Manley (NYC) - electro-acoustics (feedback, speakers)

Manley's highly experimental work is focused on making subtle
psycho-acoustic and mechanical phenomena present and audible through
ingenious means - revealing surreal micro-worlds of fascinating sound from
unexpected objects like floors, lightbulb filaments, walkie-talkies, and
fans. His improvisations are often slow-moving, using electronic and
mechanical means to draw out unusual elements of the performance space acoustics. He is a consistent collaborator with the amazingly restrained NYC percussionist Sean Meehan and is the creator of a variety of sound and light installations.



Katt Hernandez (Boston) - violin

The delirious, drunken curves of Katt Hernandez's microtonal fiddle playing were one of the best surprises of High Zero 2001. A student of Joe Maneri and one of the most inspired of the new generation of Boston improvisors, she has a highly lyrical sound and the ability to pour out what seems like an endless stream of original musical ideas. Some of these are captured on two CDs released on the Recorded label from High Zero 2001. She has been in the Boston area for the last five years, and has played throughout the east coast, where she has worked with a great number of musicians and dancers - known and not - amongst some and not others. . . including Jonathan Vincent, Joe Maneri, Zack Fuller, Allisa Cardone, Jeff Arnal, James Coleman, and Dan DeChellis. She has also played music of the late Ottoman Empire with the Eurasia Ensemble. In the last year she has been particularly involved with the Zeitgeist Gallery in Cambridge, in playing, programming, protesting, and mayhem in general.



Peter Zummo (NYC) - trombone, voice, didjeridu, plastics

Peter Zummo is, in order: musician, trombonist, composer, band leader, producer, organizer and engineer. He has performed his works for solo trombone and ensemble worldwide. His work emerges from the contemporary classical tradition with a strong element of individuality and iconoclasm. Zummo explores this tradition in combination with or in juxtaposition to the so-called minimal, downtown, jazz, world music, ambient, avant-garde, folk and rock styles. He has pioneered new approaches to, and uses for extended instrumental technique on the trombone and also uses the valve trombone, didjeridu, euphonium, computers, synthesizers and other electronics in his music. His playing is characterized by a multitude of voices, many the result of non-standard muting, but many more as aspects of open playing, also with voice and lip multiphonics, and singing as well--producing some of the most engaging "new music" to come out of New York in the last twenty years. Plastics, both as mutes and horns, play a role. Zummo's compositions are built on melodic and rhythmic fragments, which are presented as lists to like-minded musicians who then pursue ensemble at the boundaries of common and extended practice.



Eugene Chadbourne (North Carolina) - guitar, Dobro, inventions, etc.

One of the most crucial figures in the American musical avant-garde, Eugene Chadbourne may never get the rewards his virtuosity, musical breadth, and exuberant spirit deserve. The reason is that Chadbourne is a true iconoclast whose eclecticism does not end with "the latest" thing but simply and unpretentiously traverses all the music he loves--a lot of music that usually can't be seen together in public. So it is that the same man who inspired John Zorn and released crucial documents of 80's free improvisation on his Parachute label (check out Polly Bradfield solo violin, for a shock) is also able to disrupt an avant-garde concert by breaking into Willie Nelson or The Byrds. Lest he become a victim of his own thickly coated schtick, it should be noted that Chadbourne has many more subtle sides than even his most ardent fans usually know about, and all his work yields a tremendous amount of secrets to careful listeners. Satie recast for Banjo, anyone? Ask Dr. Chadbourne.



John Dierker (Baltimore) - reeds

Baltimore's "Most Valuable Player," John Dierker's ongoing inspiration covers a huge range of music, from rock-and-roll and surf music to arcane forms of jazz and free improvisation. Unpretentious and extremely passionate, the evocatively high integrity screech and warble of Dierker's horn can be heard most nights of the week at venues throughout the city with groups like The Swinging Swamis, New Volcanoes, Il Culo, and The Can Openers. He has a highly distinctive sound and is increasingly known outside of Baltimore in free jazz circles and through collaborations with musicians like Jeff Arnal, Sean Meehan, and Lafayette Gilcrhist.



Jackie Blake (Baltimore) - clarinet, flute, alto saxophone

A hidden gem of Baltimore, Blake is a true master of the "jazz composer" idiom, beginning with Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington and heading for the future. A multi-instrumentalist and creator of joyous, uplifting music of both traditional and experimental bent, Blake brings an extreme intelligence and personality to his work with his group Kahana (roughly translated as "spiritual uplift") and his collaborations with pianist Michael Gayle and bassist Vattel Cherry. It is amazing that a jazz player of his caliber, capable of such broadly appealing music (as well as such piercing experimentation) should be so little known. High Zero hopes to remedy this by bringing his music to a larger audience. [MP3 Sound]



Bradford Reed (NYC) - invented instruments, drums

NYC composer, songwriter, and engineer Bradford Reed fights and tames the idiosyncrasies of the Pencillina, an original instrument of his own design and construction. The Pencillina is an electric ten-stringed collision of the hammer dulcimer, slide guitar, koto and fretless bass with multiple pickups of varied types. It is struck with sticks, plucked and bowed, giving Reed an incredibly wide sonic palette. The Pencillina can be heard on Bradford's solo work, with his band King Missile, and on the street corners of New York city, where he is an irrepressible street performer.


Daniel Carter (NYC) - reeds, trumpet, flute

“notice something other than the ‘expected’ other/
a question not marked as such” - Daniel Carter

In addition to being one of the most inspired musicians of the New York Free Jazz scene of the last thirty-two years, Daniel Carter also has the distinction of a much broader approach to music than many of his "energy music peers." His highly collective improvisatory ensembles cover a lot of ground outside of the well-worn contexts of free jazz. For instance, his group "Test" with Sabir Mateen, Matt Heyner and Tum Bruno plays exploratory post-Ayler free jazz in the subway stations of NYC; he also lends his reeds to the modern-classical complexity of the Saturnalia String Quartet, among many other projects. "I was an aspiring anarchist. Not in the sense of disorder, everything is crazy in the street, violence, but in the sense of wanting to be myself as much as possible, and... sometimes you discover you're radically different in your procedure. You have no real desire to be radically different in your procedure, and to clash with the procedures of others or the methodologies of others, but I got to the point where I didn't want to be told what to do." Thankfully, Carter has pursued his musical vision with high integrity, resulting in some of the most beautiful music to come out of NYC in a long time.


  Hans Tammen (NYC) - guitar, laptop

"...clearly one of the best experimental guitarists to come forward during the 1990s." (François Couture, All Music Guide)

One of the most interesting European free improvisors (recently transplanted to North America), german guitarist Hans Tammen performs with a remarkable collection of mechanical implements on his multi-channelled "endangered" guitars, and chases these sounds through a computer for processing them live on stage. His maze-like sounds and processes not only redefine guitar playing (which he has taken to absurd heights of sophistication), but also create hope for the sometimes sterile genre of laptop-based interactive music, which Tammen has proved can actually be worth something, even be a delerious treat. [MP3 Sound]



Oluyemi Thomas (San Francisco) - Reeds, small instruments

Oluyemi Thomas was born in Detroit, Michigan. He studied at Washtenaw College in Ann Arbor, Michigan where he received an Associate of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. While attending Washtenaw College, he also studied music and the spiritual and physical nature of sound & silence. Great love and respect for the Arts is regarded as a gem to his parents who passed this on to him and his sisters and brothers. In his childhood years his mother & father often listened to the masters Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. As a creative musician, performer, recording artist teacher and engineer, Mr. Thomas seeks to express his abiding love for the hidden power of Art. Oluyemi’s primary focus is to touch the inner core of individuals, be it in a forum, radio, television, recording or on the bandstand. For two decades he & his lovely wife poet Ijeoma have been members of the music and poetry unit Positive Knowledge. (Bass Clarinet/Saxophone) He may be heard on Music & Arts, Ear Light Records, Eremite, Rastascan & BMG labels. His travels to Africa, the Middle East & Europe are elements he brings to the mix. Oluyemi’s experience in sharing musical language utterance include the great Cecil Taylor, Wadada Leo Smith, Alan Silva, William Parker, Wilber Morris, John Tchicai, Roscoe Mitchell and wonderful conversations with Anthony Braxton and Charles Gayle. Mr. Oluyemi believes “The musician’s art is among those arts worthy of the highest praise”… and “Music should lead to spirituality”



Chuck Bettis (Washington) - trumpet, voice, laptop

Chuck Bettis (laptop, voice, trumpet) is a self-taught musician from Washington, DC now residing in New York.
He has performed solo under the moniker Trance And The Arcade, is a member of the amoebic All Scars, and the founder of the important music label Mass Particles. He has done live collaborations with many artists. Most notably; Ikue Mori (computer), Richard Chartier (computer), Mick Barr (guitar), Domestic Tar Pedal (dance troupe), and Jorge Castro (multimedia). Bettis is a Libra who balances aggressiveness with tenderness, as can be seen in the strange range of his music.



Neil Feather (Baltimore) - invented instruments

One of the most original musical minds on the East Coast or elsewhere, Sound Mechanic Neil Feather has spent over twenty years building an extremely INTEGRAL orchestra of eccentric and refined instruments, and conceiving an original idiom of music to be played on them. His solo concerts, longtime duo with John Berndt ("THUS") and the qui
ntet Aerotrain (with Berndt, Catherine Pancake, Andy Hayleck and Eric Franklin) all show different sides of one of the stranger musical minds of the century. No foreigner to improvised music (he is also an ardent social player), Feather's true brilliance comes out when his music is purified and allowed to assert its own freestanding, weightless, and troublingly bizarre logic. [MP3 Sound]



Andy Hayleck (Baltimore) - electronics, inventions, gong

Electro-acoustic composer and instrumentalist Andy Hayleck is a quiet storm of the Baltimore experimental music scene, a virtuoso of sound whose range of highly developed projects and approaches is dizzying - spanning everything from jazz and ska guitar to musique concrete and the invention of new instruments and electro-acoustic systems. Hayleck "enjoy[s] collaborating with animate and inanimate objects." In the animate realm, he has worked with free improvisors, drum'n'bass djs, pop and ska groups, experimental musical instrument builders and artists. In the inanimate realm he has worked with vibrating metal systems of one, two and three dimensions, air, water, and electricity. He currently plays in the ensemble Aerotrain (a group that performs compositions on instruments built by Neil Feather) and Heavy Things, as well as solo (primarily with his own, highly original amplified gong/wire and live electronics).
Gongs:[1] [2]


  Dan Breen (Baltimore) - percussion, clavinet, acoustic bass

What can one say about Dan Breen? This ultra-intense 25-year old seemed to come out of nowhere, with incredible talents for conventional and experimental music (on a wide range of instruments, musical jokes, and absurdist "situations") and in all the arts, a free-associating and hyper-creative individual who is already impressive at what is probably the beginning of his career. He is the bassist in the popular experimental funk/jam band "The Financial Group," as well as being a member of "Heavy Things" with Andy Hayleck and an improvisational partner of Jack Wright, John Berndt, Catherine Pancake, and many others.

  Bob Wagner (Baltimore) - drums, electronic percussion

Percussionist Bob is a pure natural, an enigma, a question mark, pure sensibility which defies categorization or even genre. His drumming is deeply perplexing and seems to do injustice to musical parsimony while hitting it with a little plastic dog on the head.
He has been called "The Han Bennik of Hampden" because of his extreme use of dry humor in his music, quite unlike the Dutch guy. He can be heard on numerous records with his groups Companion Trio, The Can Openers, and The Recordings. He is also now the drive hebin of the Megaphone record label, a hard-to categorize fertile resource for music which is energetic, wildly irresponsible and full of life.

  John Berndt (Baltimore) - reeds, live electronics, drums, inventions

At age 35, Baltimore native John Berndt has spent over twenty years dedicated to culture which exceeds the limits of the present civilization. In a non-careerist, non-academic sense, he is a professional revolutionary of sorts, dedicated both to celebrating superb little-known aspects of the existing culture, and to creating ingenious experiences which open new possibilities for perception, politics, and inner life. Often focused on "music" (for its immediacy in communicating unusual mental states), his panoramic activity covers an extremely wide intellectual and practical range. In his musical activity, radical experimentation, improvisation and the creation of new idioms are central. His work launches from a deep appreciation of the history of free jazz, electronic music, sound installations, and other, far more obscure sources. He is a tireless collaborator and promiscuous social player, learning whatever he can from a wide range of partners. His primary vehicles for this include the Red Room collective and the High Zero Foundation, and his groups That Nothing is Known, THUS, Falling Tone Rising, and The Volunteers Collective.
[interview MP3s: 1 2]
  Carly Ptak (Baltimore) - live electronics, inventions

Carly Ptak (along with Twig Harper, jointly AKA Nautical Almanac) is an inspired recent transplant to Baltimore from Chicago, homesteading in their performance space-cum-laboratory "Tarantula Hill" on a desolate stretch of West Pratt street. Dedicated to a snarling and seething aesthetic built up from broken parts of the discarded techno-culture, Ptak is an expert at what has been called "circuit bending"--the practice of violently rewiring existing commercial hardware to turn it against its own philosophic basis (ie., a limited notion of what it means to "function.") Her improvisations tap directly into the heart of breaking equipment and frying circuits, with a huge appetites for directly lived situations and the sacred unrepeatable.

"James "Twig" Harper and Carly Ptak look like creatures that have crawled out of a futuristic trash heap with an inexplicable communications technology. Clad in elaborate ripped outfits made from costumes they found at the estate sale of an old vaudevillian, the duo known collectively as Nautical Almanac bob their heads to rhythms perhaps only they can hear in the sounds emanating from their electronic manipulations. With rubber masks covering their faces, they loom over their knobs and wires and boxes like post-apocalyptic alchemists."--Ian Nagoski, City Paper

  Catherine Pancake (Baltimore) - percussion, inventions

What is most amazing about Baltimore's Catherine Pancake is the range of her work, which includes sophisticated experiments with film and sound that are so varied from piece to piece as to seem to be made by different people--yet all of an extremely high (even provocative) quality. Her sensibility ranges from superb political documentary work in video, dark black humor in 16mm film, ecstatic and lyrical formal abstraction in sound and light, and highly propulsive musical work as (essentially) a free improvising jazz drummer. She seems to have few, if any, creative limits.

  Nate Wooley (New Jersey) - trumpet

Nate Wooley grew up in a small fishing town on the Columbia River in Oregon. He grew up playing big band music with his father and learning the basics from local musicians. It was during this time that he began a long standing musical relationship with saxophonist/composer Eric Barber and released the trio cd "frantically, frantically being at peace" on Slippery Slope/ Anonymous productions (available at
Next came a brief stopover in Denver, CO. During this time, Nate studied with trumpeter Ron Miles and pianist/drummer Art Lande, and performed with Fred Hess, Hugh Ragin, Mark Harris, his own bands, and began his long-standing association with multi-reedist Jack Wright. Finally, as far east he could go before hitting water, Nate settled in Jersey City, NJ where he slings tofu in the village for wannabe models and is currently performing with his own groups: Nate Wooley's Chemically Impure and Blue Collar. Other recurring musical partners include: Assif Tsahar, Andrew D'Angelo, Chris Speed, Matt Moran, Tony Malaby, Tatsuya Nakatani, Mike Pride, Trevor Dunn, Ted Reichmann, Curtis Hasselbring, Clayton Thomas, and Dave Ballou. Nate is trying to get better as a musician and a human being.