Elm City Noise Festival — which kicks off next week — has morphed over the years, but it still strives to provide a platform for experimental and improvisational music, the kind that asks its fans to experience it as it happens without expectation. Audiences will have more than one chance to catch a variety of acts, old and new, at shows being held at venues, also old and new, throughout New Haven.
The festival has a “soft opening” this Saturday, Oct. 13, then runs Wednesday, Oct. 17 to Saturday, Oct. 20.
Festival co-organizer Margaret Milano was having trouble recalling what year the Elm City Noise Festival began — understandably so, since she has booked more than her share of shows over the years, noise and otherwise, under the moniker DrinkDeeply throughout the New Haven music scene. Musician and co-organizer Conor Perreault mentioned that 2015 was his first year attending, and he was pretty sure that was the first year of the festival as well. (He was right.) Last year was his first year performing in it. This year will be his first booking and organizing the festival along with Milano.
Milano started Noise Fest with artist and musician Michael Miglietta, also known in the noise music community under his performing name Parlay Droner. According to Milano, Miglietta decided to focus this year on more art and music, so Perreault took over the as co-organizer and booker.
“I saw a need for it back then,” said Milano “and it created a buzz and helped along some of the bands that played in it. It was a way to showcase people who needed showcasing.” It also provided a place for community to gather, including Perreault.
“I didn’t know anyone in the New Haven noise music scene in 2015,” said Perreault. “I was playing noise music by myself and with Greg (his band mate in the duo Human Flourishing) and we weren’t playing out that much.”
“We were creating a home, a platform for people who don’t fit,” said Milano.
“People who make weirdo music have difficulties finding a home for it,” said Perreault. “I didn’t know anyone back then (in 2015), but those people are my friends now, and I’m always meeting new people. There are enough people around now into playing and improvising.”
Improvising is a big part of noise music. It is also the most endearing and forgiving part. “The stakes are low” said Perreault. “If it fails, it fails, and it’s OK. You’re trying.”
The community is small but ranges widely, concentrated but varied. “There are people in the community with a conservatory background and with a punk background,” Perreault said. “There are all kinds of people. It’s not exclusive.”
Milano and Perreault have worked together using each of their strengths to help bring that community together once again for this year’s festival. Perreault made connections with other musicians during shows he played and attended both in and out of town. Over the past year he also met with other local experimental musicians — including Zach Rowden, Anne Rhodes, and Chris Cretella, among others — to talk about the festival, “what we wanted it to look like and who we wanted to see.”
As a result of these meetings, some of the musicians have ended up working together on new projects, with new shows being planned and popping up throughout the city.
Milano has been using her longstanding position as a booking agent, using connections with bands and agents to get acts in to town.
“It’s about highlighting New Haven as a stop,” said Milano. “People from a few different states are coming in this time.”
It is also a time for collaboration and even a reunion. Coup de Grace — a “collective, not a band” according to Milano — that started together in New Haven in 2004 playing experimental music will be performing together for the first time in years at the festival’s State House show on Oct. 18.
The festival will have its “unofficial soft opening” at Never Ending Books on State Street on Saturday, Oct. 13 — the second Saturday of the month, which has become a regular Noise Haven show booked by Perreault, a spot he took over from musician Carl Testa (who will be performing this year at the Best Video show on Oct. 17) after he ceased his Uncertainty Music Series there back in 2017. According to Perreault, this night will be more informal than the other nights, but is a good place to get the feel of what is to come.
The two larger shows will take place a few days later. On Wednesday, Oct. 17 the aforementioned Best Video night will include local improvisational ensemble Light Upon Blight as well as Testa, How Many Midnights, and 4 Airports, hailing from New York. On Thursday, Oct. 18 the State House’s Coup de Grace reunion will also feature local improvisational and experimental music notables Dr. Caterwaul’s Cadre of Clairvoyant Claptraps, Underwear, Nothing Israel, and Bizarre Rooms, as well as Afraid, in from Berkeley, Calif.
Milano also noted that more noise music events are taking place around town recently, and that people are now aware that New Haven has a thriving experimental music scene.
Perreault was one of those people who found his place in the scene back in 2015. But his interest in experimental and improvisational music came long before that.
“Since I was 12 years old I wanted to be in a rock band,” said Perreault. He learned to play guitar and keyboards, but also began to drift toward “electronic doohickeys and gizmos.” He started improvising first with guitar pedals, influenced by the bands Animal Collective and Black Dice, which caught his interest when he found out back in 2003 that its members were only using pedals to make music on one of their albums.
Though he has lived in New Haven around 10 years, Perreault said he mostly played music at home and only started playing out around three years ago. His projects continued to grow and multiply beyond his solo work. He is well known as part of Human Flourishing, his band with musician Greg Paul, and is often a member of the ever-changing lineup of Light Upon Blight. He is one half of the duo Big and Ready — which had its first show at last year’s Noise Fest at Cafe Nine — with Mike LaRocca. He also performs with LaRocca and Matt Gannon in the trio GLP Speedwagon and in a quartet with them and Jack Potes called the Samuel Beckett Power Trio. Perreault is also in a trio with Paul and Lorry Kitka called Jesus is The Reason for the Season, in which Kitka reads poetry while the other two improvise music.
Perreault smiled as he listed his projects and their names, and then said with a laugh: “This is why noise music is fun.” But he then got a bit more serious. “It’s about the experience and getting to the gig. It’s never the same twice. Every one is a different animal. Someone is going to do something that surprises, moves, or shocks you.”
So get to the gigs, New Haven, and find out what the noise is about.
Information about Elm City Noise Festival’s Best Video and State House shows can be found on the venues’ websites here and here. More information about any and all things Noise Festival, including these shows and beyond, can be found by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting the festival’s Facebook page.