Kirsten O'Brien/The AS Review

Now in its eighth year, the Bellingham Electronic Arts Festival is expanding the very definition of music. Blurring the lines between visual art, interactive installations and electronic music, the festival will showcase a variety of electro-acoustic, ambient electronica, sound art, electronic dance music and electropop.

The festival kicks off with a reception in the Viking Union Gallery on May 5 at 6 p.m. featuring installation works by sound artist Doug Haire and digital video artist Gary Pennock.

“These artists are both sound, video and installation artists,” said VU Gallery Coordinator Allie Paul in an email. “It’s definitely a little abstract, but I hope that students will enjoy it for its uniqueness.”

The festival runs through May 8 and features a variety of performances and concerts on Western’s campus as well as various venues in downtown Bellingham. The festival will feature music from both local and international artists, as well as lectures and demonstrations given by performers. There are over 20 artists confirmed for this year’s festival.

“We think it’s unique for this town, as well as unique in general for the region or for anywhere, especially in terms of its mix of academic conference and elements of a pop music festival and everything in between,” said Bruce Hamilton, associate professor of music at Western and BEAF curator. “I’m a pretty eclectic musician and I like a wide range of things, and I like to look at them separately but also put them all next to each other and see how different kinds of music co-exist.”

Sound art, a major component of the festival, may seem like an abstract concept to some, but Hamilton explained that it is simply a different way to imagine music. He said that while a traditional piece of music may be bound by a time frame and follows a pattern of harmony and melody, sound art has far less restrictions and is not bound by any musical rules.

“With sound art, it might be something that’s more akin to a piece of visual art in that it’s something that might be in a gallery,” Hamilton said. “You can walk up to it, interact with it and contemplate it, experience it, walk away and come back to it. It’s something that is more ongoing and less bound by time.”

The festival began in 2004, when a former student of Hamilton’s wanted to introduce more electronic music into the Bellingham scene. Although this is the festival’s eighth year, Hamilton said that he still believes there is a need for the festival in the community.

“I think those of us that put on the festival now would still more or less agree with [the need for a festival],” said Hamilton. “We’ve broadened it out, it’s partly on campus, partly downtown. It’s very wide-ranging in scope.”

Hamilton said that a major highlight of this year’s festival is a collaborative performance between the musicians of BEAF and student choreographers in the Western’s dance department. Susan Haines, a senior instructor for the department, said that she has worked closely with Hamilton on class collaborations in the past. Haines’ Dance and Technology class regularly choreographs short dance films that are scored by Hamilton’s Electronic Music class.

For the festival, Haines said that the dance department will be presenting about 25 one to two-minute dance and music pieces. The performances will take place Saturday, May 7 at 2 p.m. in the Peforming Arts Center.

“I think it is a great way to showcase the talents of the composers and choreographers, and offer a very creative opportunity for the dancers and choreographers,” Haines said in an email regarding the dance department’s involvement in BEAF. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to be a part of BEAF and to provide creative opportunities like this for our students and faculty.”

Haines added that dancers from Whatcom Community College would be joining the Western dancers and choreographers for the performance. She said the choreography ranges from modern to contemporary to jazz to improvisational forms.

“All of the dances are inspired by the music,” she said. “Each participant was given a short piece of music to choreograph to, so there will be a wide variety of movement inspired by the assigned music.”

Hamilton said that the festival caters to a wide range of interests. Each of the four BEAF curators is in charge of a different aspect of the festival. Hamilton said that there would be three concert hall shows in the PAC, a “groove dance” show in the VU Multipurpose Room, another dance show at Rumor’s Cabaret and a pop show at Jinx Art Space.

“At the festival we just wanted to be open to everything,” Hamilton said.

Other highlights of the festival include a performance on Friday, May 6 at 7 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center Concert Hall by Russian-born thereminist Lydia Kavina. The theremin is an early electronic instrument that uses two metal rods which sense the position of the player’s hands and allow the player to use one hand to control frequency and the other hand to control amplitude; in essence the theremin is played without actually being touched. On the same night, Vancouver, British Columbia-based artist Loscil will perform. Hamilton described Loscil’s music as “lush, beautiful, ambient electronica.”

On Saturday, May 7 at 2 p.m. in the PAC, Richard Lainhart, an award-winning composer, performer and filmmaker based in New York, will perform with a vintage synthesizer and a special multi-touch controller, Hamilton said.

The festival will wrap up on Sunday, May 8 at 8 p.m. in the PAC with a performance by the Cuong Vu Trio. Vu is a Vietnamese-born trumpeter and vocalist, but moved to Bellevue, Wash. with his family in 1975. After graduating with honors from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Mass., Vu spent time in New York before returning to Washington. Vu now lives in Seattle, where Hamilton said that he is a strong force in the city’s jazz scene. According to Vu’s website, cited Vu’s 2001 album “Come Play with Me” on its list “The 100 Greatest Jazz Albums of All Time.”

Hamilton said that Vu is a well-respected jazz musician, and that all attendees would enjoy his performance.

“I just think that show will be a perfect way to end the festival,” he said.

Thursday 05.05.11

4 p.m.: Lydia Kavina, Theremin clinic
6 p.m.: Reception with works by Douglas Haire and Gary Pennock
7 p.m.: Live perfomance with Zach Zinn, Theo Frantz, Jeff Duke (Florida via Ustream) and Jukka-Pekka Kervinen (Finland via Ustream)

2 p.m.: Lecture/demonstration with Richard Lainhart. Multi-dimensional control for real-time analog synthesis performance

7 p.m.: Performances by Lydia Kavina, Melanie Sehman and Loscil.

10 p.m. Performances TBA.