AMN Interviews

AMN Interviews: Jeff Surak (Sonic Circuits Festival)


The Sonic Circuits Festival of Experimental Music returns Oct. 1-6 at venues in Washington, D.C. and suburban Maryland with a lineup of more than 80 artists from across the nation and around the world. As in past years, this 13th annual festival will bring to the stage a wide spectrum of genre-defying sounds, encompassing electro-acoustic composition, free improv and processed noise, often involving custom-designed or home-built instruments. The 2013 festival will also include film, video and dance, notable local artists in new ensembles of the Sonic Circuits community.

Jeff Surak, founder of the Zeromoon label, is the visionary responsible for putting together the Sonic Circuits Festival.  Jeff was kind enough to take time out of his busy pre-festival schedule to answer a few questions.

How long have you been putting together the Sonic Circuits Festival?

Sonic Circuits as a festival has been around since 2002. I’ve been involved as an organizer since the 2006 edition. From 2008 Sonic Circuits has been organizing shows year round.

What are your artistic goals for the festival?

To present music as well as dance and film to DC area audiences that otherwise would not be presented. To spotlight the wealth of exciting local artists. To show the world that there is another side to DC that is ignored by the media and press, that defies its reputation as a stuffy conservative city driven by politics and money.

Looking at this year’s lineup, I can see that the music is eclectic, with many different genres and media represented. Is there an underlying aesthetic or other factor that you look for when selecting artists?

Experimental music is a wide catch all term that covers a lot of territory. We bring together different approaches and subgenres, be it academic to underground, lofi to sound art, improv to composed, ambient to noise, etc etc. Things that defy these meager descriptions. I treat the overall structure of the festival as a composition itself, seeking to complement and contrast acts to create one long listening experience for the audience. One can sample a single show, but you cant get an accurate feel for the festival unless you go to every performance.

Recently an article was published on how the Baltimore / DC area has a quietly growing experimental music scene. Do you agree and if so, how does Sonic Circuits fit in?

Its definitely growing. Many of the artists active in DC have been around for decades, so its not necessarily a new phenomena. I think that Sonic Circuits has created a vehicle that allows artists to present their work on a consistent basis and has helped develop a community. Before it was difficult to find venues willing to host such music. Sonic Circuits has created awareness, and opened doors to new places to present music. People have realized that they are not the only ones. There is strength in numbers.

I understand you’re active as an electronic sound artist yourself. Tell us a bit about your own music and collaborations.

I work more in electro-acoustic materials, and have been doing so for over 30 years. I run a label zeromoon ( that primarily releases music online for free. I’ve put out stuff by many DC area artists and from other countries. In my own work I tend to vary from moment to moment, but i gravitate in between improvised/chance music to fully arranged…sound art, drones, musique concrete. Locally I have a few collab projects such as Makioki Sisters (with Cory O’Brien, heavy textures & drones), NVS Trio (acoustic string trio with Daniel Barbiero & Gary Rouzer), my outdoor guerilla performance project Salarymen (with Gary Rouzer, tapes, objects, etc), and often perform with Janel & Anthony.

Anything else you’d like us to know about this year’s festival?

Its a gas.

Special thanks to Dan Barbiero for doing the heavy lifting for this interview.