High Zero is an annual festival of Experimental Free Improvised Music hosted in Baltimore, Maryland, United States starting in 1999, and is one of the largest Free Music festivals in the US, if not the world. It is hosted by the Red Room Collective, a volunteer group that sponsors weekly concerts in improvised music and experimental theater, film, poetry, etc. in a side room of Normals Books and Records. Since 2001, the festival has been hosted at Baltimore's Theatre Project space.
The festival focuses on non-idiomatic improvisation, vocal improvisation, instrument building, electronics, sound art, and community events. The main theatre-based performances aim to bring together improvisers who typically have never played together previously into novel live situations in front of festival audiences, creating, potentially, a new experience for both audience and performer.
High Zero draws from a large, international base of improvisors of many backgrounds, but traditionally gives half of the invitations for performance to Baltimore-based musicians and the other half to people from "elsewhere," whether that's Japan, thousands of miles away, or Philadelphia, about a hundred miles away.
High Jinx, a part of the festival focused on site-specific and community events, is a unique appendix to the festival. Typical events include a musical bike ride, an invented instrument band, a parade through Fells Point, and other outdoor performances, many of them punning and witty.
The festival has yielded six CDs on the Recorded label, each based around a particular performer (in order of release: Carol Genetti, Joe McPhee, Katt Hernandez, Jack Wright, Oleyumi Thomas and Neil Feather), which have, as a result of the festival's format, yielded documents of scarcely documented performers, including John Berndt, Paul Hoskins, John Dierker, Jason Willett, Catherine Pancake, James Coleman, Sean Meehan, Michael Johnsen, Jerry Lim, Ian Nagoski, Dan Breen, Dave Gross, Andy Hayleck, Helena Espvall, Evan Rapport, Keenan Lawler, Christopher Meeder, and Jim Baker.
- In 2005, Phil Minton, an internationally known vocal improvisor, performed and directed a Feral Choir at the festival.
- "Best New Cultural Event: High Zero", Baltimore City Paper, Sept 13, 2000
- "How to Know The Score At Improv Fest" by Tim Page, The Washington Post, Sept 21, 2000
- "THE CIRCUIT"" by Eric Brace, The Washington Post Sept 22, 2000
- "Blowout: The Third Annual High Zero Festival Makes It Up by Lee Gardner, Baltimore City Paper, Sept 12, 2001
- "GO TODAY. You definitely haven't heard this before: The improvised music at Baltimore's High Zero Festival is so avant- garde it makes a kazoo seem like a classical instrument. Today's the last chance to catch Ricardo Arias playing the balloons, Paolo Angelli on the Sardinian guitar, Chris Cooper elevating feedback to a higher art and others creating the next new wave."
- "Regional events now and later", The Washington Post, Sept 7, 2003
- "NSO Ends Summer The Nation...", The Washington Post Aug 29, 2003
- "Now in its seventh year, High Zero, which runs from Sept. 22 to 25, has become one of the largest festivals of improvised music in the United States. It brings together a wide variety of artists -- free jazz, electronic music, noise, contemporary composition and so on -- for all-new, improvised collaborations at the Theatre Project ... It's a concept modeled on British avant-gardist guitarist Derek Bailey's Company festivals, which began in the late '70s and gathered improvising musicians who had not played together, organizing them into ad hoc ensembles of various sizes and then setting them loose to make music."
- "Lend Your Ears To These Festivals", The Washington Post, Sept 16, 2005