Cluster Festival returns for 10th edition

“Integrated arts” festival pushes boundaries, explores radical ideas

Winnipeg will hold the 10th annual Cluster: New Music and Integrated Arts Festival entitled “Cluster X” from Feb. 28 to March 3.

Cluster is an organization that offers a platform to collaborate and perform for a vast array of local and international artists, performers, and musicians. Over the past decade, Cluster has held over 40 events, with over 200 artists, all of whom embrace boundary-pushing experimental art and music. Cluster’s core annual festival for new music and integrated arts is held every March in Winnipeg.

Luke Nickel is one of the co-directors of the festival along with fellow founder Heidi Ouellette, who were later joined by Eliot Britton. Nickel currently lives and works in the U.K. and returns home to Winnipeg to help run the festival.

Cluster began a decade ago while Nickel and Ouellette were composition students at the U of M.

“We looked around the city and at the options in our community and saw a bit of a hole where we could insert ourselves,” said Nickel.

“We saw something missing from a more emerging young voice.”

Cluster Festival has provided an opportunity for artists to showcase their works of “integrated arts” where sound and visuals combine beyond traditional music or film shows. This can make for an unexpected lineup.

“It’s kind of amazing to me still every year that there’s usually quite a full house of people that wanna hear and see this kind of experimental work,” said Nickel.

Cluster Festival’s mandate is to give audiences and artists an opportunity to expand their concept of art.

“We really want people to push themselves, to push us, to push audiences into experiencing new things,” said Nickel.

“Another goal [of Cluster Festival] is to really further this idea of multi-art form, as we call it, ‘integrated arts’ […] really to think about where the spaces are between art forms.”

Nickel always looks forward to meeting the festival’s featured artists and seeing what they come up with.

“I’m an artist myself, so I leave feeling incredibly inspired like I’ve just touched into all these live wires,” said Nickel.

Alison Burdeny, who goes by Mirror Frame onstage, is a local artist who will be performing at Cluster Festival for the first time.

“I started off listening to weird techno and breakcore when I was younger,” said Burdeny.

“Then that moved into developing an absolute obsession with film and game soundtracks, creating different aural textures.”

Burdeny seeks to create space for people to explore and heal from intense emotions with her work.

“The most consistent concerns that are brought into my art practice, my found art practice, have to do with addressing and healing trauma,” said Burdeny.

Burdeny is inspired by “the power of music to do that [healing] and to kind of channel very complex layered emotional experiences that come with living with trauma, living in a very oppressive, frustrating, difficult world.”

Mirror Frame will be performing alongside Beast Nest from Oakland, California, on March 2.

Other performers will include Foxconn Frequency (no. 3), trio of Chinese performers who use real-time game mechanics to challenge three keyboard mini-games using piano mechanics, and Tak, an unconventional chamber music group from New York.

Lectures and panels will also be held for artists to discuss their craft, their inspirations and the political dimensions of music. Free events include public talks by composers Erin Gee and William Kuo on March 1 and the workshop “Decolonizing Sound: Presence and Liberation” on March 3.


The Cluster: New Music and Integrated Arts Festival runs from Feb. 28 to March 3. Tickets can be bought online. Check out for more information for other events, artists and workshops.