Aurora Nealand
The Instigation Orchestra will debut a piece by multi-instrumentalist Aurora Nealand (pictured) on the final day of the festival. Credit: Ricardo Adame

The Instigation Festival is a semiannual transcontinental series that unites improvising musicians and other artists from Chicago and New Orleans. As it makes its eighth return to the city, it’s become such a tradition that it could just as easily be called the Continuation Festival. Instigation’s programming is split between New Orleans and Chicago, and this year’s local concerts pick up where their Big Easy counterparts left off in February. Highlights of the fest’s four nights of performances across the city include multi-instrumentalist Aurora Nealand premiering her piece The Bowl of Communal Howling, composed for the 13-piece Instigation Orchestra, at the University of Chicago’s International House on Saturday. (That set is also part of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, which runs Saturday and Sunday.) And on Friday night at Links Hall, a series of collaborations among musicians and video and movement artists will culminate in all 11 participants uniting for a collective improvisation.

Other enticing billings bring just two performers into dialogue with each other. Vocalist, composer, and producer Sasha Masakowski (daughter of esteemed Astral Project guitarist Steve Masakowski) closed the New Orleans festival with a DJ set; she opens the Chicago festival in an electronic duo with probing sound artist Damon Locks at Elastic Arts on Thursday night. On Friday, two prominent cello-playing Helens—Helen Gillet and Helen Money—share the stage at Constellation, and on Sunday, Jon Irabagon and Dan Oestreicher play a floorboard-rattling duo on bass saxophones at Hungry Brain. (You read that right: bass, not baritone.) Inexhaustible New Orleans bassist James Singleton, also of Astral Project, closes the festival in a quartet with Chicagoans Jim Baker, Ben Lamar Gay, and Quin Kirchner—they’re ostensibly playing selections from Singleton’s album Malabar, but knowing him, I’d expect plenty of devilish detours.

Instigation Festival day one Ibises (Dan Bitney, Nick Macri, and Steve Marquette) headline, with guests Aurora Nealand and Anton Hatwich; Damon Locks & Sasha Masakowski open. Thu 9/21, 8:30 PM, Elastic Arts, 3429 W. Diversey #208, $15, $10 students, all ages

Instigation Festival day two: Links Hall This improvised performance combines musicians and video and movement artists in several groupings: first a quartet of Kim Alpert, Paige Brown, Keisha Janae, and Kai Knight; second a quintet of Jeff Albert, Aaliyah Christina, Keisha Janae, Kristal Jones, and Olula Negre; third a quartet of Irene Hsiao, Sasha Masakowski, Olula Negre, and Cristal Sabbagh; and finally an ensemble of all 11 participants together. Fri 9/22, 7 PM, Links Hall, 3111 N. Western, $16, all ages

Instigation Festival day two: Constellation A quartet of Quin Kirchner, Ben LaMar Gay, Dan Oestreicher, and Macie Stewart headlines; Helen Gillet & Helen Money open. Fri 9/22, 8:30 PM, Constellation, 3111 N. Western, $15, 18+

Instigation Festival day three The Instigation Orchestra performs a new piece by Aurora Nealand in a set that’s also part of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival. Sat 9/23, 9:30 PM, International House, 1414 E. 59th, $10 suggested donation, all ages