THE music played at festivals such as Stirling's Le Weekend is most usually described as "experimental" or "avant garde", but those involved seem to make a point of using another word – marginal.
It fits; these are musicians who make sounds which don't attract a wide audience but which are adored passionately by the slim margins of people who are drawn to the spirit of sonic adventure they contain.
Among the highlights of this year's Le Weekend is a singular exercise in sound where the music of the stars is played within the confines of Stirling Observatory. Named Telescope, it's a recorded sound installation rather than a performance, and is the creation of duo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo (Glasgow's Neil Simpson and Leith's Mike Gallagher). "We've used two sounds in the piece," says Simpson. "The sounds of the observatory itself – there's a big handle inside which you turn to make it rotate – and the sound of the stars." In order to create this stellar noise the pair have worked with Hungarian astrophysicist Zoltan Kollath, who records the optical oscillations of light from stars expanding and collapsing, and then converts this visual frequency into a sonic one.
Simpson and Gallagher don't have a set working method or means of performing – among their past projects is an MP3 piece that was designed to be listened to on the islands of the Firth of Forth, while Simpson will perform a solo guitar work entitled All Guitar on the Saturday of Le Weekend. Claiming influence from drone-rock bands like Stars of the Lid and Low, however, he says that "we're concerned with things like repetition and layering, and detail in sound. We want to enable people to experience the kind of sonic detail they generally don't in more traditional forms of music, or in their everyday life."
For curious listeners who might not be so interested in the conceptual and technical aspects of the piece, however, Simpson points out that the setting alone is worth a visit. "The observatory's a fantastic space," he says. "It's a dome made of wood, with a very antiquated but somehow warm feel. It's a fantastic place to spend some time, never mind the fact it holds a telescope you can see the stars with."
Now in its 12th year, Le Weekend has been reshaped by Alasdair Campbell, the current artistic director of the festival, and Stirling's Tolbooth theatre, so that it encompasses the widest possible range of music, from electronic to classical to jazz improv. Ironically, Campbell says, this means that there is more of what he would describe as pop music in the festival this year than ever before. "The word experimental is an interesting one," he considers. "I'm of the opinion that any form of music can be experimental as long as the person or people making it are being brave and taking risks."
Some of the relatively familiar names on this year's bill include Adrian Utley of Portishead, who will be performing a one-off set on vintage electronic instruments alongside Glasgow-based composer Drew Mulholland, futuristic Scots folk group Trembling Bells, and an utterly contemporary dubstep collaboration from producers Jazzsteppa and The Moody Boyz.
Yet Campbell says some lesser-known artists are among his most-anticipated highlights: "I'm probably most looking forward to Carla Bozulich and Evangelista. I love her music, from cover versions of Willie Nelson to improvisational songs, and her voice is something else. Clothesline Saga Blues will also be very different for the festival; it's a project involving kids from the local primary school and members of the Kirkintilloch Brass Band which will take place on the drying backs to the rear of the theatre. Then we have Japanese pop from Eddie Marcon and French improvisational string players Trio Arco. They should both be good."
Le Weekend, like its similarly programmed Scots contemporaries Instal (at Glasgow's Arches) and Kill Your Timid Notion (at Dundee Contemporary Arts), is possibly more driven than other festivals by people who truly love the music they make, and by their relationship with it. Simpson and Gallagher, despite ambitions to do this full-time, work in the public sector; there's very little scope for artists who create experimental music to be able to make even a subsistence living, so for many it has to remain a hobby.
"There aren't a lot of opportunities for experimental musicians even to be heard," says Campbell, "so I like the fact that Le Weekend is an important part of keeping this network alive in Scotland, much as other pockets of marginal music manage to support themselves throughout the world. Yes, these people do it for love, because they aren't going to earn millions from it. But on the other hand, they don't notice when the economy going bad affects the rest of the music industry, because they never made any money from doing this anyway."
• Le Weekend is at the Tolbooth, Stirling, from tomorrow until 31 May. www.leweekendfestival.com. Telescope will be performed at Stirling Astronomical Society Observatory at various times throughout the festival. Visit www.buffalobuffalobuffalo.net or www.updatescotland.com.