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One of D.C.’s truly mind-expanding institutions, the annual Sonic Circuits Festival of experimental music—and film and dance—is a six-day affair this year, anchored again at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE. The fest kicks off Oct. 1 with a free “improv round robin” show with about a dozen artists at the Union Arts space on New York Avenue NE. When Sonic Circuits really gets rolling from Oct. 3 to Oct. 6 at the Atlas, expect the stages to hold all sorts of secret geniuses, geeks, iconoclasts, and unconventional aesthetes. At Sonic Circuits, you’re just as likely to see a cellist or a saxophonist as you are an array of electronic devices; the point is to leave any expectations at the door. But perusing any Sonic Circuits lineup can feel like browsing the cold-medicine aisle: There are a whole lot of crazy names, and unless you’ve studied this kind of thing, it’s tough to ascertain what to invest in.

At the risk of terribly oversimplifying things, here’s a Sonic Circuits Continuum offering some entry points. One end is for the “aural excursionists” (think: less noise, more sonic storytelling), and the other end is for the masters of skronk (i.e. the noise is the thing). These are hardly the only noteworthy acts at the festival; go to dc-soniccircuits.org for the complete lineup and fuller descriptions, and remember to open your ears.