Standing in an old storefront at 18th and Union is Polestar Music Gallery, a space co-proprietors Henry Hughes and Peggy Sartoris-Belaqua have been using to house mavens and makers of experimental music in Seattle. Since opening in mid-May, Polestar Music Gallery has lived up to its name--the word "polestar" denotes, among other things, a stubborn, idealistic route of action--as no other venue in town serves such a rich banquet of experimental music in a listener-friendly setting. Polestar has created a casual yet respectful atmosphere for listening to music and sound art, which I suspect explains the phrase "Music Gallery." Sartoris-Belaqua confirms my hunch with a pointed question. "Why shouldn't music get the art gallery treatment?" she asks. "Since the purpose of Polestar is to remove music performance from settings of commerce, 'Gallery' made sense to us."

Velvet-voiced Henry Hughes concurs. "My first reason for starting Polestar is essentially selfish. I wanted to hear good music in a venue suitable for serious, attentive listening. I was also dissatisfied with how music--not just adventurous music, but all music--is presented here in town." Indeed.

Hughes' objections run deeper than other venues' presentations, which, considering his decades as a political activist, comes as no surprise. "In so many places in Seattle, the game is essentially a subtle form of pay to play," he says. "Club owners use music as an adjunct to sell drugs--legal drugs like alcohol and cigarettes--but they're not willing to pay the musicians--those who are helping them make money--and instead siphon the cash into their back pockets. Polestar is a valiant attempt to put the money that audience members pay into the hands of musicians."

Hughes is forthright about how he and Sartoris-Belaqua run things. "First, we asked ourselves what is decent pay for musicians and how much is enough to keep the space going," he says. "Every show is a door gig; the musicians get everything up to $160. After that, the house takes 25 percent to cover expenses. As volunteers, neither of us get a dime--not out of altruism but because the business model won't support paid staff. We figured the money should first go to performers."

Both Hughes and Sartoris-Belaqua are passionate about the central mission of their all-ages venue: the music. "We work hard to feature excellent performers who are engaged in challenging themselves and their audiences with the far reaches of sonic expression," says Sartoris-Belaqua. Hughes elaborates, "Calling Polestar a gallery is an assertion that what we're presenting is not just entertainment, not just craft, but art that deals with serious issues of our day, including ambivalence towards technology, hierarchical power relations, corporate control of music and music distribution, and the nature of music and its place in society. We're fighting one small aspect of the culture wars here at Polestar.

"Our purview is broad," continues Hughes. "We curate music that resists the commodification of corporate culture: electro-acoustic music, noise, free improvisation, post-classical, sound sculpture and installations, field recordings, plunderphonics, sound art, lowercase sound, as well as unnamable and unclassifiable musics of many stripes made by musicians and sound artists."

Those adventurous musicians and sound artists need the help. Sonic explorers who make experimental music have a tougher time getting gigs in town. "Seattle has had many wonderful performance spaces over the years, but they rarely last," states Sartoris-Belaqua. "There is a perpetual need for dedicated venues. The events of last year are a good example of this, with the Speakeasy burning down and the closure of the OK Hotel."

Of course, adventurous musicians who subvert and/or smash the mainstream musical tendencies of comparatively accessible music will always tread a more tenuous path, as will venues like Polestar that endeavor to support such daring and rebellious work.

Can Polestar expect to survive? Hughes strikes a defiant tone. "We have a year-long commitment from several private funders. I want to make it clear that the funders for Polestar are not Microsoft millionaires or people who made out like bandits in the high-tech boom. They are people who have incomes that are a little bit more than they need to live. They're donating the money because they believe in the power of music as art."

Polestar Music Gallery is located at 1412 18th Ave. For performance information go to