Avant-garde music

Avant-garde music is music that is considered to be at the forefront of experimentation or innovation in its field, with the term "avant-garde" implying a critique of existing aesthetic conventions, rejection of the status quo in favor of unique or original elements, and the idea of deliberately challenging or alienating audiences.[1]


Avant-garde music may be distinguished from experimental music by the way it adopts an extreme position within a certain tradition, whereas "experimental music" lies outside tradition.[2] In a historical sense, some musicologists use the term "avant-garde music" for the radical compositions that succeeded the death of Anton Webern in 1945,[3] but others disagree. For example, Ryan Minor writes that this period began with the work of Richard Wagner,[4] whereas Edward Lowinsky cites Josquin des Prez.[5] The term may also be used to refer to any post-1945 tendency of modernist music not definable as experimental music, though sometimes including a type of experimental music characterized by the rejection of tonality.[3] A commonly cited example of avant-garde music is John Cage's 4'33" (1952),[1] a piece which instructs the performer(s) not to play their instrument(s) during its entire duration.[6]

Although some modernist music is also avant-garde, a distinction can be made between the two categories. According to scholar Larry Sitsky, because the purpose of avant-garde music is necessarily political, social, and cultural critique, so that it challenges social and artistic values by provoking or goading audiences, composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, George Antheil and Claude Debussy may reasonably be considered to have been avant-gardists in their early works (which were understood as provocative, whether or not the composers intended them that way), but Sitsky does not consider the label appropriate for their later music.[7] For example, modernists of the post–World War II period, such as Milton Babbitt, Luciano Berio, Elliott Carter, György Ligeti, and Witold Lutosławski, never conceived their music for the purpose of goading an audience and cannot, therefore, be classified as avant-garde. Composers such as John Cage and Harry Partch, on the contrary, remained avant-gardists throughout their creative careers.[7]

A prominent feature of avant-garde music is to break through various rules and regulations of traditional culture, in order to transcend established creative principles and appreciation habits. Avant-garde music pursues novelty in musical form and style, insisting that art is above everything else; thus, it creates a transcendental and mysterious sound world. Hint, metaphor, symbol, association, imagery, synesthesia and perception are widely used in avant-garde music techniques to excavate the mystery of human heart and the flow of consciousness, so that many seemingly unrelated but essentially very important events interweave into multi-level structures and forms.[8]

Popular music

Popular music, by definition, is designed for mass appeal.[9] The 1960s saw a wave of avant-garde experimentation in jazz, represented by artists such as Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, John Coltrane and Miles Davis.[10][11] In the rock music of the 1970s, the "art" descriptor was generally understood to mean "aggressively avant-garde" or "pretentiously progressive".[12] Post-punk artists from the late 1970s rejected traditional rock sensibilities in favor of an avant-garde aesthetic.[13] In 1988 the writer Greg Tate described hip hop music as "the only avant-garde around, still delivering the shock of the new."[14]

See also

Contemporary/classical music

Popular/traditional music


  1. ^ a b "Avant-Garde Music". AllMusic.
  2. ^ David Nicholls, American Experimental Music, 1890–1940 (Cambridge [England] and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990): 318.
  3. ^ a b Paul Du Noyer (ed.), "Contemporary", in the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music: From Rock, Pop, Jazz, Blues and Hip Hop to Classical, Folk, World and More (London: Flame Tree, 2003), p. 272. ISBN 1-904041-70-1
  4. ^ Ryan Minor, "Modernism", The Harvard Dictionary of Music, fourth edition, edited by Don Michael Randel (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003). ISBN 9780674011632.
  5. ^ Edward Lowinsky, "The Musical Avant-Garde of the Renaissance; or, the Peril and Profit of Foresight", in Music in the Culture of the Renaissance and Other Essays, edited and with an introduction by Bonie J. Blackburn with forewords by Howard Mayer Brown and Ellen T. Harris, 2 vols. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989) 2:730–54, passim.
  6. ^ Richard Kostelanetz, Conversing with John Cage (New York: Routledge, 2003):. ISBN 0-415-93792-2.
  7. ^ a b Larry Sitsky, Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002): xiii–xiv. ISBN 0-313-29689-8.
  8. ^ Paul Hegarty, Noise/Music: A History, (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2007):. ISBN 87-988955-0-8.
  9. ^ "Popular music". collinsdictionary.com.
  10. ^ Anon. Avant-Garde Jazz. AllMusic.com, n.d.
  11. ^ Michael West (April 3, 2015). "In the year jazz went avant-garde, Ramsey Lewis went pop with a bang". The Washington Post.
  12. ^ Murray, Noel (May 28, 2015). "60 minutes of music that sum up art-punk pioneers Wire". The A.V. Club.
  13. ^ Bannister, Matthew (2007). White Boys, White Noise: Masculinities and 1980s Indie Guitar Rock. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-7546-8803-7.
  14. ^ Chang, Jeff (2005). Can't Stop, Won't Stop. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 410. the only avant-garde around, still delivering the shock of the new (over recycled James Brown compost modernism like a bitch), and it's got a shockable bourgeoise, to boot

Further reading

Avant-garde jazz

Avant-garde jazz (also known as avant-jazz) is a style of music and improvisation that combines avant-garde art music and composition with jazz. It originated in the 1950s and developed through the 1960s. Originally synonymous with free jazz, much avant-garde jazz was distinct from that style.

Avant-garde metal

Avant-garde metal (or experimental metal) is a subgenre of heavy metal music loosely defined by use of experimentation and innovative, avant-garde elements, including non-standard and unconventional sounds, instruments, song structures, playing styles, and vocal techniques. Avant-garde metal is influenced by progressive rock and extreme metal, particularly death metal, and is closely related to progressive metal. Some local scenes include Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, and Seattle in the United States, Oslo in Norway, and Tokyo in Japan.


Avant-pop is popular music that is experimental, new, and distinct from previous styles while retaining an immediate accessibility for the listener. The term implies a combination of avant-garde sensibilities with existing elements from popular music in the service of novel or idiosyncratic artistic visions.


Avant-prog (short for avant-garde progressive rock) is a style that appeared in the late 1970s as the extension of two separate progressive rock sub-styles: Rock in Opposition (RIO) and the Canterbury scene.


Avant-punk is a punk music style characterized by "screeching experimentation," and a term by which critics used to describe the wave of American punk bands from the 1970s. It originated with the New York-based rock band the Velvet Underground, while antecedents included the Yardbirds, the early Kinks, and garage band one-shots collected on the Nuggets series of compilation albums. According to critic Robert Christgau, between 1966 and 1975, the only notable acts who could be categorized as "avant-punk" were the Velvets, MC5, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, the Modern Lovers, and the New York Dolls.

Avantgarde Music

Avantgarde Music is an Italian record label, formed as a continuation of Obscure Plasma Records, focusing on black and doom metal artists. The label has a sub-label called Wounded Love Records, which has released albums by Dolorian and Taake.Avantgarde Music's first release was the 1994 funeral doom classic Stream from the Heavens by Thergothon. The label has since signed many well-known black, death and doom metal bands such as Behemoth, Carpathian Forest, Mayhem and Unholy.

George Crumb

George Henry Crumb or George Henry Jr. Crumb (born October 24, 1929) is an American composer of modern classical and avant-garde music. He is known as an explorer of unusual timbres, alternative forms of notation, and extended instrumental and vocal techniques, which obtained his innovative techniques in the use of vivid sonorities. Examples include seagull effect for the cello (e.g. Vox Balaenae), metallic vibrato for the piano (e.g. Five Pieces for Piano), and using a mallet to play the strings of a double bass (e.g. Madrigals, Book I), among numerous others.

Lift Yourself

"Lift Yourself" is a song by American recording artist Kanye West. It was shared on West's website on April 27, 2018, and released as a single two days later. The song was West's first piece of new music since The Life of Pablo in 2016. "Lift Yourself" primarily consists of a sped-up sample of the song "Amnesty" by the group Liberty along with West rapping nonsensical words, including "whoop, "scoop", and "poop" towards the end. Due to the track's sample and use of nonsensical lyrics, many critics and fans believed West was trolling them upon its surprise release.

Macbeth (album)

Macbeth is a 1990 album by Slovenian avant-garde music group Laibach. It consists of music composed and performed by Laibach for a 1987 production of the William Shakespeare play Macbeth by Wilfried Minks at Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, Germany in 1987. It is the second Laibach album consisting of music written for a play, after their 1986 album Baptism.

Mode Records

Mode Records is an American record label in New York City that concentrates on contemporary classical music and other forms of avant-garde music. The label was founded by Brian Brandt in 1984, with a goal of releasing music composed by John Cage.Composers featured include John Cage, Morton Feldman, Iannis Xenakis, and Harry Partch. Performers include Steve Lacy, Aki Takahashi, Martine Joste, the Arditti Quartet, and Gerry Hemingway. The label also has a commitment to younger composers with releases featuring Jason Eckardt, Joshua Fineberg, and Lei Liang.

An earlier unrelated Mode Records existed for a short time in the 1950s and was involved West Coast jazz. It is now controlled by VSOP.

MoonJune Records

MoonJune Records is a record label that concentrates on progressive rock, jazz rock, and forms of avant-garde music. It was established by record producer Leonardo Pavkovic in 2001.

Neurosis (band)

Neurosis is an American avant-garde metal band from Oakland, California. It was formed in 1985 by guitarist Scott Kelly, bassist Dave Edwardson, and drummer Jason Roeder, initially as a hardcore punk band. Chad Salter joined as a second guitarist and appeared on the band's 1987 debut Pain of Mind before being replaced by Steve Von Till in 1989. The following year, the lineup further expanded to include a keyboardist and a visual artist. Beginning with their third album Souls at Zero (1992), Neurosis developed a unique musical style crucial to the emergence of the post-metal and sludge metal genres.

The band's lineup stabilized in 1995 with the addition of Noah Landis, who replaced Simon McIlroy on keyboards and electronics. That same year they formed the experimental music group Tribes of Neurot and in 1999 the record label Neurot Recordings. As of 2018, they have released 12 studio albums, including a 2003 collaboration with Jarboe, and garnered critical recognition. The BBC credited them with taking "heavy music to previously unimaginable spaces ... [and shaping] metal's definitive response to the 21st century."

Nine Winds

Nine Winds is an American jazz record label that was founded in 1977 by Vinny Golia.Golia is a self-taught musician who plays over fifty woodwind instruments, in addition to brass. In the early 1970s, he believed it was impossible for musicians who lived outside New York City to get contracts with record labels. He founded Nine Winds to produce his own albums and that of others who played free jazz, avant-garde jazz, and other forms of avant-garde music that were difficult to sell. He issued several of his own albums, then the debut album by guitarist Nels Cline. The roster grew to include unconventional music by Alex Cline, Jeff Gauthier, and Wayne Peet.

No wave

No wave was a short-lived avant-garde music and art scene that emerged in the late 1970s in downtown New York City. Reacting against punk rock's use of recycled rock and roll clichés, no wave musicians instead experimented with noise, dissonance and atonality in addition to a variety of non-rock genres, including free jazz and funk, while often reflecting an abrasive, confrontational and nihilistic worldview. In the later years of the scene, it adopted a more playful, danceable aesthetic inspired by disco, early hip hop and world music sources.The term "no wave" was a pun based on the rejection of commercial new wave music. The movement would last a relatively short time but profoundly influenced the development of independent film, fashion and visual art.

Oathbreaker (band)

Oathbreaker is a Belgian band from Flanders, formed in 2008 and currently signed to Deathwish Inc. The band consists of guitarists Lennart Bossu and Gilles Demolder, drummer Wim Coppers (who replaced founding member Ivo Debrabandere in 2016), and vocalist Caro Tanghe, who performs both screamed and sung vocals. They are a part of Amenra's Church of Ra collective. Following a self-titled EP, Oathbreaker have released three studio albums: Mælstrøm (2011), Eros|Anteros (2013) and Rheia (2016). The latter two albums came out on Deathwish and received generally positive reviews.

Painkiller (band)

Painkiller (also known as Pain Killer) is a band that formed in 1991, combining avant-garde jazz and grindcore. Later albums incorporated elements of ambient and dub.The three primary members of Painkiller were John Zorn on saxophone, Bill Laswell on bass guitar and Mick Harris on drums. Zorn and Laswell work in the New York avant-garde music scene. Harris was the drummer for the death metal band Napalm Death, which partially inspired the creation of the band. Several musicians have made guest appearances both live and in the studio, including Buckethead, Yamatsuka Eye, Mike Patton, Makigami Koichi, Justin Broadrick and G. C. Green of Godflesh, and Keiji Haino of Fushitsusha.

Harris left the band in 1995 to dedicate himself to computer music. Zorn and Laswell resurrected Painkiller and played with Yoshida Tatsuya of Ruins on drums. Hamid Drake joined the band for Zorn's 50th Birthday shows at Tonic in New York City. That show (which also featured Mike Patton as a guest) was released as a live album by Tzadik.

In 2008, Painkiller performed a one-off show in France with the original line-up of Zorn, Laswell, and Harris, along with an appearance by Fred Frith, Feydy Lyvyr, Sean Reno, Maeda, and Mike Patton.

Renaldo and the Loaf

Renaldo and the Loaf is an English musical duo active in the late 1970s and most of the 1980s, consisting of a pathologist (David Janssen or "Ted the Loaf") and an architect (Brian Poole or "Renaldo Malpractice", most often simply "Renaldo M").

By their own assertion, they achieved their unique sound in part by striving to get unnatural synthesizer-like sounds using only what instruments they had available (acoustic ones). To that end they routinely used muffled and de-tuned instruments, and, often to striking effect, tape loops / manipulation. The two released four full-length albums, one collection, various songs on compilation albums, and several self-produced demos. They were "discovered" by The Residents when Poole dropped off a tape at their Ralph Records headquarters in San Francisco, during a visit to the U.S. After being signed to Ralph, they collaborated with The Residents on Title in Limbo.

Although not actually their first album, Songs for Swinging Larvae was released in 1981 on Ralph Records. Aside from its unusual and instrumental arrangements, lyrics were taken from disparate sources such as Sherlock Holmes stories and Samuel Beckett's play, Endgame. This was followed by Arabic Yodelling in 1983. Renaldo and the Loaf had already recorded Struvé and Sneff in 1979, and had been distributing it, on demand, on home-made cassette tapes ever since; Ralph Records finally re-issued a remastered version in 1984.

As the 1980s advanced, the duo found it increasingly difficult to complete projects, and they both had demanding day jobs and family lives. Some Bizzare Records' involvement injected enough motivation for the completion of The Elbow Is Taboo in 1987, with a shift to a more refined electronic sound, but the process had been less than rewarding.

By 1988, the collaboration had lost its steam, and the duo disbanded after recording a sea shanty, "Haul on the Bowline," which appeared only on a Ralph various artists release. Brian/Renaldo contributed to sporadic recordings in the 1990s. In 2006, upon the launch of the new Renaldo and the Loaf web site, the duo were reunited for the first time in the better part of two decades.

In 1981, Graeme Whifler directed a short video, Songs for Swinging Larvae, accompanied by a medley of music from the album, and produced by The Residents' managers, the Cryptic Corporation. The film, based on a true story, concerns a kidnapped child, and "poses ancient questions regarding home and heart". The film was banned from television and film festivals due to its controversial nature. "Larvae" was premiered at an art museum. It was included first in The Residents' Video Voodoo video collection, and later on the comprehensive Icky Flix DVD.Their latest album, entitled Gurdy Hurding, was released in October 2016 and is the pair's first new album in 29 years.

Rock in Opposition

Rock in Opposition or RIO was a movement representing a collective of progressive bands in the late 1970s united in their opposition to the music industry that refused to recognise their music. It was initiated by English avant-rock group Henry Cow in March 1978 when they invited four mainland European groups to come to London and perform in a festival called "Rock in Opposition".

Tartar Lamb

Tartar Lamb is an experimental avant-garde band, consisting of Toby Driver and Mia Matsumiya, both leading members of the experimental band Kayo Dot. The band originally was formed in 2006 as a means for Toby Driver to experiment with his ideas for a guitar-violin duo. The duo released their first album, Sixty Metonymies, in 2007. The band was augmented by trumpet and percussion by Tim Byrnes and Andrew Greenwald, respectively. In 2011, the band returned with their sophomore effort, Polyimage of Known Exits, under the name Tartar Lamb II. This album was funded entirely by fans via a Kickstarter project.

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