Experimental music is a general label for any music that pushes existing boundaries and genre definitions (Anon. & n.d.(c)). Experimental compositional practice is defined broadly by exploratory sensibilites radically opposed to, and questioning of, institutionalized compositional, performing, and aesthetic conventions in music (Sun 2013). Elements of experimental music include indeterminate music, in which the composer introduces the elements of chance or unpredictability with regard to either the composition or its performance. Artists may also approach a hybrid of disparate styles or incorporate unorthodox and unique elements (Anon. & n.d.(c)).
The practice became prominent in the mid-20th century, particularly in Europe and North America. John Cage was one of the earliest composers to use the term and one of experimental music's primary innovators, utilizing indeterminacy techniques and seeking unknown outcomes. In France, as early as 1953, Pierre Schaeffer had begun using the term musique expérimentale to describe compositional activities that incorporated tape music, musique concrète, and elektronische Musik. Also, in America, a quite distinct sense of the term was used in the late 1950s to describe computer-controlled composition associated with composers such as Lejaren Hiller. Harry Partch as well as Ivor Darreg worked with other tuning scales based on the physical laws for harmonic music. For this music they both developed a group of experimental musical instruments. Musique concrète (French; literally, "concrete music"), is a form of electroacoustic music that utilises acousmatic sound as a compositional resource. Free improvisation or free music is improvised music without any rules beyond the taste or inclination of the musician(s) involved; in many cases the musicians make an active effort to avoid clichés, i.e. overt references to recognizable musical conventions or genres.
The Groupe de Recherches de Musique Concrète (GRMC), under the leadership of Pierre Schaeffer, organized the First International Decade of Experimental Music between 8 and 18 June 1953. This appears to have been an attempt by Schaeffer to reverse the assimilation of musique concrète into the German elektronische Musik, and instead tried to subsume musique concrète, elektronische Musik, tape music, and world music under the rubric "musique experimentale" (Palombini 1993, 18). Publication of Schaeffer's manifesto (Schaeffer 1957) was delayed by four years, by which time Schaeffer was favoring the term "recherche musicale" (music research), though he never wholly abandoned "musique expérimentale" (Palombini 1993a, 19; Palombini 1993b, 557).
John Cage was also using the term as early as 1955. According to Cage's definition, "an experimental action is one the outcome of which is not foreseen" (Cage 1961, 39), and he was specifically interested in completed works that performed an unpredictable action (Mauceri 1997, 197). In Germany, the publication of Cage's article was anticipated by several months in a lecture delivered by Wolfgang Edward Rebner at the Darmstädter Ferienkurse on 13 August 1954, titled “Amerikanische Experimentalmusik". Rebner's lecture extended the concept back in time to include Charles Ives, Edgard Varèse, and Henry Cowell, as well as Cage, due to their focus on sound as such rather than compositional method (Rebner 1997).
Composer and critic Michael Nyman starts from Cage's definition (Nyman 1974, 1), and develops the term "experimental" also to describe the work of other American composers (Christian Wolff, Earle Brown, Meredith Monk, Malcolm Goldstein, Morton Feldman, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, etc.), as well as composers such as Gavin Bryars, John Cale, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Cornelius Cardew, John Tilbury, Frederic Rzewski, and Keith Rowe (Nyman 1974, 78–81, 93–115). Nyman opposes experimental music to the European avant-garde of the time (Boulez, Kagel, Xenakis, Birtwistle, Berio, Stockhausen, and Bussotti), for whom "The identity of a composition is of paramount importance" (Nyman 1974, 2 and 9). The word "experimental" in the former cases "is apt, providing it is understood not as descriptive of an act to be later judged in terms of success or failure, but simply as of an act the outcome of which is unknown" (Cage 1961).
David Cope also distinguishes between experimental and avant garde, describing experimental music as that "which represents a refusal to accept the status quo" (Cope 1997, 222). David Nicholls, too, makes this distinction, saying that "...very generally, avant-garde music can be viewed as occupying an extreme position within the tradition, while experimental music lies outside it" (Nicholls 1998, 318).
Warren Burt cautions that, as "a combination of leading-edge techniques and a certain exploratory attitude", experimental music requires a broad and inclusive definition, "a series of ands, if you will", encompassing such areas as "Cageian influences and work with low technology and improvisation and sound poetry and linguistics and new instrument building and multimedia and music theatre and work with high technology and community music, among others, when these activities are done with the aim of finding those musics 'we don't like, yet,' [citing Herbert Brün] in a 'problem-seeking environment' [citing Chris Mann]” (Burt 1991, 5).
Benjamin Piekut argues that this "consensus view of experimentalism" is based on an a priori "grouping", rather than asking the question "How have these composers been collected together in the first place, that they can now be the subject of a description?" That is, "for the most part, experimental music studies describes [sic] a category without really explaining it" (Piekut 2008, 2–5). He finds laudable exceptions in the work of David Nicholls and, especially, Amy Beal (Piekut 2008, 5), and concludes from their work that "The fundamental ontological shift that marks experimentalism as an achievement is that from representationalism to performativity", so that "an explanation of experimentalism that already assumes the category it purports to explain is an exercise in metaphysics, not ontology" (Piekut 2008, 7).
Leonard B. Meyer, on the other hand, includes under "experimental music" composers rejected by Nyman, such as Berio, Boulez and Stockhausen, as well as the techniques of "total serialism" (Meyer 1994, 106–107 and 266), holding that "there is no single, or even pre-eminent, experimental music, but rather a plethora of different methods and kinds" (Meyer 1994, 237).
In the 1950s, the term "experimental" was often applied by conservative music critics—along with a number of other words, such as "engineers art", "musical splitting of the atom", "alchemist's kitchen", "atonal", and "serial"—as a deprecating jargon term, which must be regarded as "abortive concepts", since they did not "grasp a subject" (Metzger 1959, 21). This was an attempt to marginalize, and thereby dismiss various kinds of music that did not conform to established conventions (Mauceri 1997, 189). In 1955, Pierre Boulez identified it as a "new definition that makes it possible to restrict to a laboratory, which is tolerated but subject to inspection, all attempts to corrupt musical morals. Once they have set limits to the danger, the good ostriches go to sleep again and wake only to stamp their feet with rage when they are obliged to accept the bitter fact of the periodical ravages caused by experiment." He concludes, "There is no such thing as experimental music … but there is a very real distinction between sterility and invention" (Boulez 1986, 430 and 431). Starting in the 1960s, "experimental music" began to be used in America for almost the opposite purpose, in an attempt to establish an historical category to help legitimize a loosely identified group of radically innovative, "outsider" composers. Whatever success this might have had in academe, this attempt to construct a genre was as abortive as the meaningless namecalling noted by Metzger, since by the "genre's" own definition the work it includes is "radically different and highly individualistic" (Mauceri 1997, 190). It is therefore not a genre, but an open category, "because any attempt to classify a phenomenon as unclassifiable and (often) elusive as experimental music must be partial" (Nyman 1974, 5). Furthermore, the characteristic indeterminacy in performance "guarantees that two versions of the same piece will have virtually no perceptible musical 'facts' in common" (Nyman 1974, 9).
In the late 1950s, Lejaren Hiller and L. M. Isaacson used the term in connection with computer-controlled composition, in the scientific sense of "experiment" (Hiller and Isaacson 1959): making predictions for new compositions based on established musical technique (Mauceri 1997, 194–95). The term "experimental music" was used contemporaneously for electronic music, particularly in the early musique concrète work of Schaeffer and Henry in France (Vignal 2003, 298). There is a considerable overlap between Downtown music and what is more generally called experimental music, especially as that term was defined at length by Nyman in his book Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (1974, second edition 1999).
A number of early 20th-century American composers, seen as precedents to and influences on John Cage, are sometimes referred to as the "American Experimental School". These include Charles Ives, Charles and Ruth Crawford Seeger, Henry Cowell, Carl Ruggles, and John Becker (Nicholls 1990; Rebner 1997).
Musique concrète (French; literally, "concrete music"), is a form of electroacoustic music that utilises acousmatic sound as a compositional resource. The compositional material is not restricted to the inclusion of sonorities derived from musical instruments or voices, nor to elements traditionally thought of as "musical" (melody, harmony, rhythm, metre and so on). The theoretical underpinnings of the aesthetic were developed by Pierre Schaeffer, beginning in the late 1940s.
Fluxus was an artistic movement started in the 1960s, characterized by an increased theatricality and the use of mixed media. Another known musical aspect appearing in the Fluxus movement was the use of Primal Scream at performances, derived from the primal therapy. Yoko Ono used this technique of expression (Bateman n.d.).
The term "experimental" has sometimes been applied to the mixture of recognizable music genres, especially those identified with specific ethnic groups, as found for example in the music of Laurie Anderson, Chou Wen-chung, Steve Reich, Kevin Volans, Martin Scherzinger, Michael Blake, and Rüdiger Meyer (Blake 1999; Jaffe 1983; Lubet 1999).
Free improvisation or free music is improvised music without any rules beyond the taste or inclination of the musician(s) involved; in many cases the musicians make an active effort to avoid overt references to recognizable musical genres. The term is somewhat paradoxical, since it can be considered both as a technique (employed by any musician who wishes to disregard rigid genres and forms) and as a recognizable genre in its own right.
The Residents started in the seventies as an idiosyncratic musical group mixing all kinds of artistic genres like pop music, electronic music, experimental music with movies, comic books and performance art (Ankeny n.d.). Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca composed multi guitar compositions in the late 1970s. Chatham worked for some time with LaMonte Young and afterwards mixed the experimental musical ideas with punk rock in his piece Guitar Trio. Lydia Lunch started incorporating spoken word with punk rock and Mars explored new sliding guitar techniques. Arto Lindsay neglected to use any kind of musical practise or theory to develop an idiosyncratic atonal playing technique. DNA and James Chance are other famous no wave artists. Chance later on moved more up to Free improvisation. The No Wave movement was closely related to transgressive art and, just like Fluxus, often mixed performance art with music. It is alternatively seen, however, as an avant-garde offshoot of 1970s punk, and a genre related to experimental rock (Anon. & n.d.(b)).
An algorave (from an algorithm and rave) is an event where people dance to music generated from algorithms, often using live coding techniques. Alex McLean of Slub and Nick Collins coined the word "algorave" in 2011, and the first event under such a name was organised in London, UK. It has since become a movement, with algoraves taking place around the world.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.Avant-punk
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.Drag City (record label)
Drag City is an American independent record label based in Chicago, Illinois. It was established with a Royal Trux single release ("Hero Zero" - DC1) in Chicago in 1990 in by Dan Koretzky and Dan Osborn. It specializes in indie rock, experimental rock, psychedelic rock, folk rock, and alternative country.Drone metal
Drone metal or drone doom is a style of heavy metal that melds the slow tempos and heaviness of doom metal with the long-duration tones of drone music. Drone metal is sometimes associated with post-metal or experimental metal.ESP-Disk
ESP-Disk is a New York-based record company and label founded in 1964 by lawyer Bernard Stollman.
Though it originally existed to release Esperanto-based music, starting with its second release (Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity), ESP became the most important exponent of what is commonly referred to as free jazz. ESP also released recordings by uncommercial underground rock acts including the Fugs, The Godz and Pearls Before Swine.
Bernard Stollman faced allegations of not paying royalties to the artists that were signed to ESP-Disk. Tom Rapp of the band Pearls Before Swine claimed that "We never got any money from ESP. Never, not even like a hundred dollars or something. My real sense is that he [Stollman] was abducted by aliens, and when he was probed it erased his memory of where all the money was". Peter Stampfel of the band Holy Modal Rounders and The Fugs claimed that Stollman told him that "the contract says that all rights belong to me. You have no royalties ever, ever, ever. The publishing is mine. You don't own the songs anymore. We don't owe you anything". Members of The Fugs have also stated claims that they received an unfavourable record contract. Ed Sanders said that "our royalty rate was less than 3%, one of the lower percentages in the history of western civilization". 801 Magazine, which featured an interview with Stollman in 2008, said that Stollman claimed that "he paid all the recording costs and gave the musicians small advances", and that "he never made any money from the music".Earache Records
Earache Records is an independent record label, music publisher and management company founded by Digby Pearson, based in Nottingham, England with offices in London and New York. It helped to pioneer extreme metal by releasing early grindcore and death metal records between 1988 and 1994. The label roster has since diversified into more mainstream guitar music, working with bands such as Rival Sons, The Temperance Movement, Blackberry Smoke and The White Buffalo. The company also hosted the 'Earache Express' stage at Glastonbury Festival in 2017 and will be hosting 'The Earache Factory' at Boomtown Fair 2018.
The logo of Earache Records is an homage to Thrasher Magazine as envisaged by owner Digby Pearson being a keen skateboard culture enthusiast himself.Electroacoustic music
Electroacoustic music is a style of Western art music which originated around the middle of the 20th century, following the incorporation of electric sound production into compositional practice. The initial developments in electroacoustic music composition to fixed media during the 20th century are associated with the activities of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales at the ORTF in Paris, the home of musique concrète, the Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk (NWDR) studio in Cologne, where the focus was on the composition of elektronische Musik, and the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York City, where tape music, electronic music, and computer music were all explored. Practical electronic music instruments began to appear in the early 1900s.Freedom Records
Freedom Records was a jazz record label headed by Shel Safran and founded by Alan Bates as a division of Black Lion Records.Individual recordings were distributed via Polydor Records and Transatlantic Records during the early 1970s before the company was bought by Arista Records with the imprint dubbed Arista/Freedom in 1975.Grantchester Meadows (song)
"Grantchester Meadows" is the second track from the studio disc of the experimental Pink Floyd album Ummagumma. It was written and performed entirely by Roger Waters. The song features his lyrics accompanied by an acoustic guitar played by Waters himself, while a tape loop of a skylark chirps in the background throughout the entire song. At approximately 4:13, the sound of a honking goose is temporarily introduced, followed by the sound of it taking off. As the instrumental track fades out, an incessant buzzing fly which has been heard throughout the song is chased after by an unidentified person (represented by the sound of footsteps) and finally swatted, cutting abruptly to the next track.
This song was one of several to be considered for, but ultimately excluded from, the band's "best of" album, Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd. A live version of the song was released as the first single to promote The Early Years 1965–1972 box set in 2016.Knitting Factory
The Knitting Factory is a nightclub that was opened in New York City and that featured eclectic music and entertainment. After opening in 1987, various other locations were opened in the United States.
The Knitting Factory gave its audience poetry readings, performance art, standup comedy, and musicians who transcended the usual boundaries of rock and jazz, often experimental music. The Knitting Factory owners distributed some performances to radio stations, and around 1990 starting a radio show and the record label Knitting Factory Works. Later the founders started Knitting Factory Records in 1998.Kranky (record label)
Kranky is an American independent record label in Chicago, Illinois. It was started in 1993 by Bruce Adams and Joel Leoschke. It houses predominantly experimental music artists, often branching into or inspired by ambient, rock, electronic or psychedelic music. Their first release was Labradford's 1993 debut album Prazision. Adams left the label in 2006, after which Leoschke continued running it, with the help of Brian Foote of Kranky band Nudge.List of experimental music festivals
The following is an incomplete list of experimental music festivals, which encapsulates music festivals focused on experimental music. This list may have some overlap with list of contemporary classical music festivals and list of electroacoustic festivals. Experimental music is a compositional tradition that arose in the mid-20th century, particularly in North America, of music composed in such a way that its outcome is unforeseeable. The Groupe de Recherches de Musique Concrète (GRMC), under the leadership of Pierre Schaeffer, organized the First International Decade of Experimental Music between 8 and 18 June 1953, and the phrase was used by musician John Cage as early as 1955. Afterwards saw the development of specific experimental musical instruments, which were featured at various music festivals. Musique concrète is an experimental form of electroacoustic music, and free improvisation or free music is improvised music without any rules beyond the taste or inclination of the musician(s) involved.One Little Indian Records
One Little Indian Records is a London-based independent record label that rose from the ashes of punk rock record company Spiderleg Records. It was set up in 1985 by members of various anarcho-punk bands, and managed by former Flux of Pink Indians bassist Derek Birkett.Sound art
Sound art is an artistic discipline in which sound is utilised as a primary medium. Like many genres of contemporary art, sound art may be interdisciplinary in nature, or be used in hybrid forms. Sound art can be considered as being an element of many areas such as acoustics, psychoacoustics, electronics, noise music, audio media, found or environmental sound, soundscapes, explorations of the human body, sculpture, architecture, film or video and other aspects of the current discourse of contemporary art.In Western art, early examples include Luigi Russolo's Intonarumori or noise intoners, and subsequent experiments by Dadaists, Surrealists, the Situationist International, and in Fluxus happenings. Because of the diversity of sound art, there is often debate about whether sound art falls within the domains of visual art or experimental music categories, or both. Other artistic lineages from which sound art emerges are conceptual art, minimalism, site-specific art, sound poetry, electro-acoustic music, spoken word, avant-garde poetry, and experimental theatre.Tzadik Records
Tzadik Records is a record label in New York City that specializes in avant-garde and experimental music. The label was established by composer and saxophonist John Zorn in 1995. He is the executive producer of all Tzadik releases. Tzadik is a not-for-profit, cooperative record label.
Tzadik has released over 400 albums by a variety of artists with diverse musical backgrounds, including free improvisation, jazz, noise, klezmer, rock, and experimental composition.
On the label's catalogue are releases by Zorn himself and his multifaceted "songbook" group Masada; singer Mike Patton; guitarists Derek Bailey, Yoshihide Otomo, Tim Sparks, Buckethead and Keiji Haino; noise music icon Merzbow; composers Gordon Mumma, Frank Denyer, Arnold Dreyblatt, and Teiji Ito; experimental groups Kayo Dot, Time of Orchids and Rashanim, microtonalists Syzygys; drummer Tatsuya Yoshida and his bands Ruins and Korekyojinn; trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith; electroacoustic composer Noah Creshevsky; and jazz saxophonist Steve Coleman.Warsaw Autumn
Warsaw Autumn (Warszawska Jesień) is the largest international Polish festival of contemporary music. Indeed, for many years, it was the only festival of its type in Central and Eastern Europe. It was founded in 1956 by two composers, Tadeusz Baird and Kazimierz Serocki, and officially established by the Head Board of the Polish Composers' Union. It is an annual event, normally taking place in the second half of September and lasts for 8 days.Western Vinyl
Western Vinyl is an independent record label founded in 1998 and based in Austin, Texas.White power music
White power music is music that promotes white nationalism. It encompasses various music styles, including rock, country, experimental music and folk. Ethnomusicologist Benjamin R. Teitelbaum argues that white power music "can be defined by lyrics that demonize variously conceived non-whites and advocate racial pride and solidarity. Most often, however, insiders conceptualized white power music as the combination of those themes with pounding rhythms and a charging punk or metal-based accompaniment." Genres include Nazi punk, Rock Against Communism, and National Socialist black metal.Barbara Perry writes that contemporary white supremacist groups include "subcultural factions that are largely organized around the promotion and distribution of racist music." According to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission "racist music is principally derived from the far-right skinhead movement and, through the Internet, this music has become perhaps the most important tool of the international neo-Nazi movement to gain revenue and new recruits." An article in Popular Music and Society says "musicians believe not only that music could be a successful vehicle for their specific ideology but that it also could advance the movement by framing it in a positive manner."Dominic J. Pulera writes that the music is more pervasive in some countries in Europe than it is in the United States, despite some European countries banning or curtailing its distribution. European governments regularly deport "extremist aliens", ban white power bands and raid organizations that produce and distribute the music. In the United States, racist music is protected freedom of speech in the United States by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
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