Experimental music

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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) ).

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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.

John Cage American avant-garde composer

John Milton Cage Jr. was an American composer, music theorist, artist, and philosopher. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde. Critics have lauded him as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. He was also instrumental in the development of modern dance, mostly through his association with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also Cage's romantic partner for most of their lives.

Indeterminacy is a composing approach in which some aspects of a musical work are left open to chance or to the interpreter's free choice. John Cage, a pioneer of indeterminacy, defined it as "the ability of a piece to be performed in substantially different ways".

Pierre Schaeffer French musicologist

Pierre Henri Marie Schaeffer was a French composer, writer, broadcaster, engineer, musicologist and acoustician. His innovative work in both the sciences—particularly communications and acoustics—and the various arts of music, literature and radio presentation after the end of World War II, as well as his anti-nuclear activism and cultural criticism garnered him widespread recognition in his lifetime.

Definitions and usage

Origins

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 ).

Charles Ives American composer

Charles Edward Ives was an American modernist composer, being one of the first American composer of international renown. Previously, his music was largely ignored during his life, and many of his works went unperformed for many years, but later the quality of his music was recognized and he came to be regarded as an "American original". He was also among the first composers to engage in a systematic program of experimental music, with musical techniques including polytonality, polyrhythm, tone clusters, aleatory elements, and quarter tones. His experimentation foreshadowed many musical innovations that were later more widely adopted during the 20th century. Hence, he is often regarded as the leading American composer of art music of the 20th century.

Edgard Varèse French composer

Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse was a French-born composer who spent the greater part of his career in the United States.

Henry Cowell American composer, music theorist, pianist, teacher, publisher, and impresario

Henry Dixon Cowell was an American composer, music theorist, pianist, teacher, publisher, and impresario. His contribution to the world of music was summed up by Virgil Thomson, writing in the early 1950s:

Henry Cowell's music covers a wider range in both expression and technique than that of any other living composer. His experiments begun three decades ago in rhythm, in harmony, and in instrumental sonorities were considered then by many to be wild. Today they are the Bible of the young and still, to the conservatives, "advanced."... No other composer of our time has produced a body of works so radical and so normal, so penetrating and so comprehensive. Add to this massive production his long and influential career as a pedagogue, and Henry Cowell's achievement becomes impressive indeed. There is no other quite like it. To be both fecund and right is given to few.

Alternate classifications

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 ).

Michael Nyman English composer of minimalist music, pianist, librettist and musicologist

Michael Laurence Nyman, CBE is an English composer of minimalist music, pianist, librettist and musicologist, known for numerous film scores, and his multi-platinum soundtrack album to Jane Campion's The Piano. He has written a number of operas, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat; Letters, Riddles and Writs; Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs; Facing Goya; Man and Boy: Dada; Love Counts; and Sparkie: Cage and Beyond. He has written six concerti, five string quartets, and many other chamber works, many for his Michael Nyman Band. He is also a performing pianist. Nyman prefers to write opera rather than other forms of music.

Christian Wolff (composer) American composer

Christian G. Wolff is an American composer of experimental classical music.

Earle Brown American composer

Earle Brown was an American composer who established his own formal and notational systems. Brown was the creator of open form, a style of musical construction that has influenced many composers since—notably the downtown New York scene of the 1980s and generations of younger composers.

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).

David Cope is an American author, composer, scientist, and former professor of music at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His primary area of research involves artificial intelligence and music; he writes programs and algorithms that can analyse existing music and create new compositions in the style of the original input music. He taught a summer Workshop in Algorithmic Computer Music that was open to the public as well as a general education course entitled Artificial Intelligence and Music for enrolled UCSC students. Cope is also cofounder and CTO Emeritus of Recombinant Inc, a music technology company.

Status quo is a Latin phrase meaning the existing state of affairs, particularly with regard to social or political issues. In the sociological sense, it generally applies to maintain or change existing social structure and values. With regard to policy debate, the status quo refers to how conditions are at the time and how the affirmative team can solve these conditions for example "The countries are now trying to maintain a status quo with regards to their nuclear arsenal which will help them if the situation gets any worse."

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).

Abortive critical term

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).

Computer composition

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).

History

Influential antecedents

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).

New York School

Artists: John Cage, Earle Brown, Christian Wolff, Morton Feldman, David Tudor, Related: Merce Cunningham

Musique concrète

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

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. ).

Minimalism

Transethnicism

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

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.

Game pieces

Influence

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) ).

See also

Related Research Articles

Musique concrète is a type of music composition that utilizes recorded sounds as raw material. Sounds are often modified through the application of audio effects and tape manipulation techniques, and may be assembled into a form of montage. It can feature sounds derived from recordings of musical instruments, the human voice, and the natural environment as well as those created using synthesizers and computer-based digital signal processing. Compositions in this idiom are not restricted to the normal musical rules of melody, harmony, rhythm, metre, and so on. It exploits acousmatic listening, meaning sound identities can often be intentionally obscured or appear unconnected to their source cause.

Noise music is a category of music that is characterised by the expressive use of noise within a musical context. This type of music tends to challenge the distinction that is made in conventional musical practices between musical and non-musical sound. Noise music includes a wide range of musical styles and sound-based creative practices that feature noise as a primary aspect.

Aleatoricism is the incorporation of chance into the process of creation, especially the creation of art or media. The word derives from the Latin word alea, the rolling of dice. "Aleatory" should not be confused with either improvisation or indeterminacy.

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.

20th-century classical music describes art music that was written nominally from 1901 to 2000. This century was without a dominant style and composers created highly diverse kinds of music. Modernism, impressionism, and post-romanticism can all be traced to the decades before the turn of the century, but can be included because they evolved beyond the musical boundaries of the 19th-century styles that were part of the earlier common practice period. Neoclassicism, and expressionism, came mostly after 1900. Minimalism started much later in the century and can be seen as a change from the modern to post-modern era, although some date post-modernism from as early as ca. 1930. Atonality, serialism, musique concrète and electronic music were all developed during this century. Jazz and folk music were important influences on many composers at this time.

Contemporary classical music can be understood as belonging to the period that started in the mid-1970s to early 1990s, which includes modernist, postmodern, neoromantic, and pluralist music. However, the term may also be employed in a broader sense to refer to all post-1945 musical forms.

Process music

Process music is music that arises from a process. It may make that process audible to the listener, or the process may be concealed.

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.

Acousmatic music is a form of electroacoustic music that is specifically composed for presentation using speakers, as opposed to a live performance. It stems from a compositional tradition that dates back to the introduction of musique concrète in the late 1940s. Unlike musical works that are realised using sheet music exclusively, compositions that are purely acousmatic often exist solely as fixed media audio recordings.

Surrealist music is music which uses unexpected juxtapositions and other surrealist techniques. Discussing Theodor Adorno, Max Paddison defines surrealist music as that which "juxtaposes its historically devalued fragments in a montage-like manner which enables them to yield up new meanings within a new aesthetic unity," though Lloyd Whitesell says this is Paddison's gloss of the term. Anne LeBaron cites automatism, including improvisation, and collage as the primary techniques of musical surrealism. According to Whitesell, Paddison quotes Adorno's 1930 essay "Reaktion und Fortschritt" as saying "Insofar as surrealist composing makes use of devalued means, it uses these as devalued means, and wins its form from the 'scandal' produced when the dead suddenly spring up among the living".

Pierre Henry French composer

Pierre Georges Henry was a French composer, considered a pioneer in the musique concrète genre of electronic music.

Live electronic music is a form of music that can include traditional electronic sound-generating devices, modified electric musical instruments, hacked sound generating technologies, and computers. Initially the practice developed in reaction to sound-based composition for fixed media such as musique concrète, electronic music and early computer music. Musical improvisation often plays a large role in the performance of this music. The timbres of various sounds may be transformed extensively using devices such as amplifiers, filters, ring modulators and other forms of circuitry. Real-time generation and manipulation of audio using live coding is now commonplace.

Experimental rock is a subgenre of rock music which pushes the boundaries of common composition and performance technique or which experiments with the basic elements of the genre. Artists aim to liberate and innovate, with some of the genre's distinguishing characteristics being improvisational performances, avant-garde influences, odd instrumentation, opaque lyrics, unorthodox structures and rhythms, and an underlying rejection of commercial aspirations.

The Konkrete Etüde is the earliest work of electroacoustic tape music by Karlheinz Stockhausen, composed in 1952 and lasting just three-and-a-quarter minutes. The composer retrospectively gave it the number "⅕" in his catalogue of works.

The Studio d'Essai, later Club d'Essai, was founded in 1942 by Pierre Schaeffer, played a role in the activities of the French resistance during World War II, and later became a center of musical activity.

French electronic music, a panorama of French music that employs electronic musical instruments and electronic music technology in its production.

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Further reading