Experimental rock

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Experimental rock, also known as avant-garde rock, is a type of music based on rock music which experiments with the basic elements of the genre,[1] or which pushes the boundaries of common composition and performance technique.[2] Performers of experimental rock may also attempt to individualize their music with unconventional time signatures, instrumental tunings, unusual harmony and key signatures, compositional styles, lyrical techniques, elements of other musical genres, singing styles, instrumental effects, found objects, or custom-made experimental musical instruments. Experimental rock may involve extended techniques, prepared instruments, unconventional playing techniques, extended vocal techniques, and the use of instruments, tunings, rhythms or scales from non-Western musical traditions.

The late 1960s was an era of explosive growth and experimentation in rock music.[3] Bands drew influences from free jazz artists such as John Coltrane and Sun Ra and avant-garde composers such as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Other important experimental bands in this period include Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band and The Mothers of Invention. Influenced by the experiments of these groups came another wave of experimental rock bands in the early 1970s. There was, for instance, the so-called Krautrock scene in Germany, which included psychedelic bands like Amon Düül II and Popol Vuh, sound-collage artists like Faust, and the extremely improvisational and almost unclassifiable Can. Brian Eno was another important figure, especially after his departure from Roxy Music in order to pursue his own ideas (which ultimately led to his invention of the term "ambient music"). Experimentalism was a large part of the college rock and underground music scene in the 1980s. Influenced by their punk and post-punk predecessors, bands like Sonic Youth, Band of Susans, and Live Skull all originated in New York's No Wave scene.

In the 1990s, artists such as Ween and Redd Kross continued their predecessors inventiveness with less impact, as did some bands referring to 1970s funk such as Praxis. Halfway through the nineties the lo-fi movement became a prominent factor in exploring new recording techniques. Industrial music includes fusions with noise music, ambient music, folk music, post-punk, and electronic dance music. The best-selling offshoots of post-industrial scene have been industrial rock and metal; Ministry and Nine Inch Nails both recorded platinum-selling albums.[4][5]

In the later 1990s, many indie rock bands diverged into a style called post-rock, which has been described as "using rock instrumentation to make non-rock music". British band Radiohead, who became popular in the 1990s playing alternative rock, began experimenting with different musical styles at the beginning of the new millennium. As the 1990s passed, non-instrumental forms of indie rock also became increasingly experimental. More recent experimental acts that broke through after 2010 are Disappears, Geoff Barrows, BEAK>, Suuns, Connan Mockasin, as well as new Japanese acts such as Nisennenmondai and ZZZ's.

History[edit]

1960s[edit]

The late 1960s was an era of explosive growth and experimentation in rock music.[6] Bands drew influences from free jazz artists such as John Coltrane and Sun Ra and avant-garde composers such as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. The Velvet Underground, which at one point counted Lou Reed, John Cale, and Angus Maclise among its members and was associated with Andy Warhol and LaMonte Young, fused elements of minimalism and avant-garde music with standard rock song structures. Psychedelic rock groups such as Fifty Foot Hose, the United States of America, Silver Apples, and Red Krayola introduced avant-garde electronic music into their songs. The sounds of Indian and Arabic music were also widely admired and adapted. Even such popularly successful bands as Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Rolling Stones were able to incorporate outside and foreign influences into their songs without sacrificing their broad fan base. For example, Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" was directly influenced by Egyptian music.

In the UK, BBC Radiophonic Workshop composers Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson joined the experimental electronic band White Noise.

Other important experimental bands in this period include The Monks, The Fugs, The Godz, The Residents, Os Mutantes, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, and The Mothers of Invention.

1970s[edit]

Influenced by the experiments of these groups came another wave of experimental rock bands in the early 1970s. There was, for instance, the so-called Krautrock scene in Germany, which included psychedelic bands like Amon Düül II, Guru Guru, and Popol Vuh, sound-collage artists like Faust, and the extremely improvisational and almost unclassifiable Can. Brian Eno was another important figure, especially after his departure from Roxy Music in order to pursue his own ideas (which ultimately led to his invention of the term "ambient music"). David Bowie and Scott Walker departed from more pop-oriented styles in order to experiment with songwriting and production. Some of Miles Davis' early-70s work such as On the Corner or A Tribute to Jack Johnson straddles or even defies the line between jazz fusion, funk and rock. At the same time, there was the experimental wing of the already somewhat experimental progressive rock scene, including a number of bands who were influenced by contemporary classical music -- Magma, Zao, Henry Cow, Samla Mammas Manna, Area, Univers Zero, and Frank Zappa.

In the late 70s, punk rock developed a number of experimental offshoots, most notably post-punk. This genre includes arty punk rockers like Pere Ubu, Suicide, Bauhaus, The Raincoats, The Fall, The Birthday Party, Half Japanese, The Ex, The Electric Eels, the dub-influenced Public Image Ltd, and The Pop Group. No Wave was another important offshoot, composed of acts such as James Chance and the Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Glenn Branca's Theoretical Girls, Mars, ESG, Y Pants, Ut, and DNA.

Other notable acts from this era are This Heat, Wire, Chrome, and Throbbing Gristle.

1980s[edit]

Experimentalism was a large part of the college rock and underground music scene in the 1980s. Noise Rock became prominent during the 1980s. Influenced by noise music, avant-garde jazz, sound art, and No Wave; bands included Sonic Youth, Swans, Band of Susans, Live Skull, Big Black, Dinosaur Jr., Butthole Surfers, Oxbow, Wipers, Melvins, Beme Seed, and Acid Mothers Temple. Post-hardcore provided the roots for experimental rock bands of the period including Fugazi, The Ex, Dog Faced Hermans, and The Scene Is Now. The late 80s underground scene saw the rise of a number of bands influenced by the Velvet Underground and 1960s psychedelia, including Agitpop, Opal, Pixies, and Yo La Tengo. Other notable experimental acts from the era include Sun City Girls, The Legendary Pink Dots, and Negativland.

In Japan, experimental rock acts Merzbow, Keiji Haino, Hanatarash, and Boredoms started their careers in the '80s. In Germany, Einstürzende Neubauten built several instruments for their experimental industrial music.

Toward the end of the 1980s rap emerged into a mature, experimental phase exploring the possibilities of sampling and dealing with social and racial issues. Sampling technology had been present within pop music for a large portion of the decade, however, artists such as Kate Bush and Brian Eno innovated an experimental pop music take on the use of sampling technology. The influences of this form of sampling also aided as an influence on modern electronica. Rap's impact on experimental rock was huge, as many rock bands were impressed by the power and innovation of rap artists such as Public Enemy, Dream Warriors, and Digital Underground and sought to incorporate aspects of rap and hip hop into their music, with Sonic Youth's 1990 "Kool Thing" featuring an appearance by Chuck D. of Public Enemy.

Metal bands from the period with experimental influences include Celtic Frost, Voivod, and O.L.D.

1990s[edit]

The commercialization of underground music in the first part of the 1990s led to the rise of the "Alternative" distinction. The experimentalism that had characterized the 1980s declined as grunge took hold as the dominant style in rock music. Originated in the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s by metal, psychedelia, and punk influenced bands such as Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone, Nirvana was the genre's breakout artist. In this period some bands such as the Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth discarded many unconventional and abrasive elements and began working within traditional structures. Artists such as Ween and Redd Kross continued their predecessors inventiveness with less impact, as did some bands referring to 1970s funk such as Praxis. North California's Mr. Bungle combined the skillful musicianship of progressive rock with a confrontational, absurdist approach more often associated with No Wave, by switching genres in between whole songs, and getting rid of traditional song structures. The Ex started collaborations with several free jazz artists like Tom Cora and Han Bennink and with Ethiopian jazz artists like Getatchew Mekurya blending noise rock with Ethiopian jazz and/or improvised music.

Post-rock can be traced back to the late-80s/early-90s works of Slint (influenced by hardcore punk), late-era Talk Talk (influenced by Miles Davis and ambient music), and Bark Psychosis. The term became prevalent in the late-90s/early-00s to describe the mostly-instrumental music of bands such as Mogwai, June of 44, Rachel's, Dirty Three, Tortoise, Sigur Rós, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Other experimental rock styles of this period are math rock and post-hardcore, with bands like Slint, Rodan, Shellac, Polvo, Don Caballero, The Jesus Lizard, Unwound, and Les Savy Fav. Noise rock took a more radical course and tempo with bands like Melt-Banana and Lightning Bolt.

Halfway through the nineties, the lo-fi movement, with its origins in the '80s, found a wider audience. Experimental lo-fi acts include Sebadoh, Guided by Voices, Beck, Half Japanese, Slicing Grandpa, The Microphones, and Eric's Trip.

The best-selling offshoots of the post-industrial scene have been industrial rock and metal; Ministry and Nine Inch Nails both recorded platinum-selling albums.[7][8] Their success led to an increase in commercial success for some other industrial musicians; for example, the Nine Inch Nails remix album Further Down the Spiral, which included contributions from Foetus and Coil, was certified gold in 1996.

At the end of the nineties some indie rock bands like The Notwist, Blonde Redhead, and Enon went into a more electronic way of music-making to explore new textures.

2000s[edit]

Animal Collective performing live in Prague on October 14, 2008

British band Radiohead, who became popular in the 1990s playing alternative rock, began experimenting with different musical styles at the beginning of the new millennium, with albums like Kid A, Amnesiac, and Hail to the Thief. These albums took influence from electronica, Krautrock, jazz, as well as classical music that member Jonny Greenwood blended to their music, marking a dramatic shift for the band.

As the 1990s passed, non-instrumental forms of indie rock also became increasingly experimental. Experimental indie bands of the era include Circus Devils, Deerhoof, Deerhunter, The Fiery Furnaces, Kling Klang, Liars, Man Man, and Xiu Xiu.[9] Experimental luthier Yuri Landman created several experimental musical instruments for notable experimental rock acts like Enon, Jad Fair, Liars, Lou Barlow, Mauro Pawlowski and Sonic Youth. The band Neptune also built several similar electric instruments. The New Weird America movement with bands like Animal Collective emerged as a distinct presence. Bands like Chicks on Speed draw on the No Wave sounds of the early 1980s. Other experimental rock acts founded after 2000 are Ponytail, Battles, Psychic Paramount, Pre, The Luyas, HEALTH, No Age, Hella, Black Dice, Cave, Foot Village, Zs, Marnie Stern, The Mars Volta, naivist composer Maher Shalal Hash Baz, and the Boredoms spin-off OOIOO.

Early No wave acts Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (Lydia Lunch), and Swans revived in popularity and began touring again after 2000.

2010s[edit]

More recent experimental acts that broke through after 2010 are Disappears, Geoff Barrows, BEAK>, Suuns, Connan Mockasin, Twelve Foot Ninja, as well as new Japanese acts such as Nisennenmondai and ZZZ's.

Common elements[edit]

Some of the more common techniques include:

  • Extended techniques: Any of a number of methods of performing with voice or a musical instrument that are unique, innovative, and sometimes regarded as improper.
    • Prepared instruments—ordinary instruments modified in their tuning or sound-producing characteristics. For example, guitar strings can have a weight attached at a certain point, changing their harmonic characteristics. Alternatively, the string may be divided in two with a third bridge and the inverse side played, causing resonating bell-like harmonic tones on the pick-up side.
    • Unconventional playing techniques—for example, the tuning pegs on a guitar can be rotated while a note sounds (called a "tuner glissando").
    • Extended vocal techniques — any vocalized sounds that are not normally utiliized in classical or popular music, such as moaning, screaming, using death growls, howling or making a clicking noise.
  • Incorporation of instruments, tunings, rhythms or scales from non-Western musical traditions.
  • Use of sound sources other than conventional musical instruments such as trash cans, telephone ringers, and doors slamming.
  • Playing with deliberate disregard for the ordinary musical controls (pitch, duration, volume).
  • Creating experimental musical instruments for enhancing the timbre of compositions and exploring new techniques or possibilities.
  • Use of dissonance, atonality and noise
  • Use of electronic devices, digital manipulations and modular synthesizers.
  • Experimental rock is also very often influenced by 20th century classical music

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Martin 1998, p. 93
  2. ^ Bogdanov, Vladimir, ed. (2001). All Music Guide to Electronica. Backbeat Books. p. 10. ISBN 0-87930-628-9. 
  3. ^ Martin 1998, pp. 70–71
  4. ^ "Gold & Platinum: Ministry". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Gold & Platinum: Nine Inch Nails". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  6. ^ Martin 1998, pp. 70–71
  7. ^ "Gold & Platinum: Ministry". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Gold & Platinum: Nine Inch Nails". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  9. ^ http://www.allmusic.com/artist/xiu-xiu-p519953