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The avant-garde music thread

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This thread accepts:

Any music written with extended compositional techniques

Significant works that forwarded musical development

Improvised/freeform music

Noise/glitch/machine music

Sound poetry

Performance art with musical elements


I have a wealth of these pieces. Presently in my fourth year of study at the WA Academy of Performing Arts, I have had many lectures that expose me to a universe of music I never could have even imagined. Some of it is out there, some of it is WAY OUT there, and while most of it can't be said to be my cup of tea, I appreciate it all the same, and very occasionally I will happen upon a piece that utterly fascinates me.


Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order:


1.) Charles Ives - The Unanswered Question

A stirring piece of music that blends old and new ways of thinking musically. A very straightforward chorale is played by the string section, a very nice and consonant sound, while the trumpet repeatedly intones the Perennial Question of Existence. The woodwinds respond to this question as best they can, becoming increasingly frustrated, before giving up. This piece is humankind's struggle for meaning in its existence personified very succinctly.


2.) John Cage - 4'33"

You all know this one, surely. It's a three-movement piece consisting entirely of silence. What many people don't know is that he wrote two followup pieces - the second piece, entitled 0'00", instructs the performer to "perform a disciplined action in a situation provided with maximum amplification". At the first performance of it Cage had to write that sentence. The third piece, entitled One³, instructs the performer to build a sound system so the entire concert hall is on the verge of feeding back, and then to listen to the amplified sounds produced by the hall and audience.


3.) Claude Debussy - The Sunken Cathedral

Debussy is well-known for having an inimitable style, as anyone who has heard Clair de Lune will testify. I fell in love with this piece when I heard it at my Modern Harmony lecture last week. Such a great name too. Ribbiks/danne/dobu map, please. :V


4.) Kurt Schwitters - Ursonate

This is a sound poem consisting of nonsense German syllables. It is considered one of the foremost sound poems produced by the violently anti-establishment Dada movement in the early 20th Century. Schwitters was criticized by Dadaists for writing what was considered a masterpiece, a concept which the Dada movement vehemently opposed. The piece took Schwitters 10 years to write in its entirety.


5.) Krzysztof Penderecki - Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima

Fair bit of warning: this piece is not for the faint of heart. The non-traditional score consists purely of extended playing techniques for a gigantic string ensemble, enabling it to consist of dense tone clusters and textural sounds such as striking the instruments in a non-musical way. The result is one of the most gut-wrenchingly dissonant pieces of music you will ever hear.


6.) Steve Reich - Piano Phase and Six Marimbas

This is a very impressive piece of music if you know what's going on in it - the entire piece is a sequence of 12 notes played over and over and over again, for two pianos. One plays in a microcosmically slower tempo than the other, allowing for the melodies to intermingle in spine-tingling ways as the notes rhythmically run in and out of phase with each other. This is music to fall into a trance to. Especially captivating played live.

I place Six Marimbas here because it's a similar piece, but played on fourteen bass trombones. I mean six marimbas.


7.) Maurice Ravel - 3 Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé

Another piece I have recently become enamored with. Just listen to those rapidfire harmonics in the opening section of the first piece. Astonishing.


Edited by Jimmy

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Does Progressive Rock qualify?


There's still no prog thread here and I've wanted one since forever :(

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I love prog to death, and I'll never stop loving it, but these pieces are on a different plane of existence to most prog, I think - sound poetry, for example, is pretty far removed from heavy rock music. Do you know any genuinely surreal or experimental rock or metal bands? I'd be interested if you do. :)

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Hmm, I dunno man. Does Manuel Gottsching count? I think his album "E2-E4" could fall under the "avant-garde" noise/glitch/machine music category. I really like this piece. For 1984 it was quite advanced as well. Repetitive as it may be.



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Great thread! I'll do a nice big post later when I don't have a baby sleeping on me, but here's something for starters: This is the first half hour or so of Philip Glass's opera 'Einstein on the Beach' - probably my favourite of his bigger works. The second movement, in particular (spread here over three videos) is one of my favourite pieces, period.






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How about Zeuhl? It would be pretty hard to categorize Magma as "rock" in my opinion. They are the very definition of avant-garde orchestra music.



I'm not sure what plane of existence Christian Vander inhabits, but it certainly isn't earth. More like a spooky space opera of German Klingons.



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I typically resort to Krautrock when I need my experimental music fix.


With avant garde music, there are artists that takes an extreme undertaking in the production, performance and overall conception to the piece (See: Can, Barry Truax, some Nurse With Wound).  On the other hand,  there are 'artists' that literally make shit-noise and try to shoehorn themselves into the same way-too-broad definition of avant garde (See: 70% of registered Bandcamp pages).  

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The guitars and drums on that album were all improvised and the songs were arranged based on a randomized list. I started by recording 99 20-seconds free improv drum tracks while listening to silence (except for a count-in and count-out to signal 20 seconds). Then I recorded 198 20-seconds free improv guitar tracks (two guitar tracks per song) while listening to silence (except the count-in/count-out). Then I made a randomized list in Excel that randomly matched up one drum track with two guitar tracks and I manually matched up the drums/guitars for each song in Reaper based on that list. After the songs were all arranged, I wrote lyrics and recorded vocals. Then I recorded about 2 hours of audio from my tv while flipping through channels and picked out 99 samples to add to the songs. I did all this because as a musician you never get that feeling of hearing your songs "for the first time" and working to memorize them after they're finished. Track 79 is my fav.

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A different kind of "zimmer fest", starts to get going around 1:07:

Might as well:

Oh yeah, I forgot this one! This is an interesting case, I think. Usually mistabishi does live performances of any kind of electronic music you can imagine. The following one was performed "live" in the sense that, some presets aside, the entire aspect of arranging the sounds and doing the tweakings are done "on stage" so to speak. It's got quite a nice, sick sound to it.


Edited by Nine Inch Heels

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Obligatory Kayo Dot:

Seeing them live next weekend. Gonna be awesome.


Found this the other weekend:

Pretty weird stuff. Their other tracks go into even crazier territories -- bluegrass, chiptune, etc. Cool stuff. They kind remind me of........


Mr. Bungle

Especially on Disco Volante.


I like this weird kinda genre bending music, especially when its kinda metal too haha. I guess my choices are kinda basic as far as avant-garde music goes, but there you have.

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No Stockhausen yet?  He recommended Aphex Twin listen to this track.  "I heard the piece Aphex Twin of Richard James carefully: I think it would be very helpful if he listens to my work Song Of The Youth, which is electronic music, and a young boy’s voice singing with himself. Because he would then immediately stop with all these post-African repetitions, and he would look for changing tempi and changing rhythms, and he would not allow to repeat any rhythm if it were varied to some extent and if it did not have a direction in its sequence of variations."


Two which Aphex Twin replied, "I thought he should listen to a couple of tracks of mine: 'Didgeridoo', then he'd stop making abstract, random patterns you can't dance to."


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Autechre has long been my favorite. The list of my favorite Autechre tracks would take up lots of space here, so I'll try to restrain myself.







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This is Goldie:

Why's he here? Because of this:

"His track "Terminator", released under the name "Metalheadz" in 1992, was a hit in the jungle scene and is noted for pioneering the use of time stretching."

"Time stretching is the process of changing the speed or duration of an audio signal without affecting its pitch. Pitch scaling or pitch shifting is the opposite: the process of changing the pitch without affecting the speed. Similar methods can change speed, pitch, or both at once, in a time-varying way.

These processes are used, for instance, to match the pitches and tempos of two pre-recorded clips for mixing when the clips cannot be reperformed or resampled. (A drum track containing no pitched instruments could be moderately resampled for tempo without adverse effects, but a pitched track could not). They are also used to create effects such as increasing the range of an instrument (like pitch shifting a guitar down an octave)."

This is the track in question:

Note the 2m:25s mark, for instance, to experience the use of the time-stretch.

@YukiRaven, I think richard james won the argument. ;-)

Edited by Nine Inch Heels

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14 hours ago, YukiRaven said:

Oh snap, Goldie!  Man I haven't heard him in ages.

I was under the impression that you were situated mostly in the dark-electro EBM/industrial types of genres. You're into drum and bass and jungle!? I got LOTS that'll be worth your while.

EDIT: So, here's another person I somehow tend to forget about for some time, but I really admire this guy. He goes by the name of Beardyman and has been around in the beatbox community for quite some time.


In fact, he's an award winning beatboxer, and quite an entertainer as well. The following clip shows him doing what I'd call "augmented" beatboxing. He uses So-called Kaos-pads which allow him to sample loop and edit anything that goes into the microphone. Much like YukiRaven or Jimmy, he is a lot of music and sound incarnate, and it's really a joy to see him having so much with what he's doing. The following clip is from 2008, and since then he's made quite a name for himself in "mainstream" as well. This is a cam-recording, but in case you're interested in this, there's quite bit to find about this guy on the internet.



Following the "mouthmade" music theme, here's dubFX.


He uses something similar to Beardy's kaos pads, his machine however can be operated with the feet (and has to). dubFX does "composed" songs as well as improvs. Both him and beardy have earned some of their money literally on the streets before getting anywhere. In comparison to beardy, dubFX didn't quite enter the mainstream, and instead kept sticking to the jungle/drum and bass scene for various collabs. This is "rude boy".


Edited by Nine Inch Heels

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I figured this belongs here as well. Might also be a good time to breathe some life into this thread again. :-)

Not sure if it's the best version ever, but it certainly is an insanely good recording if you ask me. And just look at that beautiful instrument... It really gives me feelings, quite good ones, mind you (It's not what you think, though ;-)).

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I can never mention avant-garde music without mentioning Dodheimsgard:

Highly recommended if you're into industrial-styled metal weirdness.

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Johann Johannsson isn't what one would call extremely avant-garde, but I believe he holds a Guiness record for longest ritardando in his song Fordlandia.


Nowadays they're pretty meh, but back then Tom Dissevelt & Kid Baltan, along with Jean-Jacques Perrey, were at the forefront of electronic music, building their own equipment, physically stretching, cutting and pasting tapes to get effects.


Mozart's Musical Joke will have who knows a bit more about classical music in stitches:


Okay, so most of you might know about black midis, right? They're mostly just notes for notes sake, not adding anything to the actual sound. Well, here's one where each note was added to actually be played. This is not for the faint of heart, specially the ending. (ignore the first 30 seconds of the video, the uploader had a recording problem)


And since everyone is plugging in some metal, let me just add Thy Catafalque to the list. The way they layer sound over sound over sound makes for an unusual droning sound.


Edited by Albertoni

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