4 Pieces of Experimental Music I Like

Someone once said there’s no such thing as experimental music – what we hear are the successes the experiments left on the cutting room floor.

*does a quick google*

*can’t find source of quote easily and gives up*

I suppose I would define the music I’m posting here more as “music made with unconventional instruments with a strong concept behind it”. “Art Music”, maybe? Anyway these are interesting to listen to and think about.

Steve Reich – Come Out  (1966)

I first heard this on Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone several years ago and was fascinated by the sound  created by the manipulation of two tape reels and one voice. I’d listen to it every few months for several years and then finally stumbled upon the reason why it was created in someone’s “a cool video every day” youtube list.
After the Harlem Riot of 1964 , where one person was murdered, six black youths were arrested for a crime that only one of them committed. This is a sample of one of these non guilty youths, explaining how he had to cut open a bruise to convince police he had actually been assaulted. Reich was commissioned to make this piece to be performed at a benefit for the “Harlem Six”.

Read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Come_Out_(Reich)

In a weird piece of synchronicity I noticed yesterday this piece is sampled in Madvillain’s eponymous album; today I played Trout Mask Replica in the car and Beefheart sings lines from the piece in “Moonlight on Vermont”.

Alvin Lucier – I Am Sitting In A Room (1969)

Again, this is one phrase repeated over and over again. This time, the phrase is recorded and played back, each time with the resonant frequencies of the room it’s recorded in boosted and the others falling away. Eventually it becomes a fascinating piece of noise reflecting the contours of the room it was recorded in.

This is all explained in the actual words of the phrase (or lyrics of the “song”, if you prefer). Whilst this is all very intellectually pleasing (you’re hearing the sounds of a room but not a room you’re in etc.), it’s the emotional part that really resonates:

Lucier suffered from a stutter. Once all the edges are taken out of his voice it sounds just like any other. There’s a yearning there that’s both melancholy and beautiful.

Read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_Sitting_in_a_Room

John Cage – Water Walk (1960)

Unlike the other pieces here, there’s no deep emotional part to this but it’s great because of both the high fallutin’ concept behind it and the acknowledgement of the inherent comedy of the piece. Cage walks around a room and makes “music” from a variety of objects. I think it’s best represented here on “I’ve Got A Secret” – a show where a panel have to guess someone’s unusual talent (Salvador Dali is also on a episode this show bizarrely/not bizarrely).

The host says “he takes it seriously, I think it’s interesting, and if you find it funny you may laugh”.

William Basinski – The Disintegration Loops (2001)

This is more obviously “music” than the other pieces but would still probably qualify as “experimental” in it’s original, non-narrative heavy form, due to it’s repetitiveness. Apart from anything else it’s a stunning piece.

The story goes -and this whole piece is very, very heavy on story – that Basinski recorded some looped music in the 70s. In the early 00s he decided to transfer it from the tape he’d originally recorded on to a digital system. During the intervening years the original tape had corroded, changing the sounds and making some of the music fade and warp. This added an extra element to  he composition –  one of decay – that made the music sound gauzy, nostalgic and whistful.

On top of this, it is claimed, Basinski finished this project on September 11th 2001. He filmed the Twin Towers from the roof of his Brooklyn apartment. This became both the video and the art work for the series and made the music a lament for a New York that was forever gone.

The story might be taken with a pinch of salt but makes the whole piece incredibly moving.

Pretentiously yours,



August 14