Experimental music is any music that challenges the commonly accepted notions of what music is. There is an overlap with avant-garde music. John Cage was a pioneer in experimental music and defined and gave credibility to the form.
As with other edge forms that push the limits of a particular form of expression, there is little agreement as to the boundaries of experimental music, even amongst its practitioners. On the one hand, some experimental music is an extension of traditional music, adding unconventional instruments, modifications to instruments, noises, and other novelties to orchestral compositions. At the other extreme, there are performances that most listeners would not characterize as music at all.
Aleatoric Music- Also called 'chance music' (Cage's habitual usage). Music in which the composer introduces the elements of chance or unpredictability with regard to either the composition or its performance.
Graphic Score- Music which is written in the form of diagrams or drawings rather than using “conventional” notation (with staves, clefs, notes etc).
Microtones- A pitch interval that is smaller than a semitone. This includes quarter tones and intervals even smaller. Composers have experimented in dividing the octave into 31 and 53 microtones, and using this scale as a basis for composition.
Some of the more common techniques include:
- "Prepared" instruments. Ordinary instruments are 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 (Keith Rowe is one musician to have experimented with such techniques). The prepared piano is also common.
- Unconventional playing techniques. For example, strings on a piano can be plucked with a pick instead of being played the orthodox way, or the tuning pegs on a guitar can be rotated while a note sounds (called a "tuner glissando").
- Incorporation of instruments 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), as when depressing as many piano keys as possible with the forearm
- Use of tunings or scales inconsistent with the Western chromatic scale
While much discussion of experimental music centers on definitional issues and its validity as a musical form, the most frequently performed experimental music is entertaining and, at its best, can lead the listener to question core assumptions about the nature of music.
The London based independent radio station Resonance FM, founded by the London Musicians Collective, frequently broadcasts experimental and free improvised performance works.
David Cope (1997), describes experimental music as that, "which represents a refusal to accept the status quo." He describes a "basic outline" from "simple to...complex":
- Situation and circumstance music
Notable composers and performers of experimental music
- Main article: List of experimental musicians
John Cage, "Experimental Music" and "Experimental Music: Doctrine", in Silence (Wesleyan University Press, 1961)
Michael Nyman, Experimental Music, Cage and Beyond (Cambridge University Press, 1974)
- Cope, David (1997). Techniques of the Contemporary Composer. New York, New York: Schirmer Books. ISBN 0028647378.
Resonance 104.4FM - Resonance 104.4fm is London's first radio art station, brought to you by London Musicians' Collective.
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46