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Experimental Music

In: Film and Music

Submitted By Ghart
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Experimental music in the English –language literature refers to a compositional tradition which started in the mid 20th century, particularly used in North America to music composed in such a way that the outcome is unforeseeable. Famously known for the exposure of this genre was John Cage (1912-1992), an American composer, philosopher, poet and music theorist. According to Cage’s definition “an experimental action is one the outcome of which is not foreseen”. He had a great interest in completing works that performed an unpredictable action. “Experimental music” has also been used in music journalism as a general term of condemned or disapproved music departing from traditional norms.

From the “experimental music” there came the following concepts of Aleatoric Music, Indeterminate Music, Graphic notation and Microtones. Aleatoric Music, a form for which Cage was known to be the pioneer of is referred to as a strictly limited form of indeterminacy, also called “controlled chance”. Indeterminate music, “chance music”, is one in which composers introduce the elements of chance or unpredictability with regard to either the composition or its performance. Graphic notation is music written in the form of diagrams or drawings rather than using “conventional” notation (staves, clefs, notes, etc). Microtone refers to a pitch interval that is smaller than a semitone, it includes quarter tones and intervals even smaller. At the end of the 1960’s rock groups like the Beatles and the Beach Boys began adding such influences and experimented with all kinds of new recording techniques, like reverse tape recording.

Experimental music is very obscure and is composed of various noises and sounds. The use of sound sources other than the conventional musical instruments such as trash cans, telephone ringers and door slamming are popular in this genre. John Cage’s “Water Walk” of 1960 performed on I’ve got a Secret show displays the usage of sound sources. I appreciated it based on the fact that I was able to see the different sound sources used which included a bath tub filled with water, a pressure cooker, 5 radios, and a rubber duck, just to name a few of the items used. On the other hand if it were a case of just an audio recording I would not be as receptive to it as I would be struggling to identify the sounds and to understand the piece itself. Other innovative techniques used in experimental music are “Prepared” instruments, Unconventional playing techniques and Extended vocal techniques. Some other composers of experimental music includes persons such as Charles Ives, Edgard Varese, John Cale, Keith Rowe and Ruth Crawford Seeger just to name a few. Ruth Crawford Seeger’s “Suite for Wind quintet” (1952), demonstrates some interesting manipulation of instruments instead of being played the orthodox, filled with much excitement and drama, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it.

Where genres have certain boundaries as to what they are and this defines them, experimental is the base style that will test those boundaries to the limit. One would therefore say it is not a genre but an open category. While the question is to how to define experimental, the final focus should be if the road that experimental music puts us on is the one we want to take. Many people enjoy this style of music and that is what music is for. It’s an expression through melody to share and have others enjoy. Experimental music does this and more.

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