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Experimental rock, also called avant-rock, is a subgenre of
rock music Rock music is a broad genre of popular music Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. These forms and styles can be enjoyed and performed by people with little or no ...
that pushes the boundaries of common composition and performance technique or which experiments with the basic elements of the genre. Artists aim to liberate and innovate, with some of the genre's distinguishing characteristics being improvisational performances,
avant-garde The avant-garde (; In 'advance guard' or '', literally 'fore-guard') are people or works that are experimental, , or unorthodox with respect to , , or .John Picchione, The New Avant-garde in Italy: Theoretical Debate and Poetic Practices' (Tor ...
influences, odd instrumentation, opaque lyrics (or instrumentals), unorthodox structures and rhythms, and an underlying rejection of commercial aspirations. From its inception, rock music was experimental, but it was not until the late 1960s that rock artists began creating extended and complex compositions through advancements in
multitrack recording Digital audio interface for the Pro Tools computer-based hard disk multitrack recording system. Digital audio quality is measured in data resolution per channel. Multitrack recording (MTR), also known as multitracking or tracking, is a method o ...
. In 1967, the genre was as commercially viable as
pop music Pop is a genre of popular music that originated in its modern form during the mid-1950s in the United States and the United Kingdom. The terms ''popular music'' and ''pop music'' are often used interchangeably, although the former describes all m ...
, but by 1970, most of its leading players had incapacitated themselves in some form. In Germany, the
krautrock Krautrock (also called , German for ) is a broad music genre, genre of experimental rock that developed in West Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s among artists who blended elements of psychedelic rock, electronic music, and avant-garde m ...
subgenre merged elements of improvisation and
psychedelic rock Psychedelic rock is rock music that is inspired, influenced, or representative of psychedelia, psychedelic culture, which is centered on perception-altering hallucinogenic drugs. The music is intended to replicate and enhance the mind-altering e ...
with
electronic music Electronic music is music Music is the art of arranging sounds in time through the elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. It is one of the universal cultural aspects of all human societies. General definitions of music incl ...
, avant-garde and
contemporary classical#REDIRECT New Classical architecture {{redirect category shell, {{R from other capitalization{{R from move ...
pieces. Later in the 1970s, significant musical crossbreeding took place in tandem with the developments of
punk Punk or punks may refer to: Genres, subculture, and related aspects * Punk rock Punk rock (or simply punk) is a music genre that emerged in the mid-1970s. Rooted in 1960s garage rock, punk bands rejected the perceived excesses of mainstream 1 ...
and
new wave New Wave may refer to: Music * New wave music, a genre of popular music that originated in the 1970s Albums * ''New Wave'' (Against Me! album) or the title song, 2007 * ''New Wave'' (The Auteurs album), 1993 * New Wave (Dizzy Gillespie album ...
,
DIY "Do it yourself" ("DIY") is the method of building, modifying, or repair The technical meaning of maintenance involves functional checks, servicing, repairing or replacing of necessary devices, equipment, machinery, building infrastructu ...

DIY
experimentation, and
electronic music Electronic music is music Music is the art of arranging sounds in time through the elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. It is one of the universal cultural aspects of all human societies. General definitions of music incl ...
.
Funk Funk is a music genre A music genre is a conventional category that identifies some pieces of music Music is the art of arranging sounds in time to produce a composition through the elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. It ...
,
jazz-rock Jazz fusion (also known as fusion and progressive jazz) is a music genre that developed in the late 1960s when musicians combined jazz Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, Louisiana, Unite ...
, and fusion rhythms also became integrated into experimental rock music. The first wave of 1980s experimental rock groups had few direct precedents for their sound. Later in the decade, avant-rock pursued a
psychedelic Psychedelics are a subset of hallucinogenic drugs whose primary effect is to trigger non-ordinary states of consciousness (known as psychedelic experience A psychedelic experience (known colloquially as a trip) is a temporary altered state ...
aesthetic that differed from the self-consciousness and vigilance of earlier
post-punk Post-punk (originally called new musick) is a broad genre Genre () is any form or type of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-Eu ...
. During the 1990s, a loose movement known as
post-rock Post-rock is a form of experimental rock Experimental rock, also called avant-rock, is a subgenre of rock music that pushes the boundaries of common composition and performance technique or which experiments with the basic elements of the genre. ...
became the dominant form of experimental rock. As of the 2010s, the term "experimental rock" has fallen to indiscriminate use, with many modern rock bands being categorized under prefixes such as "post-", "kraut-", "psych-", "art-", "prog-", "avant-" and "noise-".


History


1960s–1970s

Although experimentation had always existed in rock music, it was not until the late 1960s that new openings were created from the aesthetic intersecting with the social. In 1966, the boundaries between pop music and the avant-garde began to blur as rock albums were conceived and executed as distinct, extended statements. Self-taught rock musicians in the middle and late 1960s drew from the work of composers such as
John Cage John Milton Cage Jr. (September 5, 1912 – August 12, 1992) was an American composer A composer (Latin wikt:compono, ''compōnō''; literally "one who puts together") is a person who writes musical composition, music, especially classical ...
,
Karlheinz Stockhausen Karlheinz Stockhausen (; 22 August 1928 – 5 December 2007) was a German composer, widely acknowledged by critics as one of the most important but also controversial composers of the 20th and early 21st centuries. He is known for his ground ...
, and
Luciano Berio Luciano Berio OMRI Omri ( he, עָמְרִי, ''‘Omrī''; fl. 9th century BC) was the sixth Kingdom of Israel (Samaria), king of Israel. He was a successful military campaigner who extended the northern kingdom of Israel. Other monarchs from ...

Luciano Berio
. Academic Bill Martin writes: "in the case of imitative painters, what came out was almost always merely derivative, whereas in the case of rock music, the result could be quite original, because assimilation, synthesis, and imitation are integral parts of the language of rock." Martin says that the advancing technology of
multitrack recording Digital audio interface for the Pro Tools computer-based hard disk multitrack recording system. Digital audio quality is measured in data resolution per channel. Multitrack recording (MTR), also known as multitracking or tracking, is a method o ...
and
mixing board Sound Mixer Full In sound recording and reproduction In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that stu ...
s were more influential to experimental rock than
electronic instruments An electronic musical instrument is a musical instrument A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make Music, musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instrument—it is through purpo ...
such as the
synthesizer A synthesizer (also spelled synthesiser) is an electronic musical instrument An electronic musical instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound using electronics, electronic circuitry. Such an instrument sounds by outputting an el ...

synthesizer
, allowing
the Beatles The Beatles were an English Rock music, rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960, whose best-known line-up comprised John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. They are regarded as the Cultural impact of the Beatles, most inf ...

the Beatles
and
the Beach Boys The Beach Boys are an American rock Rock most often refers to: * Rock (geology) A rock is any naturally occurring solid mass or aggregate of minerals or mineraloid matter. It is categorized by the minerals included, its Chemical compo ...

the Beach Boys
to become the first crop of non-
classically trained Classical music is art music Art music (alternatively called classical music, cultivated music, serious music, and canonic music) is music considered to be of high culture, high aesthetic value. It typically implies advanced structural and th ...
musicians to create extended and complex compositions. Drawing from the influence of
George Martin Sir George Martin (3 January 19268 March 2016) was an English record producer A record producer is a recording project's creative and technical leader, commanding studio time and coaching artists, and in popular genres typically creates the ...

George Martin
, the Beatles' producer, and the Beach Boys'
Brian Wilson Brian Douglas Wilson (born June 20, 1942) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer who co-founded the Beach Boys. After signing with Capitol Records in 1962, Wilson wrote or co-wrote more than two dozen Top 40 hits for t ...

Brian Wilson
, music producers after the mid 1960s began to view the
recording studio as an instrument In music production, the recording studio is often treated as a musical instrument A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make Music, musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instr ...
used to aid the process of composition. When the Beach Boys' ''
Pet Sounds ''Pet Sounds'' is the 11th studio album by the American rock band the Beach Boys, released May 16, 1966 on Capitol Records. It was initially met with a lukewarm critical and commercial response in the United States, peaking at number 10 on ''B ...
'' (1966) was released to a four-month chart stay in the British top 10, many British groups responded to the album by making more experimental use of recording studio techniques. In the late 1960s, groups such as
the Mothers of Invention The Mothers of Invention were an American rock band from California. Formed in 1964, their work is marked by the use of sonic experimentation, innovative album art, and elaborate live shows. Originally an R&B band called the Soul Giants, the ...

the Mothers of Invention
,
the Velvet Underground The Velvet Underground was an American rock band formed in New York City New York City (NYC), often simply called New York, is the List of United States cities by population, most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2 ...
,
the Fugs The Fugs are an American band formed in New York City in late 1964, by the poets Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, with Ken Weaver on drums. Soon afterward, they were joined by Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber of The Holy Modal Rounders. Kupferber ...
, the Beatles, and
the Jimi Hendrix Experience James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix (born Johnny Allen Hendrix; November 27, 1942September 18, 1970) was an American musician, singer, and songwriter. Although his mainstream career spanned only four years, he is widely regarded as one of the most ...
began incorporating elements such as
avant-garde music Avantgarde Music is an Italian record label, formed as a continuation of Obscure Plasma Records, focusing on black and doom metal Doom metal is an extreme metal, extreme subgenre of heavy metal music that typically uses slower tempos, Down-tu ...
,
sound collage In music, montage (literally "putting together") or sound collage ("gluing together") is a technique where newly branded sound objects or compositions, including songs, are created from collage Collage (, from the french: coller, "to glue" ...
, and
poetry Poetry (derived from the Greek language, Greek ''poiesis'', "making") is a form of literature that uses aesthetics, aesthetic and often rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre (poetry), metre—to ...

poetry
in their work. Historian David Simonelli writes that, further to the Beatles' "
Tomorrow Never Knows "Tomorrow Never Knows" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles The Beatles were an English Rock music, rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960. The group, whose best-known line-up comprised John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison ...
" (''Revolver'', 1966), the band's February 1967 double A-side single, pairing "
Strawberry Fields Forever "Strawberry Fields Forever" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles The Beatles were an English Rock music, rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960. The group, whose best-known line-up comprised John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George H ...

Strawberry Fields Forever
" with "
Penny Lane "Penny Lane" is a song by the English rock band the Beatles The Beatles were an English Rock music, rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960. The group, whose best-known line-up comprised John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo ...
", "establish
d
d
the Beatles as the most avant-garde
ock
ock
composers of the postwar era". Aside from the Beatles, author Doyle Greene identifies Frank Zappa, the Velvet Underground, Plastic Ono Band, Captain Beefheart, Pink Floyd, the Soft Machine and Nico (singer), Nico as "pioneers of avant-rock". In addition, ''The Quietus'' Ben Graham described duos the Silver Apples and Suicide (band), Suicide as antecedents of avant-rock. In the opinion of Stuart Rosenberg, the first "noteworthy" experimental rock group was the Mothers of Invention, led by composer Frank Zappa. Greene recognises the group's debut album, ''Freak Out!'', as marking the "emergence of the 'avant-rock' studio album" at a time when Warhol's presentation of the Velvet Underground's shows was redefining the parameters of a rock concert. According to author Kelly Fisher Lowe, Zappa "set the tone" for experimental rock with the way he incorporated "countertextural aspects ... calling attention to the very recordedness of the album". This was reflected in other contemporary experimental rock LPs, such as the Beach Boys' ''Pet Sounds'' and ''Smile (The Beach Boys album), Smile'', the Who's ''The Who Sell Out'' (1967) and ''Tommy (The Who album), Tommy'' (1969), and the Beatles' ''Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'' (1967). The Velvet Underground were a "groundbreaking group in experimental rock", according to Rosenberg, "even further out of step with popular culture than the early recordings of the Mothers of Invention". The band were playing experimental rock in 1965 before other significant countercultural rock scenes had developed, pioneering avant-rock through their integration of minimalist music, minimalist rock and avant-garde ideas. The Beatles' album ''Sgt. Pepper's'' inspired a new consideration for experimental rock as commercially viable music. Once the group released their December 1967 film ''Magical Mystery Tour (film), Magical Mystery Tour'', author Barry Faulk writes, "pop music and experimental rock were [briefly] synonymous, and the Beatles stood at the apex of a progressive movement in musical capitalism". The musical passage recorded by the Doors in 1968, "Not to Touch the Earth", is what critic Mick Wall described as "nearly four minutes of avant-rock." As progressive rock developed, experimental rock acquired notoriety alongside art rock. By 1970, most of the musicians which had been at the forefront of experimental rock had incapacitated themselves. From then on, the ideas and work of British artist and former Roxy Music member Brian Eno—which suggested that ideas from the art world, including those of experimental music and the avant-garde, should be deployed in the context of experimental rock—were a key innovation throughout the decade.


Krautrock

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Germany's "
krautrock Krautrock (also called , German for ) is a broad music genre, genre of experimental rock that developed in West Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s among artists who blended elements of psychedelic rock, electronic music, and avant-garde m ...
" scene (also referred to as kosmische or elektronische musik) saw bands develop a form of experimental rock that drew on rock sources, such as the Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa, as well as wider avant-garde influences. Groups such as Can (band), Can, Faust (band), Faust, Neu!, Amon Düül II, Ash Ra Tempel, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, and Popol Vuh (German band), Popol Vuh merged elements of psychedelic rock with
electronic music Electronic music is music Music is the art of arranging sounds in time through the elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. It is one of the universal cultural aspects of all human societies. General definitions of music incl ...
, funk rhythms, jazz improvisation, and avant-garde and contemporary classical music, contemporary classical compositions, as well as new electronic instrumentation. The ideas of minimalist music, minimalism and composers such as Stockhausen would be particularly influential. The movement was partly born out of the German student movement, student movements of 1968, as German youth sought a unique countercultural identity and wanted to develop a form of German music that was distinct from the mainstream music of the period.


Late 1970s–present

The late 1970s
post-punk Post-punk (originally called new musick) is a broad genre Genre () is any form or type of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-Eu ...
movement was devised as a break with rock tradition, exploring new possibilities by embracing electronics, noise music, noise, jazz and the classical avant-garde, and the production methods of dub reggae, dub and disco. During this era, funk,
jazz-rock Jazz fusion (also known as fusion and progressive jazz) is a music genre that developed in the late 1960s when musicians combined jazz Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, Louisiana, Unite ...
, and fusion rhythms became integrated into experimental rock music. Some groups who were categorized as "post-punk" considered themselves part of an experimental rock trajectory, with This Heat as one of the prominent players. The late 1970s no wave scene consisted of New York experimental rock bands that aimed to break with
new wave New Wave may refer to: Music * New wave music, a genre of popular music that originated in the 1970s Albums * ''New Wave'' (Against Me! album) or the title song, 2007 * ''New Wave'' (The Auteurs album), 1993 * New Wave (Dizzy Gillespie album ...
, and who, according to ''Village Voice'' writer Steve Anderson, pursued an abrasive reductionism which "undermined the power and mystique of a rock vanguard by depriving it of a tradition to react against." Anderson claims that the no wave scene represented "New York’s last stylistically cohesive avant-rock movement." The early 1980s would see avant-rock develop significantly following the
punk Punk or punks may refer to: Genres, subculture, and related aspects * Punk rock Punk rock (or simply punk) is a music genre that emerged in the mid-1970s. Rooted in 1960s garage rock, punk bands rejected the perceived excesses of mainstream 1 ...
and new wave music, new wave, DIY ethic, DIY experimentation, electronic music, and musical cross-breeding of the previous decade, according to ''Pitchfork Media, Pitchfork''. Dominique Leone of ''Pitchfork'' claims that the first wave of 1980s experimental rock groups, including acts such as Material (band), Material, the Work (band), the Work, This Heat, Ornette Coleman's Prime Time, James Blood Ulmer, Last Exit (free jazz band), Last Exit, and Massacre (experimental band), Massacre, had few direct precedents for their sound. Steve Redhead noted the resuscitation of New York's avant-rock scene, including artists such as Sonic Youth and John Zorn, in the 1980s. According to journalist David Stubbs, "no other major rock group [...] has done as much to try to bridge the gap between rock and the avant garde" as Sonic Youth, who drew on improvisation and noise as well as the Velvet Underground. In the late 1980s, avant-rock pursued a "frazzled, psychedelia-tinged, 'blissed out'" aesthetic that differed from the self-consciousness and vigilance of earlier post-punk. The UK shoegaze scene was seen by some as a continuation of an experimental rock tradition. ''Pitchfork'' described contemporary acts My Bloody Valentine (band), My Bloody Valentine, Spacemen 3, and the Jesus and Mary Chain as "avant-rock icons." According to Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell, some 1980s and early 1990s avant-rock acts such as the British musicians David Sylvian and Talk Talk returned to the ideas of progressive rock, which they call "post-progressive". During the 1990s, a loose movement known as
post-rock Post-rock is a form of experimental rock Experimental rock, also called avant-rock, is a subgenre of rock music that pushes the boundaries of common composition and performance technique or which experiments with the basic elements of the genre. ...
became the dominant form of experimental rock. In a reaction against traditional rock music formula, post-rock artists combined standard rock instrumentation with electronics and influences from styles such as ambient music, intelligent dance music, IDM, krautrock, minimal music, minimalism, and jazz. In 2015, ''The Quietus'' Bryan Brussee noted uncertainty with the term "experimental rock", and that "it seems like every rock band today has some kind of post-, kraut-, psych-, or noise- prefixed to their genre."


Footnotes


References


Bibliography

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Further reading

* * {{DEFAULTSORT:Experimental Rock Experimental rock, American rock music genres Experimental music genres 20th-century music genres Progressive music