I want to fall to my knees and whatnot
April 4, 2010 6:35 PM   Subscribe

Recommend me music that invokes awe.

I wanted to avoid words like spiritual and religious to open, though that's similar to what I'm looking for. I want to find music that carries about it a sense of awe or reverence—not necessarily toward God or a similar deity, though I welcome music of any religious culture.

I find it hard to totally describe what I mean. Certainly there's a feeling of ancient power behind certain sung prayers and religious compositions, but it's not necessarily power or age that I mean. The best way I can think to put it is "music that trembles at the presence of something awesome", though that's not something that necessarily instantly equates to a particular quality in music.

I'm hoping that some people reading this description will know exactly what I'm talking about and know music to recommend. If not I'll try to elaborate or give examples of music that I feel this way about, but I'd rather start by just mentioning that one quality and seeing what music comes to mind.
posted by Rory Marinich to Media & Arts (84 answers total) 90 users marked this as a favorite
Dirty Three's Ocean Songs. It's too beautiful; I can't listen to it too often. Last time I did was last July, in my car by myself, driving down the coast of northern California along 101, with my windows open to the moist salt air and the sound of the waves smashing on sea-stacks below.

Authentic Celestial Music.
posted by cirripede at 6:42 PM on April 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

I would say The Flaming Lips' "Do You Realize??"

Also, Loreena McKennitt's "Dante's Prayer"
Most of her The Book of Secrets has this sort of quality. FWIW, I didn't really appreciate her music until I saw Michelle Kwan skate to Dante's Prayer back in the day.
posted by wondermouse at 6:45 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some people think it's crap, but I really loved Popul Vuh's sountrack to Aguirre the Wrath of God. Here's a clip. It's sort of even more terrific if you've seen the whole movie because you're really dialed in to the emotion in the last scene, but I think you can get the gist. You can see a little more of the music in the background, and the setting, here.
posted by jessamyn at 6:47 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

So much of Sigur Ros's music makes me feel this way, like some kind of sailor sailing over glorious waves 1000 years ago or something. Example: Saeglopur.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:47 PM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Clint Mansell - Death is the Road to Awe and most of the music from The Fountain.
posted by dobbs at 6:47 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Here are a few ideas:

"The Planets" by Gustav Holst
Brandenburg concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach
"A Love Supreme" by John Coltrane
Duke Ellington's Concert of Sacred Music
"Black Saint and the Sinner Lady" by Charles Mingus

Or perhaps music by the following composers:

Arvo Pärt
Gustav Mahler
Giacinto Scelsi
John Cage
Iannis Xenakis
Olivier Messiaen

Or perhaps the "Gamelan" percussive music of Indonesia?

Good luck
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 6:48 PM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Akron/Family's self-titled album is full of Buddhist themes. "Franny/You're Human" is a good place to start.

I'm definitely not a Christian, but I'm still blown away by Sufjan Stevens's "Vito's Ordination Song" (the last track on Greetings from Michigan)
posted by oinopaponton at 6:50 PM on April 4, 2010

Eluvium's Copia does this for me.

Prelude for Time Feelers
posted by naju at 6:51 PM on April 4, 2010

This thread from last August might have some suggestions that fit the bill.
posted by threetoed at 6:54 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

A few things come to mind right away, not sure if it's what you're after:

Sibelius, Symphony No. 5, last movement. When the horns come in, you'll know.

Brahms, A German Requiem, most of the whole thing. Written to comfort those of us left behind, the first couple of movements feel like touching the other side to me.

John Adams, Harmonium, esp. first movement, "Negative Love."

Górecki, Symphony No. 3, esp. 1st mvt.
posted by LooseFilter at 6:55 PM on April 4, 2010

Pergolesi -- Stabat Mater (first movement)
Bruch -- Kol Nidrei

And the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth, but only after you've listened to the three movements that precede it.
posted by prettypretty at 7:01 PM on April 4, 2010

Yes, Sigur Rós above all else in pop music. Especially Festival.

Also, John Cale's Paris 1919 (as mentioned in threetoed's linked thread).
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 7:02 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

A lot of Olivier Messiaen's compositions are all about this. Start with the Turangalila-Symphonie.
posted by dfan at 7:03 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah, recommended recordings for each: Sibelius, Brahms, Adams, Górecki.
posted by LooseFilter at 7:04 PM on April 4, 2010

Dead Can Dance, Towards the Within. Listen to the sample of Persian Love Song to get an idea of the sound I think you're searching for.

I also recommend 16 Horse Power. Different sound than Dead Can Dance, but has a lot of that reverence you speak of, in a Gothic Americana way. Here's a sample of American Wheeze. Their three CDs are great (16 Horsepower, Sackcloth and Ashes, Low Estate), and their sound culminates in the fourth, Secret South, with heartbreakingly reverent beauty. Be warned though, the reverent pieces you seem to be looking for are mixed with various other stuff on those first three CDs. Get Secret South if you must. If you like their stuff I can recommend more.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:06 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, and also Philip Glass's adaptation of Ginsberg's Wichita Vortex Sutra.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:07 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

(with or without Ginsberg reading the poem over it)
posted by oinopaponton at 7:09 PM on April 4, 2010

Thomas Tallis's Spem in Alium always does it for me.
posted by ottereroticist at 7:09 PM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

The Good ( light themed songs)
Final Fantasy VII Music - Aerith's Theme
Final Fantasy VII Music - Flowers Blooming in the Church

The Bad ( dark themed songs)
Final Fantasy VII Music - Those Chosen by the Planet
Final Fantasy VII Music - Mako Reactor

Not sure the exact sound that you are looking for, but the entire soundtrack is amazing for FF7, composed by Nobuo Uematsu.
posted by MechEng at 7:15 PM on April 4, 2010

I am just this moment listening to John Adam's Harmonium. (Excerpt. - especially around around the 1 minute mark.)

Orbital's Halcyon + On + On

Are either of these the kind of thing you're looking for?
posted by Magnakai at 7:23 PM on April 4, 2010

Bruckner's 9th Symphony.
posted by gimonca at 7:24 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Surprised nobody's recommended Mew so far (ignore the silly MSG video, please, unless you are into strange videogame homoeroticism homage type stuff)...Also, M83 gets my vote, though they are more inconsistent. Finally, alot of my friends are into Shoegaze music, which they tell me is pretty awe-inspiring, but I haven't gotten there yet.
posted by surewouldoutlaw at 7:31 PM on April 4, 2010

Seconding "Do You Realize??"

I love music, and it's a huge part of my life. However, I find it doesn't have much of an emotional effect on me, at least not in the way of invoking awe, not like what I get from books or movies.

All that is to say that songs don't do that much for me, but "Do You Realize??" gets me every time. It's wonderful.
posted by ymendel at 7:35 PM on April 4, 2010

Godspeed You Black Emperor
"Morning Visions" by Ali Akbar Kahn
posted by sanko at 7:39 PM on April 4, 2010

Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. Awesome in every sense.
posted by sallybrown at 7:48 PM on April 4, 2010

Sallybrown: Awesome, yes, but not awe-evoking. Not in the way I'm looking for.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:54 PM on April 4, 2010

Polegnala e Tudora always did it for me. (from Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares album)

,,,and here's the ladies of the Bulgarian Radio Choir on the Johnny Carson Show.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:58 PM on April 4, 2010

...with my previous answer don't bother watching the slideshow on the first link
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:00 PM on April 4, 2010

Halo: Peril, Impend, and On a Pale Horse
Lord of the Rings: The King of the Golden Hall, Riders of Rohan, Houses of Healing
The Last of the Mohicans: The Kiss
The Illusionist: Main Theme

Random others:
Dayvan Cowboy
Zoe Keating: Exurgency, Tetrishead
posted by pyrom at 8:01 PM on April 4, 2010

...just listen.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:01 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nitin Sawhney, the title (and last) track from the album Prophesy.
posted by lalochezia at 8:01 PM on April 4, 2010

Explosions in the Sky, nthing Godspeed You Black Emperor, Anton Bruckner, Sigur Ros, the Dirty Three, and Penderecki for sure. Certain Rachel's songs ("Water from the Same Source"), surprisingly enough. Some people like Anonymous Four, which reminds, Hildegaard von Bingen...

This might be only me being weird and just me, but Eno Moebius Roedelius' After the Heat has a song called "The Belldog" that absolutely does this for me.

My husband's suggesting maybe Glenn Branca and nthing Coltrane and Davis. Alice Coltrane too. Sun Ra maybe, depending on who you are. (: Mahler. Obviously the Solemn Mass is the archetypal base you're working from so it's probably not worth mentioning but oops, there I did.

Tibetan Buddhist Rites from the Monasteries of Bhutan . Gamelan. Tuvan throat singing (my personal fave in the world music category).

Certain earlier Songs: Ohia songs have a kind of reverence to them, maybe it's just the gravity of some of the lyrics and how he sings them, but on the other hand it's relatively thin soundwise so may not be what you have in mind...

The theme to Hal Hartley's Amateur sort of does this for me, but that's another "I may just be weird" hang up.
posted by ifjuly at 8:05 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Saxon Shore's "Amber Ember Glow" too, maybe.
posted by ifjuly at 8:06 PM on April 4, 2010

I came here to recommend Sigur Ros as well. My favorite is Staralfur. It always just makes me want to be on top of a mountain, communing with nature and the cosmos. :)

This version of Let It Be from Across the Universe (ridiculously cheesy movie, amazing version of this song) has a different, but also very, for the lack of a better word, essential effect. Carol Woods has a truly transcendent gospel voice and I can't figure out why she isn't a mega-star.
posted by lunasol at 8:08 PM on April 4, 2010

Glenn Gould's recording of the Goldberg variations always brings me to tears. The incredibly elegant and simple theme juxtaposed with Gould's insane interpretation and performance of the variations really is a mind-blowing experience.
posted by supernaturelle at 8:11 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

you know, i'm gonna go out on a limb here. i've been listening to a few of these recommended selections just now and i'm not feeling the awe in some of the tracks. hmmm. especially dirty three.

however, there is this japanese noise-rock band shizuka, and their album "live", that blew all of my awe circuits when i was in college. the record label is persona no grata. holy crap. talk about ecstatic. it's not for everyone and it is, sadly, really hard to find because it's out of print. i doubt you could find it on any of the music services but i did get a copy off of amazon.....message me if you need more deets or if you want me to make you copy.

i still listen to that album and swoon. i bought a copy for a friend and he had to pull the car over during track 4. no, really. he did.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 8:15 PM on April 4, 2010

2nd-ing songs:ohia. early albums, definitely. and explosions in the sky.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 8:17 PM on April 4, 2010

Szymanowski, Stabat Mater. I like the Simon Rattle recording best. (First movement.)
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 8:18 PM on April 4, 2010

In my opinion, a lot of Richard Strauss's music falls into this category. You've certainly heard Sunrise from Also Sprach Zarathustra. I also greatly enjoy Eine Alpensinfonie (Sunrise, On the Summit, Vision, and Elegy are particularly moving). Der Rosenkavalier, Tod und Verklarung, and Ein Heldenleben have some good moments, too.

Other ones I can think of off the top of my head:
-The finale of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite

-Ottorino Respighi's The Pines of Rome, final movement, The Pines of the Appian Way.

-A lot of the Howard Shore's score for The Lord of the Rings films.
posted by TBAcceptor at 8:23 PM on April 4, 2010

Miserere Mei Deus
posted by belau at 8:31 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Two pieces (among others) by George Crumb really fit this bill: Vox balaenae (voice of the whale) and Black Angels. Vox balaenae is a reverent ode to the majesty of the whale and requires the performers to wear masks and be bathed in blue light while performing, so you'll just have to imagine that part. Black Angels is dated "Friday the Thirteenth, March 1970 (in tempore belli)," and appropriately so: it often sounds like a vision of armageddon, a showcase of awe and terror in equal measure.

You'll have a very different experience with La Monte Young's The Melodic Version of the Second Dream of the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer from The Four Dreams of China, which is a drone piece consisting of eight trumpets tuned to a very pregnant chord. It's an hour long, and that's just long enough to break down our static and abstracted conception of music as merely notes -- by the end, you're so tuned into the dancing and shimmering of overtones, a sound that seems to permanently elude your mind's attempts to capture it and file it away as a signifier of some kind, that regular music seems a little obscene, as if having notes go by at the speed that they do normally was akin to attempting to see an art exhibition by watching a movie where a photo of each piece occupied one frame each in a 24 fps film reel. It's the closest thing to divine epiphany I've ever experienced.

Going back a few centuries, the composer Carlo Gesualdo gets mentioned a lot, but it's for good reason. There's something deeply personal in the angularity and dissonance of his (16th century!) madrigals, especially when you consider the fact that he was tortured by guilt after murdering his wife and her lover after he discovered them in his home. Get a collection of the madrigals from his Book VI if you're only getting an album's worth. It's the peak of a very poignant form, in my opinion.
posted by invitapriore at 8:37 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Adiemus evokes those feelings for me
posted by belladonna at 8:40 PM on April 4, 2010

Kayhan Kalhor captures that "awe" aspect, in my opinion. I've especially enjoyed his album Night Silence Desert.
posted by belau at 8:49 PM on April 4, 2010

Oh, and links:

Vox balaenae: 1, 2, 3.

Black Angels, the first movement. It's a little distorted -- if you decide it's something you want to check out, go for the Kronos Quartet recording.

Gesualdo, Beltà poi che t'assenti.
posted by invitapriore at 8:49 PM on April 4, 2010

Philip Glass: Koyaanisqatsi (source of Dr. Manhattan's theme from Watchmen)
Bob Dylan: Blind Willie McTell
Led Zeppelin: When The Levee Breaks (bump it loud)
The Band: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
posted by Sam Ryan at 8:53 PM on April 4, 2010

L                     atmospheres
I                    artikulation
G                     lux aeterna
E                         requiem
T                         lontano
I                   ramifications

posted by idiopath at 9:02 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Lark Ascending
Ludovico Einaudi - Primavera It starts to pick up in intensity around 2:00, and again around 4:30.
Rachmaninoff: Vespers: Khvalite Imya Gospodne - Praise the Name of the Lord (Robert Shaw)--it's well worth the .99c on Amazon. Yes, religious, but absolutely amazing. No amount of gushing is sufficient to describe this song.
posted by _cave at 9:15 PM on April 4, 2010

"music that trembles at the presence of something awesome"

Golly, the great vocal works of Bach would certainly seem to fit the bill. B Minor Mass, St. John Passion, etc.
posted by tss at 9:16 PM on April 4, 2010

So, I'm the third to mention John Adams, Harmonium. Three minutes of this piece rank for me among my peak aesthetic experiences, and youtube has a clip of exactly that portion (mono, unfortunately).

It's like flying low over land at impossibly high speed, and then ahead -- out of nowhere -- the ocean, opening up brightly and infinitely.
posted by ferdydurke at 9:22 PM on April 4, 2010

Here are a few more. I find these all to fit your description in different ways. I tend to go more for vocal music than music without vocals, so these all have vocals, with a variety of styles from lush to stark:

Stephanie Dosen - A Lily for the Spectre (you can ignore the video - this is the only YouTube I could find with the song on it)

Stephanie Dosen - This Joy

Hem - Half Acre

Another Hem song is "Sailor" from their album Rabbit Songs. It's track 11 here.

Lisa Germano - Wood Floors (this is a weird little tune but strangely wonderful and very weirdly emotional to me and builds as it goes along)

Not female vocals:
Other Lives - Black Tables

Hopefully you like any of those! I will stop now.
posted by wondermouse at 9:23 PM on April 4, 2010

Orff's Carmina Burana is good for some awe.

And there's nothing like Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries coming out of the sunrise on a helicopter.
posted by dws at 9:23 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fripp and Eno's The Heavenly Music Corporation does this for me. Especially in the middle of a desert under a blazing night sky.
posted by flabdablet at 9:24 PM on April 4, 2010

The Te Decet Hymnus/Tuba Mirum sections of Verdi's Requiem are pretty damn awe-inspiring, if you ask me.
posted by mynameisluka at 9:30 PM on April 4, 2010

One more. Valya Balkanska, her thunderously powerful voice.

I'm not religious, but it brings to my mind the start of Isaiah, Chapter 6:
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
posted by ferdydurke at 9:48 PM on April 4, 2010

Crap. One more that I just remembered. Lisa Germano - From A Shell
Seriously done.
posted by wondermouse at 9:49 PM on April 4, 2010

Moby's God moving over the face of the water is one that's stuck with me for years.
posted by lizbunny at 11:17 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

So much Bach just hits the thrum in the human soul -- from the solo cello suites and violin suites, to the passions.

For something a little more unexpected, the love duet between Akhnaten and Nefertiti from Philip Glass' opera Akhnaten, from a good stereo or headphones, is pretty great. Love, like a fucking declaration of war on the cosmos, with Akhnaton singing higher than Nefertiti and the whole Nile runs backwards.
posted by Rumple at 11:43 PM on April 4, 2010

A little Tomaso Albinoni never goes astray, either, especially at the speed Von Karajan drives him here.
posted by flabdablet at 12:32 AM on April 5, 2010

I'd say Keith Jarrett's Köln Concert. Though it's much better if you can listen to it without the arbitrary breaks of the YouTube format.
posted by Eumachia L F at 2:29 AM on April 5, 2010

Scott Walker - Jesse
posted by porn in the woods at 4:10 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

No love for Sigur Ros?
posted by rikschell at 4:15 AM on April 5, 2010

Sleep - Jerusalem
posted by The Straightener at 6:02 AM on April 5, 2010

Zoe Keating's "In C" remix, "Zinc". Via Radiolab.
posted by brainwane at 7:04 AM on April 5, 2010

Agnus Dei, the choral version of Barber's Adagio.
posted by bjrubble at 7:43 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Salvation is Created (Spaséñiye, sodélal) - Pavel Tchesnokov
posted by the jam at 7:48 AM on April 5, 2010

invitapriore, any suggestions on where to find a recording of the Young? The only two I've found are a little pricey.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:19 AM on April 5, 2010

Wow, that's a shame, I guess it's gone out of print. I got it from my school's library.
posted by invitapriore at 8:32 AM on April 5, 2010

The Avante Garde Project has been releasing works of La Monte Young's that have been out of print.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:53 AM on April 5, 2010

Mahler's Second symphony, especially the final movement.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:58 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Holst's Songs from the Rig Veda. An example.
posted by dpcoffin at 9:17 AM on April 5, 2010

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's Lament.
posted by Anali at 9:24 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tago Mago
posted by swift at 11:11 AM on April 5, 2010

posted by genesta at 11:45 AM on April 5, 2010

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Storm'. The video is a compilation of clips from Koyaanisqatsi, Baraka, Blue Planet, tons of other HD footage, and the song is just... well, awe-inspiring. Give it time to build, the track is 20 minutes long and enrapturing.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:04 PM on April 5, 2010

Antony & The Johnsons can make grown men weep.

Also, don't forget Sigur Ros.
posted by schmod at 2:18 PM on April 5, 2010

Penguin Cafe Orchestra's Perpetuum Mobile.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:17 PM on April 5, 2010

Fluffy Little Clouds, by the Orb.

Seriously, a lot of trance, circa 1995-1999.
posted by talldean at 8:59 PM on April 5, 2010

If you mean awesome as in stunning, then I'll say Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on the Theme of Paganini
posted by cotterpin at 1:09 AM on April 6, 2010

I recommended them in another thread recently, but if you are searching for music which gives a religious, ceremonial feel, then I recommend Wooden Veil. Here is a video of their record release in a gorgeous old Berlin brewery last November.

They are very purposely evoking ritualistic, ceremonial vibes, but without necessarily fitting into any kind of existing religious framework. It sounds very pretentious when described, and you will see in the video that they perform elaborate, yet totally meaningless and made up ceremonies. But the live performance is great, and despite it all just being for show, it evoked that sense of awe for me.

The next one is a long shot, but I'll throw it out there: I have always found His Hero Is Gone's 15 counts of arson (opening track) and Monuments to Theives (example) to be awe-inspiring and even operatic. It is also evil sounding, so possibly not what you are looking for. But that's part of the awe and the power.
posted by molecicco at 5:33 AM on April 6, 2010

"Hawking" by Todd Rundgren?
posted by kristi at 10:23 AM on April 7, 2010

"Fanfare for the Common Man", Aaron Copland.

(I can't believe I'm the first to offer it.)
posted by lothar at 11:50 AM on April 7, 2010

Oh oh! I just thought of one--Nico's The Marble Index. "Nibelungen" and "Lawns of Dawns" do this for me. Shearwater, or the guy solo anyway, has covered "Nibelungen" in concert before; it's chillingly intense.
posted by ifjuly at 4:33 PM on April 7, 2010

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