Ultra sparse music
October 1, 2014 7:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm craving music that has as little sound as possible. I feel like the music that I've encountered all my life rarely has long chunks of silence. I want music that respects silence, tiptoes around it, and very, very rarely intrudes upon it. I want those intrusions to be perfect as well. Does anything come to mind?

I don't have good examples of what I want, but here are examples of things I'm not looking for:

- "Relaxation" sounds

- Tapes of nature

- ASMR videos

I want music, just music that is thoughtful about its lapses, to the point of barely having notes. Think 4'33", but with a single, perfectly placed note.
posted by neil pierce to Media & Arts (53 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe something slow-core would work, like Anon by Low. Or is that too many notes?
posted by FreezBoy at 7:17 PM on October 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Love the Low recommendation - having seen them live *many* times, if anyone respects space, depth, and silence - it's them.

The Slow Music Project

Some King Crimson (I'm thinking of Starless)

Colin Newman
posted by j_curiouser at 7:25 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I haven't heard of slow-core before, so I totally appreciate this. This is definitely in a direction I haven't explored before, and "Low" melted my brain in a novel way. There's an element of, well, slow-ness to this that I'm not necessarily looking for, though.

Maybe if "sparse-core" was a thing? :)
posted by neil pierce at 7:29 PM on October 1, 2014

"Dreaming of a major Third" by Christina Kubisch: sounds from an installation. Very good silences - then a note, or three.
posted by jb at 7:30 PM on October 1, 2014

Some ideas, mostly free improvisation.

I went to this festival a few years ago where many of the performances involved not doing very much:

Some of the music on Another Timbre deals with silence

Helen Petts documents improvisers - there's a fantastic & very quiet version of john cage's cartridge music here somewhere:
posted by pmcp at 7:30 PM on October 1, 2014

sadly, the sample mp3 isn't online anymore, but memail me your email address and I'll send you a copy.
posted by jb at 7:30 PM on October 1, 2014

You might consult my prior question about piano music in this vein.
posted by mykescipark at 7:30 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Necks. Check out Mosquito, e.g.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 7:36 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Glass and Satie.
posted by kcm at 7:47 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

You might like some stuff in this recent question asking for music with "negative space". I had this answer with a couple slow-core things.
posted by LionIndex at 7:47 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some of Brian Eno's ambient stuff, like 1/1 from Music For Airports? There isn't much true silence because it's played on a piano with the pedal held down, but there are few notes and a lot of negative space.

I feel like if you really want few-to-no notes you're going to end up with something that doesn't make any sense as a recording.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:50 PM on October 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the recommendations. Negative space is another good term I hadn't heard of. Currently enjoying the Brian Eno clip.

I wonder though, is it possible to have a lot of silence and have the record feel light-hearted? I'm imagining the feeling of being in a field in the sunshine. There's not much sound, but you feel immediate satisfaction. I want something that isn't conveying heaviness through absence. Silence as something that can be comfortably lived within and danced through.
posted by neil pierce at 8:00 PM on October 1, 2014

Response by poster: A key part of not being too heavy is not having a consistent droning sound throughout the clip. I want to be refreshed by silence. The drone is totally interesting, and something I'm glad to be introduced to, but I'm still looking for the perfect sound. :)
posted by neil pierce at 8:13 PM on October 1, 2014

Morton Feldman's "Trio"?
posted by No-sword at 8:26 PM on October 1, 2014

What about Talk Talk Runeii...shit has mad negative space, yo
posted by windbox at 8:28 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

George Winston (kind of new-agey, but hey):
The Black Stallion
Night Part 2

Brian Eno has other stuff, like some of the instrumental tracks on Another Green World, and his stuff never strikes me as sad.
posted by LionIndex at 8:34 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Labradford fits your description to a T. Pole might be good too.
posted by matildaben at 8:36 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

For music that literally, actually tiptoes around silence, you definitely want Morton Feldman and John Cage.

Cage in particular wrote quite a lot about silence in music, the (very Eastern) idea of inserting music into the silence, as opposed to Western music that does the opposite. Cage was big on decay, experiencing the entire life of some sound, not just the way it made you anticipate the next one (which is how nearly all Western music functions).

It's interesting to note that Cage copped much of his ideas from Eastern philosophy and in particular Japanese traditional music, so that might be something to look into as well.

Of course, there are quite a few actually silent pieces of music.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:00 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Maybe stuff by Tangerine Dream and Aix Em Klemm?

I'm also told that The Signal from CBC Radio plays a lot of this kind of stuff.
posted by fever-trees at 9:01 PM on October 1, 2014

Moritz von Oswald Trio. Concept 1.
posted by mkb at 9:03 PM on October 1, 2014

I think some of James Vincent McMorrow's songs might fit into what you're looking for. For example: Cavalier, If I had a boat
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:14 PM on October 1, 2014

Maybe check out Windy and Carl, or William Basinski?
posted by one_bean at 9:49 PM on October 1, 2014

For music that literally, actually tiptoes around silence, you definitely want Morton Feldman and John Cage.

Agreed. Not all Cage, though. I would focus on his piano, percussion, and "water" pieces. Other works can get quite noisy (but very well worth a listen or one hundred).

Also, some Jim O'Rourke and one album by John Zorn (which would be "Redbird"). Labradford and a few pieces by Anthony Braxton might also work for you.
posted by converge at 11:54 PM on October 1, 2014

The various Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto collaborations
posted by rhizome at 11:55 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pansonic (Mika Vainio and Ilpo Väisänen). Most releases on the Raster-Noton label.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 2:32 AM on October 2, 2014

The album "Riceboy Sleeps" by Jonsi and Alex.
posted by jbickers at 5:24 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's a yt link to an entire album by Goldmund - it's sparse, simple, beautiful, mostly piano. Definitely has the feeling of walking through a spring meadow in the sunshine (to me, at least).
posted by deeparch at 6:03 AM on October 2, 2014

Silence as something that can be comfortably lived within and danced through.

I don't know what this means, but if you're looking for "silent music" then you will want to investigate the Wandelweiser musicians whose work as a group has been all about, as Radu Malfatti puts it, " ... the evaluation and integration of silence ..." I'm fond of Michael Pisaro's work, especially his Ricefall.

Eliane Radigue's Trilogie de la mort hasn't been mentioned here so I will. You may also want to investigate the work of the musicians on the Touch and Erstwhile labels (not all of which are "silent.")
posted by octobersurprise at 6:15 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your ideal that that the music be both spare and springtimey is a challenge, and when this sort of music does try to become lighthearted, it veers into relaxation sounds and New Age, which you say you don't want.

Many of the musicians recommended so far (Low, Aix em Klemm, Windy and Carl, Stars of the Lid) are on the kranky label. Check out Labradford on the label, too.
posted by Leontine at 6:18 AM on October 2, 2014

Inside (1969) by Paul Horn

In 1968, jazz flautist (and multi-instrumentalist) Paul Horn was in India with the Beatles. Impressed by the acoustics of the Taj Mahal (guard / docents would shout to demonstrate the 30-second echo), he snuck back in after hours with a flute and a tape recorder. Encountered by a security guard, instead of getting thrown out, he enlisted the man to vocalize for the recordings.

Despite Horn's background, Inside is not jazz. Some call it the first new age album. Don't be put off by either label; it's its own sound. Short phrases hang in the air, arpeggii with long individual decay rates are constructed, dissonances are built up and allowed to dissipate, new notes are born in harmony with the decaying echo of earlier notes. It's Frippertronic without Fripp or 'tronics (or Eno).

The original vinyl album Inside (aka Inside the Taj Mahal) is now usually packaged on CD with Inside II (1972), which is mostly studio recordings in a similar vein, including some not-so-silent multi-track flute tracks and duets between Horn and an orca (killer whale).

Horn eventually released a series of solo flute improvisations recorded inside structures of spiritual significance:
  Inside the Great Pyramid (1976)
  Inside the Cathedral (1983)
  Inside the Taj Mahal, Volume 2 (1989)
  Inside Canyon de Chelly (1997)
  Inside Monument Valley (1999)
posted by Herodios at 6:41 AM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I heard Dionne Dionne profiled last night on NPR and it sounds like it might be up your alley.

They have some sound bites on it, but it was very spare and warm sounding to me.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:38 AM on October 2, 2014

Szymon Kaliski
A Winged Victory For The Sullen (live) (Dustin O'Halloran & Stars of the Lid's Adam Wiltzie, who is essentially a pioneer of the aforementioned kranky label and sound engineer for a big chunk of some artists mentioned above)
posted by swoopstake at 8:59 AM on October 2, 2014

Brian Eno's "Music for Airports" is nice but I think the record you really want is his earlier Discreet Music.
posted by Rash at 9:21 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Film soundtracks by Cliff Martinez. My favorite is the one he did for the remake of Solaris.
posted by perhapses at 9:36 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

mum - yesterday was dramatic today is ok album
juana molina - son album

not so much silence as... low presence in a creepy way.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:50 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Arvo Pärt - Alina
Steve Roach - Structures from Silence
posted by liliillliil at 10:02 AM on October 2, 2014

I really like Ludovico Einnaudi, Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds.

Not all of their pieces fall in the true silence space, but a lot of it can be classified as neo-classical/minimalist.
posted by rippersid at 11:18 AM on October 2, 2014

Pole (Stefan Betke)


Makesnd Cassette, e.g.:


And +1 for Mum. Love their songs.
posted by hz37 at 11:25 AM on October 2, 2014

Oh! You need Taku Sugimoto in your life. His raison d'etre is ultra sparse:

Around 2002 his music became increasingly abstract, all but eliminating melody and featuring extended periods of silence.

It is beautiful stuff.
posted by freya_lamb at 11:59 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oops, borked link. Try the below:
Guitar Quartet: Stay IV
posted by freya_lamb at 12:39 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Michael Nyman's Decay Music.

posted by naju at 2:14 PM on October 2, 2014

Some of the stuff on LINE might fit. Richard Chartier is amazing, many tracks of his are almost invisible. If i remember correctly, The Wire (a respectable music magazine covering jazz, avantgarde etc) returned his record instead of reviewing it, claiming it was broken as it didn't output any sound. I used to listen to his music with an oscilloscope, just to confirm that there was indeed sound. Radu Malfatti is also great. Check out records from the Erstwhile label. And "Electro Acoustic Improvisation" in general (EAI)
posted by hypertekst at 3:38 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Might check out As Seas Exhale. Most of their songs have an ambient drone, so it might not be exactly what you're after, but I'd say they're worth a look.
posted by Aleyn at 5:20 PM on October 2, 2014

Terre Thaemlitz - Live in Calgary 06-01-1996 (Side A) (Side B)

Machinefabriek and Nils Frahm Perform 'Dauw' (especially Nils Frahm's side)

Alva Noto - Xerrox Vol. 1 and 2

Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto

Set Fire to Flames

Toru Takemitsu loved playing with silence. Rain Tree Sketch has a solid 6 second silence in the middle of the piece.

Mentioned in mykescipark's piano question, but definitely worth mentioning here: La Monte Young - The Well Tuned Piano
posted by azarbayejani at 5:55 PM on October 2, 2014

You might like Eno's generative music app, Bloom.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:38 PM on October 2, 2014

Absolutely check out Talk Talk's last two albums - Spirit of Eden, and especially, "Laughing Stock". If they do it for you try also Mark Hollis's solo album. Give Doveman a shot too.
posted by Decani at 1:45 AM on October 3, 2014

The Eno albums that are most like your description (and very like it) are his longer loop-pieces. The best-known legitimate album like that is Thursday Afternoon, but he released a number of short-run CDs (actually as CDRs) which were from his exhibitions, such as Music for Civic Recovery Centre or Bell Studies. And, yes, Bloom is very similar and well worth checking out.

I'd also recommend checking out the releases on Eno's Obscure Label, current available thanks to the nice people at UbuWeb. And I'd highly recommend poking around on UbuWeb generally, as there are loads of things there, mostly by experimental artists, and you might be surprised.

Definitely the Talk Talk, and possibly O-Rang as well.

It also reminds me of the ECM aesthetic, but that's a whole area of exploration all it's own.

And Japanese classical music.
posted by Grangousier at 3:49 AM on October 3, 2014

Seconding Feldman and the Wandelweiser/Erstwhile composers.

I'll add Scott Worthington's even the light itself falls and David Tudor's impeccable recording of Cage's Solo for Piano.
posted by speicus at 2:50 PM on October 3, 2014

Oh, and Dennis Johnson's November.
posted by speicus at 2:52 PM on October 3, 2014

Response by poster: To give a little bit of context, I think this all started when I listened to a (bootleg?) copy of The Kill's No Wow on YouTube. That version had this weird editing where a few minutes of silence were placed between each track. And strangely enough, I really dug it. I would do my work with my headphones on, forget there was music playing, and be pleasantly surprised by new songs coming on.

Anything that lets me forget that music is on, and then pleasantly surprises me, I'd say is a win. It's gotten to the point where I'll gladly roll with it if I'm listening to streaming music over a laggy network connection, and the music stutters randomly. I can't mark anything as favorites because it will be a while before I listen to everything listed, but to take a random sample of 1, I appreciate the Taku Sugimoto. This has exactly the ambition I'm talking about. Like it's an attempt to be bravely comfortable with extended periods of silence, while interspersing notes throughout. It's kind of startling when he strums all of a sudden, though, which is an effect I didn't expect. Now if these notes could just give off warmth, that would be the perfect thing I'm looking for.

That said, don't necessarily tailor these suggestions to my tastes either :). It seems like there are many different ways of enjoying this and we are all having a good time...
posted by neil pierce at 8:45 PM on October 3, 2014

It's got almost no actual silence in it, but Wolfgang Voigt's music as Gas is still pretty rarified.
posted by aubilenon at 8:38 PM on October 4, 2014

Bohren & der Club of Gore
posted by Theta States at 10:49 PM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

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