Almost avant-garde electronic music?
May 1, 2015 10:58 PM   Subscribe

Help me find electronic music that doesn't sound electronic.

I'm not a fan, in general, of electronic music. The more familiar I get with the processes and tools used to create it, though, the more curious I get about the ways one could use those processes and tools to make something radically different from the electronic music I typically hear.

I'm imagining something that pushes the boundaries of what constitutes an instrument or an arrangement—nothing that sounds like it came from a synth or a drum machine. A departure from the dance music, hip hop, and house-type stuff that music software is commonly used to make, but not so abstract that it's more of a sound collage than a musical piece.

Maybe other ways to put it would be, if popular forms of electronic music are...
Military brass band music, what's bebop?
Norman Rockwell, what's Van Gogh?
The evening news, what's claymation?
posted by Rykey to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to start with this (imperfect, but free) compilation
History of Electronic / Electroacoustic Music (1937-2001)
and see if anything catches you.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:10 PM on May 1, 2015

Are you familiar with the Avant Garde Project? I'm not sure which artists there might be the best fit, but I think if you poke around, something will fit.

Also, this may be the total opposite of what you mean, but an interesting take on it. The composer Iannis Xenakis has some pieces for computer-controlled harpsichord. I like this one.
posted by mermaidcafe at 11:36 PM on May 1, 2015

P.S. : Have you heard anything by Ben Frost? Your description made me think of him. I find his music very visceral, gutteral, though it's definitely electronic.
posted by mermaidcafe at 11:38 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by sebastienbailard at 12:58 AM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Perhaps his music will read as genuine musical pieces to you: Milton Babbitt. Old school academic avant-garde. More than 'almost', the veritable cutting edge at his time. Definitely not dance music, anyway, though it is obvious it comes from a synth. Even if thus may not be exactly what you seek, pretty fun if you let yourself be attentive.

Ensemble for Synthesizer
posted by bertran at 2:16 AM on May 2, 2015

There's a track on Meat Beat Manifesto's album Actual Sounds + Voices called The Thumb that may work for you. It's basically jazz with synths, live instruments, and sounds that are difficult to tell between the two.

MBM are not avant garde, but are interested in, let's say, audible artifacts produced by synths, natural electromagnetic emissions, and other unconventional ways. Definitely more Art Clokey than Walter Cronkite.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:25 AM on May 2, 2015

Somebody had an Ask on here recently about Anna Meredith, who I'm really happy to have found out about.
posted by glasseyes at 5:14 AM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is, in a way, the inverse of what you are asking, but brandt brauer frick is a new music ensemble that plays electronic dance music almost completely on acoustic instruments with no sequencing.
posted by umbú at 6:02 AM on May 2, 2015

I think you're cutting out a significant portion of the spectrum by rejecting dance music, because some of the most extraordinary and clever work has come - and is still coming - from those territories. The KLF for example. Total, glorious art school avant-garde stuff. So too Aphex Twin. I wholeheartedly second infinitewindow's Meat Beat Manifesto suggestion - Jack Dangers is one of those iconic producers who turns up in all kinds of places, doing strange, wonderful, groundbreaking pop.

But to turn to higher things (by no means complete):

Start with
BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Tangerine Dream

Throbbing Gristle
Whitehouse - politically, socially and, um, morally 'difficult' but utterly/unfortunately influential

Coil - even if you ignore every other act on this list, Coil are beautiful and strange and amazing and much missed
Einstürzende Neubauten
The Young Gods

Aphex Twin - as mentioned before

Ambient/Art Music
Brian Eno
Harold Budd
Klaus Schulze

Techno not Techno
Heiroglyphic Being
Basic Channel / Rhythm & Sound

The Bug

Not Easily Categorized
The KLF - trust me. Dive into their backcatalogue, it's deeply wonderful and very weird.

The list is heavily skewed to my dark/weird taste, and I've deliberately not linked to examples because it's part of the fun with this kind of music - you end up places you didn't expect. Anyhue. Go nuts.
posted by prismatic7 at 6:31 AM on May 2, 2015 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far.

I think you're cutting out a significant portion of the spectrum by rejecting dance music

And that's exactly what I'm trying to do. I'm familiar with most of the artists you mention (some are even in my collection), and they're great at what they do... but I'm trying to find the outer edges in a different direction.

Also, I'm fine with the technical/structural aspects of electronic music—sequencing, sampling, layering, repitition—I just want to hear how artists outside its most popular categories are exploring them.

I guess I'm looking for the kind of thing that would make somebody say, "I can tell this was made with something like Ableton or Reason... but I've never heard them used to make something like this."
posted by Rykey at 9:09 AM on May 2, 2015

prismatic7's list is a good starting point, although Kraftwerk (at least their popular, post-"Autobahn" work) is basically ground zero for exactly the sort of dance music the OP wants to avoid.

I also agree with the Meat Beat Manifesto recs -- Jack Dangers really likes to dance all over the line between organic and synthetic.

I'd also suggest Amon Tobin -- he creates original compositions entirely out of music samples (usually old Latin jazz records). Good stuff.

I'll also point out that a recent-ish trend is conventional drums-and-guitar bands that use electronic processing to create a synthetic sound; sort of the inverse of what the OP is looking for. See: Battles, Holy Fuck, Pivot.
posted by neckro23 at 9:31 AM on May 2, 2015

Hard question.

How about Archie Pelago? (live cello and some other instruments but lots of electronics also)
posted by ropeladder at 11:13 AM on May 2, 2015

You might want to look into musique concrete, which has shared theoretical concerns, experimental tape focused often, but to me anyway often feels more organic, that balancing act. And not electronic at all, but stuff like Edgard Varese and Harry Partch, Alvin Lucier's I Am Sitting In A Room, etc., where acoustics and space and silence and reverbaration, things electronic music later codified into settings etc., matter.

And you probably know already, but the sort of things it sounds like you're interested in, there's TONS of electronic musicians, and have been for many decades now, who treat it similarly, have the same interest. Laurie Spiegel, Eliane Radigue, Peter Zinovieff and his colleague at EMS Tristram Cary, Chris Carter, Grouper's more out-there stuff, Suzanne Ciani, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Berlin School stuff like Klaus Schulze, Else Marie Pade, Pauline Oliveros, Anestis Logothetis, Raymond Scott, Conrad Schnitzler, the Radiophonic Workshop (Delia Derbyshire!), William Basinski, John Cage, Jacques Lejeune, Oskar Sala, Zoviet France, Iannis Xenakis, Hafler Trio...

and comps like Sub Rosa's Anthology of Noise and Electronic Music series (the original 7 volumes plus stuff like the Persian one and Chinese Experimental one), Susan Lawly's Extreme Music series, Columbia Princeton Electronic Music Center (and the follow up Pioneers of Electronic Music), Panorama de Musique Concrete (mostly centered on Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry), Tomlab's Antologia de Musica Electronica Portuguesa, the 3 volume Anthology of Dutch Electronic Tape Music, Interface (a combined thing from Space Age, Ochre, and Earworm records), the Ohm Box (which has good vintage video footage of performances to boot!), the somewhat recent kickstarted docu I Dream of Wires...

and don't forget the stuff that isn't solely electronic-focused per se but is intimately tied to it while using it deftly, deliberately in other genres, like Disco Inferno's early pioneering use of sampling guitar, This Heat's tape loops married to prog influence and punk politics, Autechre's combining it with hip hop, and so on.
posted by ifjuly at 1:21 PM on May 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

but not so abstract

This is a challenging ask, really. I say this as someone who's spent twenty years futzing with electronics in free improv groups. I once saw a guy play a harsh noise set in my living room using Reason, which is very much what you are looking for, but it was not really memorable.

September Collective spring immediately to mind - they perform improv-y jams with electronics. They started as a tour featuring Paul Wirkus, Barbara Morgenstern, and Mapstation/Stefan Schneider; they'd close out the evening with a group improvisation, and decided that it worked so well that they'd record together. The reason I'd nominate them isn't their improv jams, but for their most recent (2009) album. Always Breathing Monster. MIDI-control of church organ, I think, hits your qualifications pretty well.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 4:01 PM on May 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Powell could be exactly what you're looking for
Black Dice
To Roccco Rots new project (the Stefan Schneider one)
William Basinki as mentioned above
Max Richter fits into some elements of this
posted by stevedawg at 4:30 PM on May 2, 2015

This question might be easier to answer if you elaborate a bit more on what "the electronic music I typically hear" actually is... where do your boundaries currently lie?

If you don't currently listen to that much of this music (I note you write "hear" rather than "listen to") it's going to be tricky to provide anything other than scattergun answers until those boundaries have been pushed out a bit more and you can relate the nebulous thing you're looking for to pieces, artists and genres within the catch-all of electronica.

To that end, whimsical category names aside, the annual Best Of lists at Headphone Commute are an excellent resource for delving into the less obvious nooks and crannies of what's recently been done with music software. There is an ocean beyond the shores of dance, hip-hop and house.
posted by protorp at 4:44 PM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe nose around a bit at the website for Stanford's CCRMA? An amazing computer music think tank with a lively culture of performance...
posted by Sublimity at 5:10 PM on May 2, 2015

Check out Wolgang Voigt's Gas albums, specifically Königsforst.
posted by milarepa at 7:16 PM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

A few labels with similar ideals:

Mego, resurrected as Editions Mego for very abstract/experimental.

Raster-Noton for more minimal experimental, from glitchy to drone to variations of modern classical

Werk Discs, and it's founder, Actress, for an experimental yet soulful take on the Ninja Tune sound.

A couple more diverse labels I like that regularly overlap with experimental electronic are PAN, Rvng Intl. and Honest Jons.

And a few more artists not yet mentioned:
Oneohtrix Point Never
Laurel Halo
Max Loderbauer
Moitz Von Oswald Trio
Demdike Stare
Pan Sonic
Some Truths
Seven Davis Jr (totally bonkers approach to funky vocal house)
Mono/Poly in the realm of Flying Lotus, i.e. avant-jazz approach to hiphop beats and electronica
posted by p3t3 at 9:08 PM on May 2, 2015

Peder Mannerfelt has recreated an album of Congolese music recorded in the 1950's, using only synthesizers. Another better link.
posted by DelusionsofGrandeur at 6:28 AM on May 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Kim Boekbinder does a lot of analog synth stuff that I've described as folk music from the far future
posted by The Whelk at 10:04 AM on May 3, 2015

Holly Herndon


posted by Cpt. The Mango at 9:41 PM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Check out the five volumes of One on Twoism: a mixed compilation series by independent electronica artists.
posted by jammy at 5:51 AM on May 5, 2015

« Older I think I like you . . .   |   suggestions/recommendations for a 2 day company... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.