Recommend me some sparse moody instrumental music
March 31, 2006 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Recommend me some nice melancholic instrumental music with sparse arrangements. Maybe classical music (?), of which I know very little, but I'm thinking specifically of "Music For Egon Schiele" by Rachel's.

I know someone will bring up Erik Satie - he's okay, nice minimal classical, but sometimes too many hints of muzak and not emotional enough. I'm also practically wetting myself over the Arthur Russell instrumentals slated for release next week if that helps any.

But really I'm just tired of listening to the same Rachel's albums over and over. I would like something very similar; I love the piano/cello combination. Thanks!
posted by p3t3 to Media & Arts (41 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
excitedly watching for recommendations
posted by sohcahtoa at 8:11 AM on March 31, 2006

First thing I think of as "melancholy" is Barber's Adagio for Strings, that may not be minimalist enough for you though.
posted by MasonDixon at 8:22 AM on March 31, 2006

Glenn Gould's second recording of the Goldberg Variations. Casals' version of the Bach cello suites. Moondog's Pastoral EP. Chopin's nocturnes. Brian Eno's Music for Airports. In A Silent Way.
posted by Mocata at 8:34 AM on March 31, 2006

Best answer: Arvo Part, Fratres.
posted by cior at 8:36 AM on March 31, 2006

Not classical, but it does fit your "melancholic instrumental music with sparse arrangements" criteria, is Labradford, especially their more recent stuff.
posted by sauril at 8:37 AM on March 31, 2006

Gastr Del Soul's The Serpentine Similar? Maybe has the same emotional problems as Satie.

How about Darius Milhaud? L'homme et Son Desir for choice, though that does have some rather exuberant moments, that might undercut the melancholy elsewhere in the piece for you.

Delius? Songs of Sunset is pretty melancholy, but it's also a bit lush, not sparse.

Maybe if you listened to all three together at once...
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:38 AM on March 31, 2006

Oh duh, you said instrumental. Disregard everything (except maybe the Milhaud: it has voices, but no lyrics).
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:47 AM on March 31, 2006

i'm also a rachel's fan and i'd second labradford and also stars of the lid, esp "the tired sounds of stars of the lid".
posted by judith at 9:00 AM on March 31, 2006

How do you feel about having some drums in your music? I know some of the Rachel's stuff has some (although obviously not "Music for Egon Schiele") - but there's plenty of great stuff when you put the drums in. I think Tarantula might be a good match, especially their first album (self-titled) - it's not really in stores, though, you basically have to get it off their website.
Let me second that recomendation for "In a Silent Way" - one of my all-time favorite Miles albums. It's basically the mood of "Kind of Blue" meets top-form Miles fusion. Here's a question for you, though - how do you feel about electronic music? There's a lot of GREAT stuff that will fit the bill, mood-wise, but isn't really instrumental. In fact, I'd say most of the closest analogues I've found to "Music for Egon Schiele" have been in electronica.

You might want to look into some of the minimalist composers as well, such as Philip Glass (Glassworks is a great place to start), Steve Reich (I absolutely adore Electric Counterpoint, which beautifully layers Pat Metheny, but a lot of people think that Music for 18 Musicians is the best place to start), or Goreki (who I don't know well enough to make a good recomendation). I was going to link directly to some of those albums, but is running awfully slowly. You probably won't love all of this, but it'll give you a good starting point.
posted by TheRoach at 9:05 AM on March 31, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks. Lots of stuff that's new to me, so I won't know how on-the-mark you guys are until I have a chance to track these down. But I'm looking forward to checking these out and definitely keep the ideas coming.
posted by p3t3 at 9:08 AM on March 31, 2006

Women of Ireland - The Chieftians
posted by Idiot Mittens at 9:10 AM on March 31, 2006

How do you feel about having some drums in your music?

posted by TheRoach

Max? That you?

posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:10 AM on March 31, 2006

Response by poster: Oh, and for TheRoach, I've been dj'ing electronic stuff for 10 years and have over 1500 slabs of vinyl - so I'm already pretty comfortable there. I was hoping to branch out into instrumental and maybe even classical stuff. Drums are okay too I guess.
posted by p3t3 at 9:11 AM on March 31, 2006

The Graceful Ghost by William Bolcom.
posted by plinth at 9:13 AM on March 31, 2006

Best answer: Arvo Pärt's Alina and Tabula Rasa have both provided me with beautiful, sparse "classical" with plenty of strings.

There's also Ulrich Schnauss, but you know about him, I'm sure. :)
posted by beaucoupkevin at 9:18 AM on March 31, 2006

"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," Ennio Morricone.
posted by COBRA! at 9:31 AM on March 31, 2006

The Bladerunner soundtrack.
posted by empath at 9:39 AM on March 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks again. I've got "In A Silent Way" on vinyl, but that may be one of the exceptions where I'd like it better on CD since it's so quiet and the vinyl is a bit crackly.

Ulrich Schnauss is nice, also Pub is a personal fav.

I had no idea Cocteau Twins did an album w/ Budd- I'm excited to hear that one.

Blade Runner has been on my want list for a while, but thanks for reminding me ;)

I have plenty of digging material for now (but more is welcome of course).
posted by p3t3 at 10:06 AM on March 31, 2006

The Six Organs Of Admittance album "For Octavio Paz" is sparse/spacy finger-picked guitar (John Faheyesque[!?]) with minimal vocals. It's not classical, but it otherwise fits the criteria.

There's a French composer named Marin Marais who composed some really excellent viola da gamba works. I couldn't tell you which ones I've heard, but Rachel's stuff is similar. If I find out any more, I'll come back.
posted by clockwork at 10:08 AM on March 31, 2006

Max Richter's The Blue Notebooks is along the same lines, though it does have some spoken word pieces mixed low so they aren't overwhelming.
posted by rabbitsnake at 10:59 AM on March 31, 2006

Suprised no one mentioned this yet, but Brian Eno's Music for Airports really does the trick for me. I'm a big fan of Rachel's and second or third Tarantula and Avro Part. I'm trying to read my notes on one of the CDs I keep around next to the Rachel's and it's a variety of pieces from Samuel Barber and Sibelius. In the vein of Steven Reich is John Adams, or better yet, both of them together on Loops and Verses.
posted by rodz at 11:01 AM on March 31, 2006

I actually just registered to answer this after years of lurking, so...hi.

I'm amazed noone has mentioned Dirty Three yet. They make beautifully sad music with violin, guitar, and drums. I actually discovered Rachels by looking for bands similiar to Dirty Three. D3 tends to be a bit more traditional sounding then some of Rachels' stuff, and maybe a bit more rock/folk sounding then classical. Their site is here and they also have an entry on wikipedia.

I would recommend starting with "Whatever You Love, You Are", and then trying "Ocean Songs", and then moving on to the newer albums. Their latest album "Cinder" is decent, but I was disappointed by them going with shorter songs (3-4 mins) and less sprawling compositions.

I would also second "Music For Airports" and Stars of the Lid. Also, you should check out Tarentel -- get earlier LPs first as they are getting more and more experimental/abstract. Also, Godspeed You Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky would be worth looking into, though they are more "post-rock" then classically inclined.
posted by rsanheim at 11:21 AM on March 31, 2006

Moonlight Sonata sound exactly what you want. Beethoven, growing increasingly deaf, dedicated this to his lost love, Giulietta Guicciardi.
posted by Neiltupper at 11:22 AM on March 31, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for joining rsanheim. Always great to inspire new mefi accounts :) I actually saw the Dirty Three in concert a long time ago (maybe with Cornelius??), but I'll have to give them a listen again. I always thought Godspeed was too "hip" for me, but maybe I'll have to give them a listen anyways ;)

I have most of the Eno albums (the Apollo soundtrack might be my favorite), but thanks for those as well - we're on the right page at least. And I'm quite curious about some of the classical recommendations.

Thanks again peoples!
posted by p3t3 at 12:06 PM on March 31, 2006

Oooh, if you like rachel's then you can't not like 'Boxhead Ensemble'.

'Scott Tuma' might also be worth a look. I'm not that keen on 'A Silver Mt. Zion' but their early work is sort of in the same area. I'd also recommend 'Tim Hecker' if you're willing to go into purely electronic territories.

I think I'll be a bit cheeky and plug my own music, too, which again is (sort of) electronic.
posted by iamcrispy at 1:03 PM on March 31, 2006

John Cage - in a landscape.
posted by subtle-t at 1:12 PM on March 31, 2006

I've lurked here for years, but this is the thread that got me to post. I do hope I'm helpful.

I found myself in the same situation years ago -- Rachel's music whetted my apetite and I had to have more. I find it's surprisingly difficult to find honest, quiet, contemplative music.

That said, I strongly recommend the music of Roger Eno (yep, Brian's brother). "Voices" is a lovely, melancholy album, as is "Lost in Translation," but, IIRC, the latter has vocals. Roger's piece "Quixote" on the "Music for Films, Volume 3" albums is one of the most beautiful, delicate, melancholy things I've ever heard, and this album is a great introduction to artists making the kind of music you're seeking.

Roger Eno has also made music with such people as Harold Budd, Laroji, and these records are worth seeking out.

If you like a jazz sound, seek out The Ground by the Tord Gustavson Trio. This album is like listening to the sound of a warm sigh on frosted glass.
posted by the matching mole at 1:16 PM on March 31, 2006

I second Godspeed You Black Emperor.

The song by Rachel's (linked in the original post) is vaguely trip-hop (to me at least). Thusly, I'd also recommend Royksopp and Bonobo. Also check out the "Chin chillin' Disk 1 (Get up!)" here (you can actually download it).

posted by aeighty at 2:10 PM on March 31, 2006

The soundtrack to Conan the Barbarian by Basil Pouledouris. No joke.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 2:41 PM on March 31, 2006

Terry Riley - In C. Maybe other stuff by Bang on a Can.
posted by hydrophonic at 3:04 PM on March 31, 2006

Best answer: My boyfriend loves Rachel's, and this is what he has to say:

I really do! Here are some things that might hit the spot:

Clogs' album "Thom's Night Out"
Red Stars Theory
Seascapes of the Interior
The Six Parts Seven

I second Tristeza, and third Stars of the Lid. I think Godspeed You! Black Emperor might be a little too busy (no pun intended) to sound sparse. Also, if you can stomach some vocals that don't take the foreground, Julie Doiron's "Julie Doiron and the wooden stars" (or anything else by her) is very good for the sad and sparse mood.

As far as classical composers go, it can be difficult to find a feel comperable to Rachel's. Many of the 19th and 20th century folk, as you might have found, tend to go for very different feels.

Try Bach's solo cello suites. Especially number 2 in d minor. All of them, even the ones in major, have a certain hopelessness about them that definitely calls Rachel's to mind, but number 2 especially does it. If you need some credentials for it, it was used in Ingmar Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly (Bergman being possibly the most depressing director of all time, this work being one of his jewels).

There was a time in the Renaissance when 'melancholia' was a very trendy thing in England. John Dowland was the chart topper of this period of the seventeenth century. If you can find pieces like "Flow, my tears," and "In darkness let me dwell," you'll see what I mean.

If you want good modern pieces that've influenced Rachel's and a few of the other people who've been mentioned, try Gorecki's Symphony No.3, the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs; or John Cage's String Quartet in 4 Parts.

Best of luck! e-mail me (halcyon at uchicago dot edu) if you'd like me to send you any of these.
posted by bubukaba at 3:47 PM on March 31, 2006

posted by haplesschild at 4:39 PM on March 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

The Stars Of The Lid are definitely a good recommendation, as are the (wonderful) Dirty Three.

p3t3, if you're getting excited about new Arthur Russell releases (thanks for the tip-off, btw; didn't know about it, and that stuff looks ace), have you heard the collaboration between Russell and Peter Zummo? 20 minute cello/trombone drone masterpiece, it's on Zummo's album Zummo With An X. Can't vouch for the rest of the album, but that track is beautiful. (If you can't get a hold of it, email the address in my profile, and I'll do you a copy.)

Also: lots of La Monte Young stuff might fit what you're after – The Volga Delta is a piece which consists solely of a bowed gong, while Raga For Ravi is a traditional Indian raga, minimalist and utterly captivating.

Not very sparse, but might fit, because it sucks you in and leaves you in an almost catatonic state: Steve Reich's Music For 18 Musicians.
posted by Len at 6:10 PM on March 31, 2006

Morton Feldman's orchestral stuff? Toru Takemitsu makes me relax. How about Gavin Bryars?

Not Naked City.
posted by billtron at 6:50 PM on March 31, 2006

Well, this is only one song, not an album, but REM's "New Orleans Instrumental #1" is heartwrenchingly, sweetly sad. It makes feeling sad somehow rich and healing. It'll pull some tears right out of you if you need it and you let it. I can't figure out what the instruments even are, some kind of keyboard and something else, but I guess I'd say it's "sparse".

Also like the old Twin Peaks theme, the instrumental version. Angelo Badalamenti
posted by kookoobirdz at 7:24 PM on March 31, 2006

The Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov’s work can be exquisitely sparse and moody, for example the ‘Postludium’ pieces on the CD Leggiero, Pesante and Kitsch-Musik on Alexei Lubimov’s Pourquoi je suis si sentimental disc.
posted by misteraitch at 12:28 AM on April 1, 2006

That Rachael's track on their site reminded my of the excellent Drive By by the Necks.

You might also want to try anything by Fourtet or Millions now living... by Tortoise
posted by cgfoz at 7:22 AM on April 1, 2006

This may sound like an odd recommendation, but after listening to the single sample track at the Rachel's web site (a song called "Significant Others"), I am reminded of "Dido's Lament" from the opera Dido and Aeneas (sp?) by Henry Purcell. Yes, it's opera, and this has vocals, but it's even more sparse and more melancholy than the sample Rachel's track I listened to. "Dido's Lament" is a great song and worth a listen...
posted by jdroth at 4:45 PM on April 1, 2006

nice melancholic instrumental music with sparse arrangements

I'll take the recommendations for the Dirty Three a step further and say that their guitarist, Mick Turner's solo work fits this bill precisely. Track 4 on Seven Angels is one of the most melancholic instrumental tracks I've ever heard. Turner's got 2 or 3 full-lengths and the aforementioned tour EP. He also works as the Tren Brothers and the Marquis de Tren (with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, of all people, who contributes his awful voice to their recordings).
posted by carsonb at 12:44 PM on April 2, 2006

Response by poster: Final comments for anyone coming back to this thread or searching in the future:

I finally got a chance to sit down and listen to most of the recommendations. Tons of great music mentioned, and I'm sure I'll come back to this thread whin I'm looking for more music, but for now I had a very specific sound in mind which only matched a few (I probably threw some people off by mentioing Arthur Russell too, which is not what I was looking for stylistically, he just seems to tap into that same melancholic emotion).

I think the closest match to what I was after was Bach's Cello Suite no.2 in D minor. Also the Arvo Pärt albums Alina and Tabula Rasa sounded great. Also the Clogs' Thom's Night Out, and I may end up picking up something from the Boxhead Ensemble. Oh and I like the guitarist from the Dirty Three - Mick Turner, his solo albums sound nice; will probably pick up something from him sooner or later..

Some of the others I was already familiar with (most Kranky artists), others were too post-rock-y for what I'm after at the moment, some too lush/effects-laden, etc. Everything mentioned was quality stuff, as to be expected from mefi ;) but like I said, I knew exactly what I wanted this time around and I managed to find a couple matches in there. Thanks again!
posted by p3t3 at 1:09 PM on April 3, 2006

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