I like Sigur Ros. What modernist composers should I listen to?
November 25, 2007 5:32 PM   Subscribe

What modernist classical music should I listen to? I am a big fan of Sigur Ros, especially Takk and (), and I'd like to listen to something similar. I also like Amnesiac by Radiohead quite a bit.

I also like Bjork, Mum, Boards of Canada, Tet, Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, Godspeed! You Black Emperor...I dislike prog rock. I also listen to jazz, mostly Hard Bop.
posted by KokuRyu to Media & Arts (44 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Postal Service, Dntel, Telepopmusik, Air, Imogen Heap/Frou Frou
posted by anonymous78 at 5:35 PM on November 25, 2007

I am a fan of all your favorite artists. I listen to Gorecki, Arvo Part, Hovhaness, de Falla, Copland, and Barber. I'm very interested in broadening my modern classical taste, so I'm looking forward to more answers.

If you are willing to go back futher, Gesualdo is very interesting.
posted by melissam at 5:44 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

the guides at emusic have some good tips http://www.emusic.com/features/hub/279/index.html
posted by melissam at 5:45 PM on November 25, 2007

Response by poster: I'm looking for classical music here...but I do like the Postal Service. At the same time, I'm starting to outgrow pop and indie music.

With Gorecki, Arvo Part, Hovhaness, de Falla, Copland, and Barber, any specific works?
posted by KokuRyu at 5:51 PM on November 25, 2007

Okay, I think the posting is not quite clear b/c I wouldn't qualify Bjork, Radiohead, and/or Sigur Ros as "modernist classical". Or rather, if you're defining them as such, I think you will have to include a lot of pop and/or indie music. Do you want what is traditionally defined as "classical" music or do you want music similar to the groups you mentioned above?
posted by anonymous78 at 5:58 PM on November 25, 2007

Rachel's are awesome. I suggested them in a totally different thread a few days back. They're not classical exactly, but they're certainly a chamber-type group.
posted by god hates math at 6:00 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

allmusic.com is a great resource for finding artists similar to the ones you like. Just search on the artist and scroll down to where it says "similar artists".
posted by Koko at 6:00 PM on November 25, 2007

No, no. I think KokuRyu is saying "If I like bands with sensibilities such as x,y, and z, then what modernist classical music would I like?" not "I think bands x,y, and z are modernist classical..."
posted by umbú at 6:05 PM on November 25, 2007

Response by poster: I am looking for modernist classical music similar to Sigur Ros.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:06 PM on November 25, 2007

De Falla's El Amor Bruja as a work is a favorite of mine. It is starling, provocative, emotional, and intelligent.

Bear this in mind, KokuRyu, with classical music conductor's are often the real stars.

Herbert von Karajan conducting Beethoven/Bruno Walter conducting Mahler is as good as it gets for me.

(Incidentally, this list seems beyond reproach to me.)
posted by humannaire at 6:11 PM on November 25, 2007

For a more jazzy taste: Gotan Project, The Bad Plus
posted by suedehead at 6:12 PM on November 25, 2007

I'm not familiar with the artists you've listed, so I may be way off base, but when asked about modernist classical music, my mind turns to Elliot Carter. You need to bring a lot of attention to the music, but when you do it's transcendently beautiful.
posted by alms at 6:15 PM on November 25, 2007

At my site:
A Silver Mt. Zion
Golden Arm Trio
Max Richter
The Wind-Up Bird
All highly recommended, and there's more if you look.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 6:20 PM on November 25, 2007

Response by poster: I like Sigur Ros and I like post-rock, but I want to branch more into classical music, and probably won't be getting into any more pop/rock/indie music.

Any suggestions of classical music would be helpful. A New Yorker article mentions Thorkell Sigurbjörnsson and Jón Nordal, so I'll let you know what these are like.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:30 PM on November 25, 2007

Comparing classical music to post rock is kind of an apples to oranges comparison, no?
posted by phaded at 6:31 PM on November 25, 2007

Response by poster: Try listening to ( ).
posted by KokuRyu at 6:41 PM on November 25, 2007

I like Sigur Ros and I like this sampler of contemporary classical. (You can of course listen to snippets on amazon, and see if you agree.)
posted by ~ at 6:51 PM on November 25, 2007

I second the Max Richter recommendation. The prettier moments of Vladislav Delay may be up your alley as well. Delay is no "modernist composer" but like Sigur Ros, he's an iconoclast.
posted by serial_consign at 7:50 PM on November 25, 2007

Some of Paul Hindemith's works for ensembles might suit you. "Rondo for Three Guitars", music scored for recorder, his fanfare for the Plöner Musiktag. There's an out-of-print series on GRC records - very rare but they appear now and then - of Hindemith's ensemble works.

Györgi Ligeti's "Atmospheres" has a BoC-like sensibility. This composition turns up on the "2001: A Space Odyssey" soundtrack. A number of Ligeti's compositions have an odd drifting quality.
posted by jet_silver at 8:16 PM on November 25, 2007

"Modernist classical" is a little confusing. I think of the "modern" period as being about 1900 to 1950. Favorites of mine from around then: Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, early Schoenberg (Verklerte Nacht).

There are a few "crossover" performers who could help you. I'm thinking of the Kronos Quartet for example. They play a variety of contemporary "serious" musicians and you could go off on a tangent from there.
posted by Schmucko at 8:20 PM on November 25, 2007

Arvo Part.
Samuel Barber.
Johann Johannsson's "Englaborn." (not classical, but...)
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:58 PM on November 25, 2007

Schmucko writes "'Modernist classical' is a little confusing. "

Yeah; I think you're more likely looking for composers who would be called postmodern, contemporary, minimalist, or "postminimalist". "Modern" is Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, etc.

You might be interested in Glen Branca's work. He represents an interesting bridge between the worlds of experimental-popular and classical music. I don't think he's taken very seriously in the classical world, though. Not for lack of trying.

I agree on Ligeti.

Have you heard Steve Reich? I'm most familiar with his early, loop-based work (give "It's Gonna Rain" a listen), but you might be more interested in some of his work from the 90s. The Reich stuff I'm familiar with is definitely more aggressive (Godspeed or Mogwai) than melodic (SR).
posted by mr_roboto at 10:05 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

In terms of more specific suggestions...

Of the Arvo Part I have listened to, Alina is my favourite - two longish pieces of music played in several ways with their own little nuances. Nice.

For Kronos Quartet, Short Stories is great; and I'm quite partial to the OST for The Fountain. Some Kronos Quartet is.. hard to listen to, I find.
posted by ambilevous at 10:10 PM on November 25, 2007

Try listening to ( ).

That's post rock. So are Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, all of whom you mentioned.

If you're looking for more music along those lines, I can wholeheartedly recommend anything Saxon Shore has ever done. Other good bets are Pelican and mono.

I can't say I've ever heard of a genre called "modernist classical" before and I think we're using two different names for the same thing, but I'm willing to wager that the proper name for what you're looking for is post rock. Take a look through this list, which should greatly aid in your search.
posted by phaded at 10:26 PM on November 25, 2007

Seconding recordings of the Kronos Quartet, you would do well to listen to any or all of their albums- in their programming they are great gatekeepers to the more accessible modern or post-modern classical compositions, and most albums have a good variety of short works by different composers. If great sweeping soundscapes are your thing you'd probably enjoy pretty much anything by Olivier Messiaen (try the Turangalila Symphony or some of his piano works for contrast), John Taverner (The Protecting Veil, Eternity's Sunrise), John Adams (Harmonilielehre... which I've recommended here before, and probably will again). Hell, you might even enjoy Mahler, though that's something of an acquired taste.
posted by Coaticass at 12:09 AM on November 26, 2007

Phaded, classical music is largely subject to the same terminology as the other arts, including fine art, so yes, there is modernist classical music.
posted by Coaticass at 12:12 AM on November 26, 2007

My taste in non-classical has a good overlap with yours, so here are a few contemporary classical recommendations off the top of my head, given in the hope that they might be to your liking: do be sure to 'try before you buy' though, in case these are way off the mark...

You could try some of Valentin Silvestrov's works, which tend to the slow, mournful, quiet, contemplative & elegaic: his fifth symphony is perhaps his best single work, but his chamber music has some lovely moments too.

There's also Einojuhani Rautavaara, whose music tends to have slightly more of a traditionally classical structure, and varies in mood from exhilaratingly bright & breezy to the duskily melancholic: this compilation CD looks like a great introduction to his work, as it gathers together such favourites of mine as Cantus Arcticus and the first piano concerto.

The CD Silencio by the violinist Gidon Kremer and his ensemble includes a fine version of Arvo Pärt's Tabula Rasa, and an idiosyncratic piece by the Russian composer Vladimir Martynov entitled Come In! which is a curious marriage of minimalist repetition with syrupy neo-romantic melodies.

The pianist Alexei Lubimov's recital Pourquoi je suis si sentimental includes both Silvestrov's eerily beautiful suite Kitsch-Musik and the original short version of Pärt's Alina...
posted by misteraitch at 12:54 AM on November 26, 2007

Seconding John Adams, maybe try Shaker Loops or Naive and Sentimental Music.

Have you heard any Phillip Glass?

Shostakovich's 2nd Cello Concerto might fit the bill.

On Preview: seconding Rautavaara. If you like his stuff some of Vaughn Williams' work might be worth a look. This should give you a taste.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 1:09 AM on November 26, 2007

You could give last.fm a go. It's pretty good at coming up with suggestions when you have some tracks in your profile and they have streams of the "music similar to X"-variety.
posted by phax at 2:32 AM on November 26, 2007

Seconding Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson, and John Adams's Shaker loops. Maybe also Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson (who actually did a soundtrack with Sigur Rós).
posted by Utilitaritron at 4:41 AM on November 26, 2007

Morton Feldman
Iannis Xenakis - especially La Legende D'Eer
some Luigi Nono - especially .....sofferte onde serene... and La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura
Helmut Lachenmann
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:48 AM on November 26, 2007

Unless a poster specifically says they've tried it, I'll always assume they need to try Pandora for situations like this.
posted by hermitosis at 5:53 AM on November 26, 2007

I love Howard Shore's scores for "The Lord of the Rings" trilogies, and I also really love Michael Nyman's scores for both "The Piano" and "Carrington".

It's only an opinion, but I think an excellent source for modern composers is via movie scores. It seems to be the most obvious place for talented musicians composing orchestral pieces to congregate.
posted by h00py at 6:04 AM on November 26, 2007

I'll second Paul Hindemith. He's an acquired taste though, so I wouldn't suggest jumping into his sonatae or fugues for piano immediately without learning some of his more mainstream works. Check out his Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber. Also Mathis der Mahler is pretty fantastic modern classical (aslo by Hindemith) and I'm always a fan of his Symphony in Bb. Just in case you aren't aware of his style, he was German, came to America and used a lot of very curious jazz inspiration for his classical stuff, so if you hear a random trombone slide don't be freaked out.

I actually just recently created a mix cd for some friends of mine because they swore they hated modern classical. And thus was born "Modern Classical for People Who HATE Modern Classical." I wrote out some pretty extensive liner notes for it, and without those it will be hard to explain exactly why I chose these pieces. But the reader's digest version is that: modern classical music has seen the surge in popularity of non-orchestral ensembles, such as the wind ensemble and the choir (whereas traditionally, the orchestra was simply accompanied by those ensembles to add color). Thus, few of the selections are specifically orchestral - though there are some. Also, modern classical tends to use closer harmonies than classical or romantic compositions, so tone clusters are more frequent. Finally, a number of the pieces on this list are actually modern updates of traditional compositions which bridges the gap to a certain extent between the two time periods.

The track list is as follows:

1. As Summer Was Just Beginning - Daehn
2. Amazing Grace - Ticheli
3. October - Whitacre
4. Waternight - Whitacre
5. Hobbits - deMeij
6. O Danny Boy - Fred Prentice
7. Adagio for Strings (Choral) - Barber
8. Morningstar - Maslanka
9. Southern Harmony, Exhiliration - Grantham
10. Concerto for 24 Winds, Allegro Molto - Hartley
11. Symphony 5, II. Allegro Marcato - Prokofiev
12. Symphony in Bb, III. - Hindemith
13. Gloriosa, III. - Ito

Oooh, also, it's a pretty old instrument, but if you can get ahold of any recordings of glass armonica players, you might be pleasantly surprised by their stuff. It's a terribly strange instrument and it totally sounds like space music. :)
posted by greekphilosophy at 6:04 AM on November 26, 2007

h00py is absolutely right about movie scores.

I listened to the soundtrack to Bicentennial Man this morning on my way to work. It's very lush and deep, but also very modern with the way Howard composes "machine music" in order to really evoke the understanding of the android.

Philip Glass was suggested above, and he's done a number of good soundtracks and collaborations (the Qatsi trio comes to mind).
posted by greekphilosophy at 6:07 AM on November 26, 2007

Oh, ergh, trilogy of course.
posted by h00py at 7:24 AM on November 26, 2007

Steve Reich's Music For 18 Instruments is quite powerful as is his Desert Music.

(But Reich is not to everyone's taste.)
posted by wittgenstein at 7:32 AM on November 26, 2007

Response by poster: A lurker tracked down my email address (!) and send me a response, which this group may find interesting:

If you like Sigur Ros, Radiohead, and so on, then here are a few ideas to pursue. My guess is you like the interesting rhythms and tonality without the abrasiveness that is being suggested in the MF responses. For one, Radiohead uses really amazing time signatures and harmonic structure. If you like that, check out Kyle Gann\'s blog on Artsjournal and search for meta-metric music. Here\'s a link of interest:


A writer by the name of Alex Ross, at the New Yorker, keeps a really good blog, as well. His articles on Radiohead, Bjork, and the mentions of Sigur Ros suggest that he\'d be someone whose tastes you\'d like. Check out his blog at


Among modern composers, check out the following names:

* John Luther Adams (NOT John Adams), especially pieces like The Light That Fills the World and White Country (I think I have that right - it\'s a piano piece played only on the white keys)

* Robert Ashley - an \"opera\" composer who does something incredibly beautiful with language and speech, perhaps a bit challenging, but worth it. More Radiohead than Sigur Ros. Check out \"Dust\" or \"Perfect Lives\" or \"Improvement\" before you head to things like \"Celestial Excursions.\" He\'s on the Lovely Music label.

* Terry Riley does a wonderful hypnotic kind of minimalism (not the Reich or Glass style, but the original conceptual art kind of minimalism, where you take an idea and work it to its logical end conclusion, as simply as possible). I\'d suggest pieces like \"Poppy Nogood...\" or \"In C,\" a classic of the minimalist genre. It sounds chaotic, but has a wonderful logic to it. Lots of different versions exist, where the Bang on a Can recording of \"In C\" is probably the easiest to hear the first time.

* La Monte Young is freaking impossible to find, but if you get lucky and find the Well Tuned Piano, get it. Five hours of amazing music, seems atonal at first, then slowly the just intonation becomes very, very appealing.

* William Duckworth is a \"postminimalist\" composer who had the totally lovely \"Southern Harmony\" a few decades back and also just openly released the \"iPod opera 2.0\" which retells the story of Orpheus. It\'s amazing. You can get the podcast mp3 files at .

Here are some better known classic pieces that might appeal to you as well...

* Steve Reich\'s piece \"Music for 18 Musicians\" is a standout

* Philip Glass\'s \"Music in 12 Parts\" is an amazing piece, and several versions exist. If you like it, then the more challenging and fabulous \"Einstein on the Beach\" would be worth it, but anything after, say, Koyaanisqatsi is probably not as related to Sigur Ros or Radiohead.

This is just touching the surface on the amazing field of modern classical (or postclassical, as many of the artists call it).

posted by KokuRyu at 7:47 AM on November 26, 2007 [3 favorites]

I like the same kinda music (also moving away from the indie thing in a few different directions), and the classical stuff I seek out when I want this kind of vibe is Ligeti and Erik Satie.
posted by troybob at 8:06 AM on November 26, 2007

Here are some suggestions:

- the Kronos Quartet's recording of Philip Glass string quartets

- Shostakovich. I love love love the string quartets. Also check out the preludes and fugues for piano.

- Try listening to Kaija Saariaho, a Finnish composer.

- Seconding Ligeti, Steve Reich, John Adams, Arvo Part (I love his choral works), Michael Nyman (listen to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), Rautavaara (try the string quartets or the Cantus Arcticus).

- I also second melissam's suggestion to go further back. Maybe listen to Gesualdo, Monteverdi, Josquin, Gabrieli, di Lasso, etc.

I tend to lean towards chamber music rather than big symphonic or choral stuff, but that's just a matter of taste.
posted by bassjump at 9:14 AM on November 26, 2007

You should check out Aniima, The string quartet who play with Sigur Ros a lot.

A good introduction to other Icelandic music is the film "Screaming Masterpiece" a documentary about the Icelandic music scene which features Sigur Ros, Aniima, Bjork (Solo, and earlier works) - Sigur Ros and Hilmar ùrn Hilmarsson's collaberation "Odin's Raven Magic" in particular sounds like it would fit what you're looking for.
posted by paulfreeman at 9:20 AM on November 26, 2007

Well I've learned something new here, then. I too shall investigate this...post-classical.
posted by phaded at 11:29 AM on November 26, 2007

Naxos released a sampler called Sonic Rebellion that's all interesting non-traditional classical music. You probably won't like everything on it, but it's a good starting point if you want to go "alternative". It shouldn't be more than $5. We listen to it constantly at work [selling classical musics]... whenever the Jorgen Plaetner track comes on, the stuffier customers bolt for the exit. It tends to put us clerks into fits of giggles.

Also, seconding Part [Tabula Rasa, Alina], Glass [Heroes Symphony, Symphony #8, Soundtracks to the Qatsi trilogy], and Terry Riley [this is a particularly enjoyable recording of In C] .
posted by rhinny at 12:48 PM on November 26, 2007

Try and find an album called "aristocracy and the horse" by an indie band called Radarmaker. I think they're on Myspace, but I am at work so I can't find you their link. They list as references pretty much all the bands you listed in your OP. Damn good band!
posted by indienial at 1:29 AM on November 27, 2007

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