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The Two Traditions of 'Experimental Music': Implications for the Later Conceptual history

Pace, I. ORCID: 0000-0002-0047-9379 (2022). The Two Traditions of 'Experimental Music': Implications for the Later Conceptual history. Paper presented at the Xperimus 2022 Conference, 16 Apr 2022, Porto, Portugal.


There are two traditions of musical work which have laid claim to the term ‘experimental music’. The first is today perhaps the most familiar, referring to the work of John Cage and other composers associated with the ‘New York School’, with precedents in the works of Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, and Harry Partch, then feeding into a range of other work in North America, Europe and further afield. Such a tradition refers to a new approach to compositional intention, the use of indeterminacy of various types, and a general rejection of a role for the composer which is said to date back to the European Renaissance. This tradition was given its clearest conceptual definition in Michael Nyman’s 1974 book Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, which consolidated a quite stark dichotomy between the ‘experimental’ and the ‘avant-garde’, which continues to inform a good deal of historiography of twentieth and twenty-first century music. The second derives from Pierre Schaeffers’ lecture ‘Vers une musique expérimentale’ given in Paris in 1953, and refers to music produced in a laboratory or equivalent, especially involving electronics, tape or computers, used in various ways that can be compared to scientific experiments. It was taken up by figures such as Lejaren Hiller, Abraham Antoine Moles, Luigi Rognoni, and others, but also employed in writings of Herbert Eimert, Luciano Berio, Luigi Nono, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Henri Pousseur, and continued in continental Europe for several decades.

Publication Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Performing Arts
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