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05/03/2004: "experiment."

Reading--and writing--critiques of 'experimental music' always gets me thinking about the word 'experimental', and how that word gets bandied about so much that it's hard to discern what it's supposed to even mean. I see it used all the time, usually to come up with a pat description for something that just sounds kind of weird. For something that doesn't snap immediately into a conventional song structure. I really kind of despise the word; I use it but curse myself every time I do, because all music is an experiment of some form. 'Experimental' is a word that, strangely enough, stops you from thinking instead of making you think. It's a stand-in word, a cheap signifier to cover up what we don't understand or want to explain. I'd like to see more people get underneath the skin of what, exactly, the experiment is instead of giving me some hogwash about how it "pushes the boundaries of the genre."

In science, almost all experiments fail. That's just the way things go. Construct a hypothesis, follow that scientific method to a T, graph those suckers expertly and still get error bars so big your data's meaningless. Sometimes I think there should be science critics who hang out at labs and watch people do experiments, and critique them the way that music critics go to shows and critique music. "Labcoat #1 then performed an extraction with three separatory funnels. The solvent bubbled furiously..." There are as many ideas in failed science experiments as the successful ones, and sometimes the failed ones are more fun to watch. I'd like to see people fail more often in their 'experimental music' performances, completely and utterly. Not just a gentle buzzing laptop failure but a magnificent smoldering-pile-of-wreckage failure. I want to see thought processes at work, see people freak out. I'd like to see more improvised performances where I can actually sense the performers struggling to find somewhere they've never been, rather than somewhere they know they can go. And I think that musicians and scientists ('experimental' by definition) have more in common than they'd care to admit, regardless of how self-conscious they are about their methods.

Replies: 3 Comments

Nicely written.

Maybe you just yearn for more passion in the experiments that you see.

hector said @ 05/05/2004 03:21 PM EST

I always feel like a complete prat when I tell people I am an 'experimental' musician. you're right about it being a lazy word. also music doesn't neccesarily work like science i.e. after the experiment science moves on (well, that's the theory ask Karl Popper or Thomas Khun about that one). one could argue that Cage, say, is still experimental now (in terms of pushing the bonudaries of music etc...)

ian said @ 05/04/2004 05:29 AM EST

yes it would be intersting to see my supervisor watching me do experiments. he'd prob see me checking ilx a lot of the time too!!! ;-)

Anyway, after watching a spending an afternoon watching a series of imporv concerts it was VERY VERY clear who failed and who was successful, but then I went record shopping and the person i went with told me he overheard someone talking abt how that 'failure' we witnessed earlier was actually a 'success' by someone else.

julio said @ 05/03/2004 07:42 AM EST

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