Experimental rock  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Experimental rock or Avant rock is a type of rock and roll which experiments with the basic elements of the genre, and/or which pushes the boundaries of common composition and performance technique.

Performers may also attempt to individualize their music with new time signatures, instrumental tunings, compositional styles, lyrical techniques, elements of other musical genres, singing styles, or instrumental effects.


The mid- to late 60s was an era of explosive growth and experimentation in rock music. Bands drew influences from free jazz artists such as John Coltrane and Sun Ra and avant-garde composers like John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Notable experimental bands in this period include The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, and The Mothers of Invention.

Influenced by the experiments of these groups came another wave experimental rock bands in the early 1970's. There was, for instance, the so-called Krautrock scene in Germany, which included psychedelic bands like Amon Düül II, sound-collage artists like Faust, and the extremely improvisational and almost unclassifiable Can. Brian Eno was another important figure, especially after his departure from Roxy Music in order to pursue his own ideas (which ultimately led to his invention of the term "ambient music"). Some other artists in this period, such as David Bowie and Scott Walker, also departing from more pop-oriented styles in order to experiment with songwriting and production. At the same time, there was the experimental wing of the already somewhat experimental progressive rock scene, including a number of bands who were influenced by contemporary classical music -- Magma, Henry Cow, Area, Univers Zero, and so on. There are many avant-prog bands still active, including Thinking Plague, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Koenjihyakkei.

In the late 70s, punk rock developed a number of experimental offshoots, most notably post-punk. This genre includes everything from arty punk rockers like Pere Ubu and Suicide to the noise-rock of Public Image Ltd.. Other punk offshoots included Industrial music (bands such as Cabaret Voltaire, Einstürzende Neubauten and Throbbing Gristle) and No Wave (bands such as James Chance and the Contortions and DNA). These scenes are all still active in the 00s, as evidenced by bands like Life Without Buildings and Chicks on Speed.

The late 80s alternative scene saw the rise of a number of bands influenced by the Velvet Underground, including Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., and Big Black. Many indie rock bands became experimental and diverged into a style called Post-rock; major influences on this style include Slint, who were influenced by Hardcore punk, and Talk Talk's later works, which were influenced by Miles Davis and ambient music. By now "post-rock" can refer to almost any complex instrumental rock coming out of the indie scene, from the delicate, classical-influenced chamber rock of Rachel's to the massive, forbidding sonic landscapes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

As the 90s progressed, non-instrumental forms of indie rock also became increasingly experimental. Some of the innovators in this area were bands associated with the Elephant 6 collective, such as Neutral Milk Hotel and The Olivia Tremor Control; later experimental indie bands include Deerhoof, Liars, U.S. Maple, Xiu Xiu, The Fiery Furnaces, Animal Collective and Wolf Parade. Neptune is an experimental noise music band from Boston that built all their custom made guitars and basses out of heaps of scrap metal.

See also

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