Music or not? Works that explore the boundaries between music, sound and silence

Wow awesome stories and music!

"Recorded entirely in 15 of Turrell’s Skyspaces, the 200 site-specific microtonal recordings capture the Skyspace as an audible filter & resonant instrument. "


yes! saw robert give a talk about this project last month. blew my mind.

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YouTube channel with lots of great and hard to find music


In 1987, Eugene Chadbourne was one of the performers at the Vancouver Folk Music festival. I was a big fan of his and rather amazed that anyone would invite him to such an event. One afternoon he was part of a collaborative session/panel titled “But is it folk music?” that also included Brazilian guitarist Celso Machado and a couple of other musicians whose work didn’t precisely fit into the Folk Music genre.

When it was his turn to answer this question about his own music, he said something like: “Not only do I not care if it’s folk music, I don’t care if it’s music!” Then he put his electric birdcage (outfitted with a pickup like his more famous electric rake) on his head and began sawing at it with a hacksaw. This turned into a nice jam with Celso Machado, who was the only one onstage to appreciate Eugene’s insane noise on that beautiful sunny day, out on the grassy lawns of Jericho Beach Park.

I’m not necessarily recommending Mr. Chadbourne, as he can be rather obnoxious and is best live, when the stars are right. But I’m happy to suspend questions like “what is music?” for moments like that which transcend definition. I’ve twice seen a piece performed where composer David Mahler switches on a reel-to-reel recorder playing a collage of sounds from radio baseball game broadcasts and Stuart Dempster, wearing a jersey and cap, waits for his moment to play the trombone. Is this music?

I’ve met a couple who went backpacking, took the wrong turn and ended up camping by a helipad next to an automated lighthouse. The radio they packed could only pick up one station, broadcasting a hockey game. It surely wasn’t music. Still, they could hear the rhythm and they danced the hell out of that hockey game.

I’ve been corrupted by John Cage and Pauline Oliveros, so I choose to believe that there is music everywhere, within and without, sometimes more or less explicitly. An artist might not intend a performance to be music, or care whether it is or not, yet hope that the audience might hear the music that is there.


This is one of my favorite albums:

Usually it feels really peaceful and relaxing. A few times it has struck me as almost aggressive, which is a strange thing to say about a ride in a gondola or funicular. But I always love listening to it, if I have the right listening environment (it’s not so good for driving).


Great share. I love Ersnt’s stuff. My wife has been a graduate student in the film department at Harvard for the last few years, so I’ve had the good fortune of being in close proximity to Ernst’s sound work. He led a listening session at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum last year that exposed me to such amazing stuff from people that hadn’t been on my radar (like Christina Kubisch).

Part of me wishes I could just study under him at the Sensory Ethnography Lab or wherever he ends up. Super inspiring.


Well said and I totally agree with this.


This is weird stuff but i enjoy listening to it

@slopstream already linked an Otomo Yoshihide video, but the onkyō genre from late 90s and early 00s that Yoshihide represented had a lot of stuff that explored these boundaries. Unfortunately YouTube has no videos from the Off Site club in Tokyo, which was the center of the onkyō music, but I do recommed checking out stuff by Taku Sugimoto, Sachiko M, Toshimaru Nakamura, and Atsuhiro Ito (who ran the Off Site club). Taku Sugimoto seems to have continued to explore the silence/sound boundary more than the others in his later works.

Here’s a short documentary featuring Sachiko M and Toshimaru Nakamura:


@Plym that CoCoB record is so good, thanks for reminding me

this kind of topic always makes me think of richard chartier

some of his records are a little more, mmm, accessible? in terms of what people might generally think of as “music.” his record with robert curgenven is a personal favorite of mine.


If I may indulge myself, referring to the previous mentions of Rie Nakajima, here is a clip of her and David Bloor at a show I put on last autumn:

I feel Peter Ablinger’s Weiss/Weisslich series is also worth mentioning. Tons of interesting uses of silence/noise/unsound/etc: - a drum set in the rain, amongst other things - 7 blank records, played loud


Damn, Phil…

I’d started hitting the weekend brandy (already), and that Weiss/Weisslich sneaky-slid into my brain like a shiv. Extraordinary.



Hi, can you tell me where that quote is from? Ikd like to read more if there is a larger text…

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it is there:


@ermina found the article I have copied the text from. Although I remember reading about it in several other places as well.

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Thank you for the link!

Adam Neely makes some videos about this kind of stuff he mainly explores the limit of perception of frequency, rhythm and harmony. Here are some of my favorites:
What is the slowest music possible
What is the fastest music possible
How the brain processes harmony
What does music mean

The thing about music is that unlike any other art-form, it is strictly tied to time, you can’t really freeze-frame music, leaving you with the immediate experience of sound and it’s relationship to the sound you just heard before. So I would not categorize anything that skips over the temporal nature of sound as music.

The cultural trends on what constitutes “classic” music is that you can subvert the expectations that we create whenever we hear music, by going to these extreme ends in terms oh speed and complexity of rhythm or getting Harmony to the limit of deciphrability.

An interesting question could also be the distinguishing characteristics of music compared to sound design, think the Dunkirk score by Hanz Zimmer.


A little bump to move this thread into the present and see if new people want to chime in :slight_smile:

I discover a lot of great new experimental music via the fan account of @Weird_Ear records