What would it take to sound “new”?


Continuing the discussion from Have we reached a 'tipping point' in modular synthesis?:

This is an interesting question, and one maybe deserving of its own thread. I’m going to start this with two questions inspired by @Starthief’s post.

  1. When was the first time you heard something that was so new it had a major (profound?) effect on you?

  2. When was the last/most recent time?

What were those things?


For me, the first thing that came to mind was Spacemen 3’s version of “When Tomorrow Hit.” The song just buzzes and builds and builds. I hadn’t experienced music that unrelenting yet emotionally resonant before.

Most recently it has been Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s “The Kid.” The combination of Sonics is amazing, it sounds so planned and improvised at the same time.


I’m struggling with this, but it’s a fascinating topic. I think what trips me up is that when you’re younger, and by the very nature of being younger, you’ve been exposed to less, everything feels more impactful. So as I’ve gotten older and been passionately exploring little nooks and crannies of music for even longer, I think the ability for anything to have a profound effect on you is reduced. That’s why nostalgia for even relatively ‘forgettable’ music can have a powerful impact on you, because so much is dependent on timing and context.

So nothing will probably feel like that first time I saw Helmet as they ripped into the first super loud drop-D song as a 14 year old at my first live concert. Or I think of the magic of that Taurus pedal synth buzz in the opening to “Tom Sawyer” by Rush for the first time. Even though within the bigger picture it’s pretty vanilla, it was more profound than potentially NEW sounds.

Later I think of the early college exploration into Miles’ electric stuff and the Tortoise/Chicago scene or Gastr del Sol and This Heat being incredible gateways to new worlds of music.

But, gradually, even though you’re listening to stuff that feels newer and newer, the likelihood of being profoundly impacted is reduced. It’s kind of like you’re building a tolerance and you’re always chasing a bigger high just to feel what something as pedestrian as Rush made you feel when you were 12. It’s sort of the most tragic thing of being a voracious listener of a wide range of music.


The last time hearing some music really expanded the way I listen was going to some of Khristian Weeks’ installation-performances on tour back when I used to do that. I wrote something about it on my friend’s blog a while back:

The first time I remember this happening was hearing Xerobot and Stockhausen nearly back-to-back – suddenly made the Stockhausen click for me. (I was looking for a formalism or some way in through analysis, but the overlap between Xerobot’s sounds and Stockhausen’s sound world made me stop trying to explain or decode Stockhausen and listen to it in the same way that I listened to this ecstatic noise band from Madison – and that’s what really opened the door for me to a whole world of “other” music at the time.)

The next time was with the music of Bernhard Gunter – I was obsessed with a couple very silent records of his for a while, and listening to them in different spaces, on speakers, on headphones, etc. One time I put one on very quietly and at some point I realized that the record had ended a long time ago and I’d just been listening to the acoustic field of the room for quite a while.

I guess in those cases the really affecting element wasn’t the materiality of the sound exactly, at least not by itself, but some shift in my own perceptions…

Future Guitar : No Amps, No Pedals

Agreed, @sellanraa - there is totally a connection between hearing things at a certain time and feeling really changed by them. Some of my earliest are:

  • Panasonic around 1995 and feeling like I had never heard anything like it, and also that it was exactly what I was waiting for.

  • Sonic Youth around 1993 and just wallowing in it. Completely changed the way I think about guitar to this day, and stoked my love of William Gibson. From there I found out about Glenn Branca etc…

  • SST records comp around 1993… Husker Du, Minute Men, Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth, Black Flag… was the beginning of my real love of hardcore and art-punk that has never gone away and lead me to lots of 90’s contemporary bands (Slint, Guilt, the whole 90’s hardcore scene)

  • Tortoise around 1996, and subsequently Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

  • Bowie, especially Low and Heroes. First properly listened to them around 1994.

More recently (it doesn’t have to be recent music though :slight_smile: )

  • This Heat around 2010… a friend played them for me since they knew I was already a huge fan of Wire and Swell Maps.

  • Janet Cardiff’s installations, first around 2000 but continuing with pieces I’ve seen in the last few years. Each one feels so new and fresh to me…

  • Sunn 0))) around 2008. I had never heard anything like it, and the first time I really heard them was live.

That’s probably too many, but so hard to really limit the list.


Cardiff’s installations are a powerful example! No real new technology, but evocative and emotional as all get out!


That’s a good point. In the other thread I was thinking of it in terms of society as a whole, but I think it’s true on an individual level too (and one of my examples, Skinny Puppy, was exactly that).


Same for me. The blend of electronic and non-electronic sounds (especially her voice!) is effortless and lush and wonderful.

Part of it, I think, is that the synths don’t obviously sound like synths. While I love synthesizers for how they sound, it’s often a very familiar sound.


I think it’s really interesting that people are discussing “newness” here in terms of things that are subjectively new to them, rather than artists doing objectively (or as close as you can get to that) innovative and unprecedented things with sound. I think the former is definitely the right way to approach it, but I still struggle with the idea of newness as a good thing.

If I wanted to get really deep, everything we hear is new, even if it’s an identical repetition: the second time you hear it is always different, because it’s informed by having heard it before.

Personally, my biggest emotional responses to music haven’t involved hearing something new, but in seeing something familiar recontextualised. If anything, the feeling I get when I find something which really connects with me is the opposite of newness: a sense that I must have heard this before somewhere and forgotten it; almost like coming home.


personally I can’t be bothered to sound “new” and i don’t persue this as an artist or as a listener. i think that path is an invitation to miss a lot of fertile zones as “new” is pretty arbitrary.


just to say a lot of Skinny Puppy is worth listening to if you can tolerate genre (which might make it sound “old”) - SP is a group that have really stuck with me as the recordings, even the roughed, have grey intensity and technique and combination of textures and instruments worth failing to replicate


First time:

Most recently:


Also, reading the modular tipping point thread just now I had to come back and mention that none of the musicians I mention above were doing anything very “new” with music technology. Some unique instrumentation here and there, but nothing with lots of wires and LEDs.


this is pretty mainstream now, but this bon iver track just blew me away when it came out. it was the first time I remember hearing vocal tuning feel like it was emphasizing the humanity of the performer rather than detracting from it.


Duncan would be happy he was mentioned here :slight_smile:

What would people define as ‘new’ in a more objective way? I feel like that’s area ripe for disagreement, but I really am not sure who to throw out there. Miles and his modal jazz? Autechre/Aphex Twin blowing the lid off what you can do with electronic music? Pierre Schaeffer and the musique concrete stuff? I feel like so much is recombining and recontextualizing not so new stuff.


brainiac was the first band that I think really significantly changed my path. I found them after the mars volta mentioned them in an interview and it was the first music I listened to that really played with dissonance and “weird” sounds. I was obsessed with the mars volta / at the drive in and they got weird too, but never to the degree that brainiac did. “transmissions after zero” was the first time I realized that I was much more interested (or maybe it’d be better to say “just as interested”) in noise and texture.

in terms of more recent instances, over the past few years I’ve had my guitar playing become more and more influenced by slowcore / indie rock stuff like bedhead, codeine, duster, etc. I always loved slow music but the first time I heard codeine it kind of cemented this still undeveloped love of slow tempos and really simple playing.

ps: when I sent my last full length tape to gabe over at lillerne tapes he described it as “if a codeine tape got melted into a nice ambient album”, which is simultaneously the best compliment I’ve recieved and my sonic goal!


Exiting the kind of mindset that insists there is “progress” to be made would be a good start.


I don’t remember the first, but the very last time was probably 1995-96 when I heard Basic Channel then Thomas Brinkmann for the first time. For a brief moment, I thought, this music could go anywhere. There was an excitement then that isn’t really possible today.

After that it didn’t really happen in music anymore. The next time I became dimly aware there was something fundamentally “different” culturally was in 2009 when I came across Ryan Trecartin’s youtube channel. In music there was OPN, James Ferraro, Holly Herndon and the whole vaporwave thing. Then also the videos of Jon Rafman. One could call this “new”, but that would be merely correct and not true. For while this was definitely the art that most needed to be made it was the very opposite of exciting or inspiring because it simply exposed our changing relationship to technology and the crises that now assail us at every moment and that govern every aspect of our lives. The very essence of this crisis, of course, was the collapse of newness as a phenomenon. The future became no longer a site of possibility (much less a site of transformation) but the site of the closing down of all possibilties other than neoliberal fascism and the liquidation of everything as infinitely replaceable commodities or – which is the same thing - data. The future became, in other words, something that had already happened. Temporality in the current understanding basically did a 180 which is what gave things like MAGA its resonance.

So basically, I don’t see “newness” as an authentic possibility today. I do see “different” things emerging in various marginal practices (or “backloop strategies”, to borrow a term from Stephanie Wakefield), but there still isn’t a world where these practices make sense. The best we can hope for is that artists and other reconfigurers can gather these practices and give them a world, or which is the same thing, a language, a space to shine, while leaving them truly as themselves – such a post-crisis world would then generate its own temporality in which something like “newness” can once again make sense. The world itself would not be “new”, because it would mark a complete break from anything familiar against which “newness” could measure itself (and it would, more likely than not, revive things not seen in the West for thousands of years.) However, in this world, newness and its attendant excitements and seemingly limitless space of possibilities would once again be granted a space in which to unfold.


This was me listening to Chiastic Slide when it came out. I guess I was around 18 or so, and it was totally like nothing I’ve ever heard. I soon realised it hadn’t emerged from nowhere, but the effect was still the same.


for me it must be:

seeing Janet Cardiff & George Burrs Miller’s FOREST (for a thousand years…)

my first time listening to Laurie Anderson:

hearing & contemplating the Alvin Lucier piece, I am sitting in a room for the first time: