The Best Experimental Music of 2010

Louis Battaglia

It's not that more experimental-type music was made in 2010. It's just that more of it was getting heard.

5 - 1

Artists: So Percussion & Matmos

Album: Treasure State

Label: Cantaloupe


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US Release: 2010-07-13

UK Release: 2010-06-08

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List Number: 5

So Percussion & Matmos
Treasure State

So Percussion and Matmos's collaborative album Treasure State may perhaps prove to be the record on this list that swerves closest toward something resembling a pop sensibility. It might also simultaneously prove to be the most twisted and downright quirky in both its conception and execution.

Treasure State is decorated with a staggering array of colorful instruments, ranging from steel drums and other mallets, to a combination of horns, along with inventive usage of splashing water and vibrating cactus quills (see below). All of the sounds are then integrated seamlessly with the strategic knob twisting and electronic beat convulsions that Matmos is known for. A proper explanation of the production process that ultimately yielded Treasure State is impossible here due to the utter complexity of both the initial recording sessions with Matmos and So Percussion and the post-production layering provided by Matmos collaborator Wobbly and So Percussion producer Lawson White. But a quick glimpse into their studio setup leaves no doubt that Treasure State is an experiment in not just a musical sense, but also technological.

This is more than likely a one-off release that is totally unique and an incredible example of the synergistic possibilities that open-minded collaborations enable. Treasure State is a unique snapshot of both Matmos and So Percussion, two groups that seem to be on a never-ending upward creative trajectory.


Artist: Thomas Ankersmit

Album: Live in Utrecht

Label: Ash International


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US Release Date: 2010-07-12

UK Release Date:2010-07-12

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List Number: 4

Thomas Ankersmit
Live in Utrecht

Thomas Ankersmit's debut release, Live in Utrecht, originated with a performance given in 2007 and was released this year as an album by Ash International. Live in Utrecht consists of a solo performance from Ankersmit, who utilizes a Serge analogue modular synthesizer, computer, and an alto saxophone, while also incorporating reel-to-reel segments composed by collaborator Valerio Tricoli.

This single-track set finds Ankersmit delicately integrating competing tonal components to create a structure that might appear static or slow moving at first, but reveals itself to be highly dynamic and full of life. Over the course of its 38 minutes, Ankersmit guides this structure along in a graceful but urgent manner. The listener is part enthralled, part ensnared by the distantly squealing saxophone as it pushes against a sonic bedrock that pulsates with distorted textures and disorienting wavelengths. Ankersmit's aching, distorted tones shudder like barren trees attempting to withstand the battering from a vicious digital wind stream that howls like a tea kettle going off in the next room while you are fast asleep.

Ankersmit's pace displays the patience and reserve that only a steady hand can produce. Yet, he is not afraid to let his sounds grow out of control only to then dissipate into abrupt silence. Ankermsit is not afraid of the silence that comes when sounds exhaust themselves and die. He even brings this post-withering into his piece in a pivotal way. This Dutch-born Berliner has produced a recording that perhaps sets a new bar for live electronic performance. While many drone or noise acts might fail to stimulate the non-converted, Live in Utrecht is intriguing enough as an artistic statement to attract those uninitiated to this kind of music.

"Track 1 Alt" Download (MP3)


Artist: Solo Andata

Album: Ritual

Label: Desire Path Recordings


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US Release Date: 2010-10-13

UK Release Date: 2010-10-13

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List Number: 3

Solo Andata

Ritual, the title of Australian duo Solo Andata's new album, is more than a guiding concept for the listener to keep in mind when absorbing its four songs. The title "ritual" is also a nod to the album's deeper purpose. As with any shamanistic ritual, elements of nature are harnessed on Ritual in the form of field recordings for man-made, yet spiritually inclined, ends.

An interview with Fluid Radio reveals that Solo Andata members Paul Fiocco and Kane Ikin worked independently from one another for most of the album's production, using wholly different compositional approaches and recording on vastly different equipment. Take into consideration that Ritual was designed with the vinyl format in mind, which led to the duo each taking control of a side, and it is rather surprising that the album still manages to radiate with a unified Solo Andata aesthetic.

This is because, in part, both members of Solo Andata have mastered the technique of fluidly integrating field recordings into their aural landscapes. Both Fiocco and Ikin are able to create an environment where the listener is often hard-pressed to discern if he or she is moving along, passing sounds along the way through the landscape, or standing perfectly still within it, listening to the surroundings rush by. There is no way to tell if either perspective is correct. Regardless, the duo unfolds the sound of natural phenomena into its ambient, modern classical creations to great effect.

Field sources utilized by Fiocco and Ikin include distant chanting, the vibration of human cancerous cells (recorded with a microscope that translates nano-mechanical motion data into sound), and recordings from a remote area of Western Australia called Injiidup. These captured pieces are then wedded to sparse but active audio constellations that challenge the listener to hear the recordings as musical components. The latent musicality of field recordings, while a debated subject for some time, must be acknowledged after hearing this work. Solo Andata's real-world sound capturing, as presented here by the debut release from the promising Desire Path Recordings, is as creative and sonically inclined as the playing of any instrument.


Artist: Zs

Album: New Slaves

Label: The Social Registry


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US Release Date: 2010-05-11

UK Release Date: 2010-05-10

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List Number: 2

New Slaves

New Slaves is perhaps the most dynamic release to make this list. The album is awash with complex and rigorous musical ideas, juxtaposing anarchic with meditative improvisation, while incorporating healthy doses of electronic programming into live, organic atmospheres. The Brooklyn-based group achieves a near-unique sound by snatching bits and pieces from all over the historical avant-garde continuum, including free jazz, no wave, psychedelic, tribal, and ambient. The consequent intermingling and clashing of these varied elements proves stunning over the course of the album.

The album is sequenced to maximum effect as well. The calm, almost playful nature of "Masonry", for instance, gently calms the mind before the album's title track slams the ears with dissonant horns that roar while metallic, electrically charged strings are ferociously plucked to the beat of a stunted march. Fifteen minutes later, the track evolves to a point where it is writhing with the desperate, frenetic screeches of a highly pitched, warped guitar.

On "Concert Black", a stealth crescendo emerges from swelling loops that are bursting at the seams with tension before it dissolves into a perfectly mixed "Acres of Skin", on which the group members alternate between frantically channeling a foreign musical language and collectively creating a new one on the fly.

The two-part "Black Crown Ceremony", which closes the album, perfectly demonstrates the range of New Slaves. In part I, titled "Diamond Terrifier", a strangled horn struggles to poke above the track's sonic sheen, recalling something akin to Dream House-era La Monte Young. In the second part, titled "Six Realms", we see the fullest application of sampling and electronic sculpting on the album, with the group developing a disquieting territory for the listener to roam through until the album comes to a close.

The breadth of New Slaves is ultimately as impressive as the success with which its concepts are executed.


Artist: Yellow Swans

Album: Going Places

Label: Type


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US Release Date: 2010-03-02

UK Release Date: 2010-03-08


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List Number: 1

Yellow Swans
Going Swans

Experimental noise and drone duo Yellow Swans delivered their final chapter this year, Going Places, after announcing that their eight-year collaboration was over and implying perhaps that the Yellow Swans project had run its course. This final release from members Pete Swanson and Gabriel Mindel Saloman, however, does not sound at all as if the duo has run out of steam. In fact, Going Places is a document of something massive, something eternal, something like the wailing of the universe as it slowly and painfully splits into multi-verses.

Like much of their material, Yellow Swans drape this album with a rusted, decaying surface, represented by the deteriorating soundscapes the listener is left alone to wander. Songs like "New Life", however, hint that beneath this terrifying surface, forces may perhaps be in motion. Their direction is not clear, nor is it plain which direction is desirable. It is merely an acknowledgement that something is afoot and that we are indeed headed somewhere.

But it is rather difficult to stand behind any concrete interpretation of Going Places. As an abstract artistic statement, the album is an uncompromising glimpse into an abyss that could be found within any of us or outside all of us. The listener that discerns the boundaries between these earnest riffs submerged beneath oppressive atmospheres is akin to a viewer tracing the glowing edges on a Rothko rectangle. Furthermore, staring at Rothko's paintings today with full knowledge of his eventual suicide is not dissimilar from listening to Going Places with the awareness that Swanson and Saloman decided to no longer explore the abyss by recording and performing with one another. Like Rothko's paintings, that element lurks in the foreground of the duo's last joint testament, adding both an emotional ambiguity and stark, apocalyptic finality to it.

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