Modern classical / experimental / "powerful" music?


Hi all.

I was wondering if anyone had any recommendations about modern classical music? I don’t know much about it really, mostly the big, relatively well known stuff (the minimalists), but I came across some bits today and it’s recaptured my interest. I’ve had some mental health troubles the past few years and really moved away from “powerful”, “emotional” music for a while because I was a bit too raw and found it too difficult to listen to. But I think I’m beginning to open myself up to that kind of thing again.

I thought I’d add a few videos to see if they spark conversation.

Terry Riley - Crossroads

I’ve always had a grim fascination (possibly obsession) with nuclear weaponry. This piece was written to accompany a film of a nuclear weapons test. I would love to see it, but I suspect I never will. I hate the art world.

You have to scroll down to see this video and skip to about 3:10 for the Riley piece - there appears to be no other view available. The song itself is longer, about half an hour and it used to be on youtube but it has been taken down (I have a rip). The only way you can get it is on cassette, in what appears to be a very limited run issued about 5 years ago which is a source of great irritation to me. The song is beautiful, similar to A Rainbow In Curved Air but less hectic. I much prefer it.

Mica Levi - Greezy

I’ve been a big fan of Mica Levi for years because of her pop/indie work and DJing, and latterly her Under The Skin soundtrack was much discussed (both it and the film are very good, and she’s since done a couple of other soundtracks which I haven’t had a chance to listen to yet). But I came across this lesser known thing and thought it was very powerful. I would love to be able to buy a recording.

I also loved Feeling Romantic Feeling Tropical Feeling Ill once I finally got into it which is on more “classical” lines than a lot of her stuff. And Chopped & Screwed featuring her band with the London Sinfonietta was good too and is on these lines (plus it had an extremely weird ravey mixtape that came along with it, which is the opposite to this kind of music). Here’s a thread of some of us discussing her work and that of collaborators. Mica Levi/Coby Sey/Curl appreciation thread

Steve Reich - Different Trains

I can’t remember how I came across this, perhaps just reading. But once I’d heard it I had to get it on CD because it was so powerful. This isn’t the version I know but it has a visual component and you can see the musicians.

Gavin Bryars - Jesus’ Love Never Failed Me Yet

This is a bit more accessible and more “normal” but I thought I’d put it in as it’s one I’ve seen live (more or less by chance - I had a flatmate who was a classical music student when I was at uni and I went with him).

I don’t really have any “rules” for what modern classical is - arguably Actress or some of the weirder Detroit stuff like Terrence Dixon / Population One is in this kind of vein even though there aren’t a lot of “classical” instruments. Some can be very emotional and powerful, some can be kind of narcotic and dissociative. Hyperdub also appear to have been doing a lot of very experimental stuff that fits more into this bracket than the club music they are best known for (although I’ve not really explored any of the newer stuff). I can imagine Kode9 reacting badly to people describing that music as modern classical though lol.


I’ve also found myself dabbling in this sorta stuff. Been circling around Reich and Mica for a while, I began with a suggestion from Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood to check out Arvo Part. These tracks really do it for me.

this whole collection is great for quiet bedrooms, sitting on my bed, contemplating the back of my hand, seeing what my mind conjures up…it’s been very soothing in a disjointed postmodern sort of isolated way.

for me this music creates space to allow my mind to unwind itself and flow. there’s something about ambient / classical / minimal music that really carves out a comfortable ability to be in solitude. sometimes i doodle pictures or paint, but very often i simply stare at the ceiling and allow imagination to overtake me.


cantus, the first track, is particularly incredible, i imagine it like a life in musical form from the first bells of birth and the newness of bright life into the darker undertakings of adulthood, then the bells to remind of mortality around middle age and finally the resonate vibration of that first bell that returns us to the underworld. such a journey of weaving notes and confusion, “powerful” as fuck to me.


i really enjoy the atmospheric building chello and strings sort of stuff but the plucky dissociative trance inducing brass and wind type of modern clasicall just makes me angry and frustrated, and not in a good way, to be honest. i get that energy out with punk, new wave and hardcore. this type of music sets a certain vibe for me of solo listening and being in a somewhat introspective and lonely state. how do you listen to this sorta stuff? what does it evoke for you @str_apx ?


Cheers for that, Fratres was my favourite of those. That intro :open_mouth:

I like this music partly because it’s not rigid in terms of timekeeping and time signature (I can’t analyse this kind of thing, I just know when it’s not in rigid 4/4) so that’s a big difference to most music I’m interested in.

I have some difficulty listening to new things like this partially because my mind seems to like novelty and 10 minutes is too long for melodic repetition. Or I’ll like a garage mix where most of the beats follow a similar pattern and have similar sonics but strictly speaking are different, like you get one which has a different kind of swing to the prior one even though they are similar beats in most respects. But then the basslines, melodies and other sonic aspects are extremely different from one minute to the next. Whereas with this kind of music it tends to have repeated melodic ideas which can be very interesting / trance inducing but I can also find it annoying, and there’s no real logic to when I’ll have each reaction. Another thing I like sometimes is the lack of drums, but then I’ll listen again and just think “I want some drums m8”. I think it might be worth sticking with it - that’s something I’ve lost since I was a kid. I used to listen to stuff because it was supposedly “cool” and I just thought “this is boring, this is rubbish” but I stuck with it out of a kind of embarrassment at being uncool. And after few listens I’m like “this is the best thing I’ve ever heard”. Sometimes it takes literally years - I liked Dizzee Rascal’s Boy In Da Corner and Showtime near when they came out but never rated any other grime for years, it just paled in comparison. And then about 5 years later it all totally clicked and suddenly I was obsessed and down the rabbit hole.

The other thing is that I often wish I was hearing it live and loud. I’ve always thought club music was never quite as good outside of a well-equipped club situation, you can’t get the levels of sub etc, and I think some of that applies to this kind of music too - you don’t get the full onslaught, some of the bass information & resonance (is that the right word?) goes missing.

The thing I really like about the ones I posted (especially the Mica Levi one) are the dissonant elements - the sway and pitch bending etc. I think a lot of ‘tasteful’ classical music, even experimental stuff, can lack that a bit - things are unusual and interesting compositionally but it still “sounds” like classical music in terms of the sonic effect produced.

What kind of stuff are you thinking of here?

That’s interesting - sometimes I think of music like that, it takes you to a very specific place that you can describe to others. But the stuff I like the most I can never really describe, or it doesn’t bring up a specific describable emotion. Like the Mica Levi piece I could describe as sort of woozy or narcotic, trance like etc. The piece is sort of about the condition of remorselessness apparently, and it reminds me of Under The Skin in that way. But that doesn’t really describe why I like it or why I find it so emotionally affecting. It doesn’t really bring out a specific emotion, it just does something indescribable to my brain. I don’t understand the music theory such that I could say “its x kind of chord or y kind of interval that has this effect” (and I don’t really want to), I don’t know why those kinds of things have that effect and other things leave me cold. Maybe that’s why I am so obsessed can never stay away for too long.


Agreed, and I feel like that’s exactly what I ( and maybe you ) are beginning by sampling these flavors. Setting the scene for understanding the parameters of flow for a type of music that one day will grab us down into that rabbit hole.

This is an example of the stuff I was talking about above. It’s like yeah, I think I get it, but really it feels too deep right now…maybe in 5 years. Right now it just frustrates me and I’d rather trance out to Detroit Techno loops or something more ambient and less cerebrally clashing ( how it makes me feel, too in my head and trebled out, almost whining and purposely irking me)


Yes, and I’m glad we can talk about this without getting super technical and theoretical because I don’t have that background either. Sometimes it’s just a vibe. And sometimes you are on a musical journey to find that you needed a certain vibe but had to work up to that vibe, or down to that vibe if it’s more deconstructed/ambient/minimal.

Ahhh the joys of attempting to put words to the ineffable indescribable depths of a musical listening journey. Good stuff man.


That’s exactly why I dislike the track I posted above, but feel like 10 years from now I might not feel this way…nueroplasticity?


Random digs led me down this path, this one was part of the first bits and pieces…tubular bells, Alan Parsons project, geigling shit, Mica, Traumprinz, etc…


In C actually does remind me of Detroit Techno! It’s funny how these things strike different people in different ways. Although tbf it’s the weirder Population One end of things I’m thinking of here.


Enjoying this. It reminds me of the kind of synths you get in Kubrick films, then bits of it remind me of Stereolab and Boards of Canada. Stereolab actually remind me a lot of this kind of music in places because they seem to come at it from a theoretical bent sometimes. Broadcast similarly. But usually done in a fairly poppy and accessible way.


Haha yeah, that’s funny. I guess for me it’s just the lack of bass and low end that bothers me.