Foreword to Sonologyst’s First annual report

Unexplained Sounds Group - The first annual report.

Annual Report is the result of a labour of love by Sonologyst showcasing the highlights of several experimental musical surveys during 2015.


After living for more than 70 years in the company of experimental music Unexplained Sounds Group, we are still trying to determine what is ephemeral from what will stand the test of time. Even in late middle age, modern music is yet to settle on a set of universally agreed definitions of what constitutes meaningful musical experimentation.

Two iconic publications are essential in contextualizing what has taken place in the course of the last 70 years. The first one was “Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond”, Cambridge University Press, by Michael Nyman. This book laid the initial markers in terms of making sense of modern compositional styles and was highly successful at the time of publication in 1974. A second edition that included a deliciously insightful foreword by Brian Eno was published in 1999. The second seminal work on the genre, and perhaps the lesser known but more accomplished of the two books, is Paul Griffiths’ “Modern Music and After-Directions Since 1945”, Oxford University Press. 1981. This publication is currently on its third edition, the last of which was updated in 2011 and included 95 additional pages of new material. Griffith is still considered as the foremost authority in experimental music.

Setting aside the two books previously mentioned, the one recurrent question we frequently encounter from musicians, academics and music lovers in general is: Apart from Nyman and Griffith, is there anything else at the same level worth reading on contemporary music? The answer is a reluctant “no”. Nobody else apart from these two artists had the ability to provide us with a road map and a strong framework for further analysis. Nonetheless, Christopher Scoates merits a mention for his valuable contribution with his “Brian Eno Visual Music”. Chronicle Books, published in 2013.

In summary, there are surprisingly few specialized, informative, objective and up to date publications either online or in printed format covering modern music. Most musicians publish their own blogs and keep social media visibility but the vast majority of them, perhaps understandably so, fail to provide a wider vision and sufficient detachment beyond the confines of their own work.

It is in this context that we welcome Sonologyst’s atypically named “First Annual Report” published in:

Please bear with me because in spite of its corporate sounding name, this “Annual Report” is the result of a labour of love by the author showcasing the highlights of several experimental musical surveys conducted by him during 2015. The work consists of 93 lovingly hand picked pieces found by Sonologyst in research carried out in conjunction with local artists based in Italy, France, Spain, United Kingdom, Germany, United States, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. It must be noted that nothing similar to Sonologyst’s first Annual Report has been produced in recent years. This work is of immense value for anyone trying to get up to speed with what is currently happening in the genre. It also reads as a “Who is Who” in the field of experimental music.

The artists featured range from well-established names such as Reich and Subotnick to veterans of the experimental scene in Europe such as Balestrazzi, Kshatry, Jorgensen, Sovijus and Globoscuro amongst others. Sonologyst also deserves credit for engaging in some serious deep mining in order to dig up lesser know gems such as the Spanish collective Arin Dodo and England’s Joseph Curwen. We could easily go on for another 20 pages and still not convey all the richness contained in Sonologyst’s compendium. Suffice it to say that we found that all the movements covered can be differentiated in thematic, stylistic and compositional terms. However, we also found conceptual similarities that are a positive sign of cross-fertilization.

One common thread amongst the vast majority of the artists featured in the Annual Report is the preponderance of sounds found in nature. In many cases these sounds are the central premise of the music. It could be argued the music of Annual Report deeply infused by the sounds of nature is connected to divinity and god itself as defined by Benedict de Spinoza in his Ethics, published in 1677. Spinoza’s central hypothesis is that “god is nature and nature is god”. It is worth remembering the strongly held religious beliefs of composers such as Messiaen, Boulez and Stockhausen and the profound impact of religion in their music. We found an equally strong sense of spirituality in the majority of the 93 pieces compiled by Sonologyst. However, this is a different kind of spirituality, a modern one that is defined by the mysteries, drama and greatness of nature.

Therefore, we are inclined to believe that experimental music sits well with “religious non-believers” who feel comfortable with the secular god of Spinoza or Einstein who “stood in awe at the marvelous structure of nature”. It is worth noting that attendance to religious services and the popularity of mindfulness are inversely correlated. In other words, people, and millennials in particular, are turning to other forms of spirituality through meditation, yoga, etc., whilst leaving organized religion in droves. Even if it is only in a tangential way, this bodes well for contemporary experimental music that is rich in sounds inspired by nature.

We get the impression that there is more to come from Sonologyst. His Annual Report has the feel of a piece of research with a wider scope of which we have only been shown the empirical findings of the initial fieldwork. Having expressed our desire for more, let us focus on what he has served us with on this occasion: Contemporary Food for the Secular Soul.

Elias Vivas. London, Dec. 2015