Defining “experimental” Part I

The following was prompted by some feedback I received recently on some music I posted to a discussion group. Numbered definitions are from, the commentary is my own.

“Experimental” – Adjective.

Definition 1. pertaining to, derived from, or founded on experiment: an experimental science.

Commentary: Sound and music, having largely scientific and mathematical qualities, allow for exploration and experiment once we drop the cultural, political and commercial shackles around us. Those limitations will always be there, but deriving new experiences by experiment is the only way forward. It’s a generally lonely path, and not everyone can tolerate it. When we step aside from assumptions about tonality, noise, what “works” or “doesn’t work” we enter a place where new and perhaps uncomfortable realities arise. It might not not be clear what will happen, but we can test a hypothesis and go from there.

Definition 2. of the nature of an experiment; tentative: “The new program is still in an experimental stage.”

Commentary: You have to start somewhere. Not everything will “work”. What “works” for one person may not appear so to someone else. You don’t know until you try. Even approaches that you think might sound good… might not sound good. Things you never thought to try might turn out pretty well. It just depends. Iterate and fail as needed.

Definition 3. functioning as an experiment or used for experimentation: an experimental airplane.

Commentary: As in “experimental music” – this is not necessarily about the end result, but about could be about the techniques employed. It may be a means to something else. Execution of a concept. Exploration of an idea to be used elsewhere. An attempt to see what is possible, ugly, beautiful, tolerable. A fragment or seed.

Definition 4. based on or derived from experience; empirical: experimental knowledge.

Commentary: From the very first experiment, one should be learning. Personal experience and study of what others have done will provide a palette of techniques one can use for continued education and sharing. At times, clear boundaries and roadblocks will present themselves. They may or may not be overcome, but it is the attempt that matters. At other times, the experiment may yield new knowledge on which to build. Accidents happen. Surprises occur. Embrace them.


By jjdeprisco

Sonic explorer, sound artist, guitarist in Fricknadorable, software designer.