Genres of Progressive Rock
by Phil Kime
(Progression Magazine, Issue 34, p. 53-56)
Progressive rock is
a modern music style originating in England of the 1960s but expanding
internationally and temporally to include music that sounds similar to
these originals. It subsumes a variety of possible musical genera into a
rock idiom informed by classical methods, thereby elevating or advancing
the complexity and virtuosity from a Romantic worldview.
Progressive rock was
what happened in the early 1970s when certain brilliant instrumentalists
got fed up with playing three-and-a-half minute long songs about tenage
love. Unfortunately, this led them to start playing ten-and-a-half
minute long songs about nothing in particular.
As the name suggests, a form concentrating on ambience rather normal characteristics such as melody, harmony and rhythm.
Examples: Some Eno, Laraaji, much new age music.
A term referring to early explorative work that had roots in popular music. Quit often a display of attitude in addition to any musical features. It is an abused term that seems to refer as much to appearence as to music in ist more commen coinage.
Examples: Be Bop Deluxe, early Eno, Roxy Music.
A region in England where an unique style originated. The region’s name has now become the label for this style of music. One of the earliest forms recognised as progressive, Canterbury music empgasisses laconic complexity and usually sounds identifiable English. The ideas resulting from this form of music were very original. It’s often quite jazzy in a light and airy sort of way, integrating jazz influences in unique ways.
Examples: Caravan, Soft Machine, Hatfield & The North, National Health.
A relatively "accessible" form in which classical music is fused with rock structures. Often felt to be quite pompous and bombastic, beginning with The Nice and continuing with several groups that were quite successful in the 1970s. Often a trio format.
Examples: The Nice, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Par Lindh Project, Le Orme, Ekseption, Race, The Trip.
Characterized by rich keyboard textures and very melodic vocals. Symphonic progressive often is structured like classical music arranged for extended rock instrumentation, very much stretching limits of the rock format. It is closely aligned with classical rock.
If someone derides progressive music, this is almost always the sort of thing they're talking about. You will often hear this genre mistakenly used as a synonym for the entirety of progressive music and called "pretentious" or "overblown." Such criticisms completely miss the point and suggest the misguided notion that all good music must either display a certain feature or must be simple and "direct."
Examples: Yes (early), Genesis (early), Camel, Atoll, Mirthrandir, Anglagard.
Music that fuses 20th century classical music with new rock structures. Sometimes referred to as "chamber rock," this can be difficult to appreciate at first as artists of this ilk usually are way out on a limb and quite different.
Also, it tends to be very complex, requiring many listens to reach a fair appreciation. This is one of the least-understood genres about which most people are completely oblivious, yet is one of the most rewarding.
Examples: Univers Zero, Art Zoyd, ZNR.
Often miscategorized as "new age," much of this music was around far before that abused term was coined. Very explorative, this is a wide-open field and is typified by the use of almost all electronic equipment, hence the name. Sonority' -and texture often are emphasized over other musical attributes.
It's usually very spacious and ethereal; sometimes quite darkly
powerful but not in the way that ambient industrial material tends to be. The sounds explored in electronic progressive tend to lie within the less extreme synthesizer range.
Examples: 1970s-era Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Steve Roach, some Popol Vuh, later Kit Watkins, Jean-Michel Jarre.
Often hardcore experimental material - the fringes of music where almost anything can happen. This is almost always difficult for the newcomer, and is usually an acquired taste. Experimental/inclustrial makes considerable use of noise, found objects, and sometimes even power tools. It generally focuses on texture and sonority to the expense of all else. A fascinating area for the adventurous.
Examples: Einstürzende Neubauten, Nurse With Wound, Hafler Trio, Main, Coil.
Explorative jazz-rock - a fusion as the name suggests, maybe a little jazzier than most progressive music but rockier than most jazz. Quite an established and exciting genre with often virtuoso playing.
Examples: Mahavishnu Orchestra, Brand X, Iceberg, Arti and Mestieri.
Slightly politically incorrect term innocently referring to a form of rather strange rock originating from Germany in the '70s. Krautrock is typified by a loose, improvisational style with a large proportion of experimentation and slightly whimsical flavor. Often difficult to listen to, it tends to be quite sinister and covertly intellectual. Very influential in all sorts of areas even today. Some people regard it as the precursor to industrial music proper, which is fair: there are similarities but probably as many differences. See Chris Moon's informative Krautrock guide on the worldwide web at http://www.progrock.net/prog/Misc/german
Examples: Can, Amon Düül II, Faust, Xhol, Agitation Free, early Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel.
Symphonic rock done in a typically simplified or more commercial format. Often rich and melodious, but without the complexity of traditional progressive music. Mostly an '80s and '90s phenomenon.
Examples: Marillion, IQ, Pendragon, Arena, Aragon, Jadis, Landmarq.
A variety of music that took simple folk songs and did something quite new with them. There were many forms of this.
Examples: Emtidi, Witthüser & Westrupp, Malicorne, Mellow Candle, Tempest, some Fairport Convention.
Progressive world music
A relatively new classification, in which rock instrumentation and progressive-rock elements (complex arrangements, virtuosic playing, dissonant texturing) are blended with ethnic motifs, usually from third world countries.
Examples: Paranoise, some Santana.
Heavy metal that is influenced by symphonic rock or fusion. Prog-metal usually is much more complex than standard metal and emphases virtuoso instrumentalists.
Examples: Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Watchtower, The Gathering, Rhapsody (of Fire).
Rock in opposition (RIO)
A name coined by ex-Henry Cow drummer Chris Cutler . This type of music consistently defies categorization (exept for "RIO") and is extremly challenging and often hard to liston to. However, it is very rewarding in the long-run. The lyrical bent is often political, especially for bands Cutler has a hand in. Technically, bands like Art Zoyd and Univers Zero are RIO as they subscribe to Cutler’s broad musical ethic in ist original conception.
The label has outgrown in ist initial political cannotations, however, and now refers to artists prtraying a similar approach to the seminal Henry Cow, the seminal RIO band. See Phil Zampino’s (firstname.lastname@example.org) Internet website for much information on RIO labels and artists at www.panix.com/~zampino/rer .
Examples: Henry Cow, Art Bears, Samla Mannas Manna, News from Babel, Thinking Plague, Etron Fou, Leloublan.
A Rough erm given specifically to the superb band Gong for their unique blend of jazz fusion and extended sweeping ambience. Often very energetic and concentrating on long jams of psychedelic tinged soloing.
Space fusion has a general high level of musicanship in tight restraint, allowing a clean atmosphere of bright and effervescantfusion. "Swooshy" is a perfect adjective.
Examples: Gong, Ozric Tentacles, Neo, Carpe Diem, some Djam Karet.
Like the above but with the jazz edge. Space rock tends to be jam-orientated, with synthesizer and guitar effects approximating that propulsive "interstellar traveller" sensibility of vintage science fiction films. Hawkwind is the genre’s key innovator.
Examples: Hawkwind, Alien Planetscapes, Quarkspace, Amon Düül (the English lineup), Litmus.
Also known variously as "acid rock" or the "San Francisco sound", psychedelic music ostensibly intends to musically re-create the "trips" induced by mind-expanding drugs.
Psych is often considered exotic and Characteristically "trippy", comprising electronic effects, expansive arrangements and improvisation, Middle Eastern modalities and Indian raga. These days, psych commonly informs much space rock and space fusion.
Examples: Early Pink Floyd, Tombstone Valentine, Holy River Family Band.
One of the truly unique and little-known areas of music typified by and largely due to the incredible French band Magma. It is a term referring to a particular brand of jazz fusion, sometimes with heavy Coltrane influences but adopting a grandiosity and harmonic language from certain classsical works, particularly Stravinsky’s "Les Noces". Unlike anything else and often powerful beyond words.
Examples: Magma, Weidorje, Zao, Shub-Niggurath, Honeyelk, Musique Noise, Runaway Totem.
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