This post is part of a series we are calling “10 for 2010” in which we list 10 influential or favorite artists. This list is a personal, idiosyncratic list of 10 major musicians active in the first decade of the 21st century. They are musicians I felt were influential and/or representative of our times. Some common themes were experimentation, technology, nature, cultural identity, and references to both the past and future. It was a difficult list for me to compile, as I tried very hard to limit myself to artists who came to prominence more or less in this decade. Several had been working long before, but their presence has become more apparent in recent years. 10 completely different viewpoints are represented, in several genres. In alphabetical order….
1. John Luther Adams
John Luther Adams (not to be confused with Pulitzer Prize-winner John Coolidge Adams) has been creating breathtaking soundscapes for decades, but has been growing in prominence recently. Composing for orchestra, percussion solo, installation, and more, his music is always rooted in his reflections of nature, composed with an experimental spirit that nonetheless inspires and soothes the listener.
2. Mark Applebaum
A protégé of New Complexity composer Brian Ferneyhough, Mark Applebaum retains some of his teacher’s ideas, combined with a strong sense of humor and a love of improvisation. One of Applebaum’s more well-known projects is his “mousetrap” – a electronic/percussion contraption made of various objects, including springs and a toilet float. Here is a link to “Pre-Composition” from his 2003 album Intellectual Property, a hilarious (and right on the money) send-up of electroacoustic music.
3. Blue Man Group
The Blue Man Group began performing in New York in the early 1990s, but they came into the (inter)national consciousness in the 2000s through numerous live television performances and appearances in Intel processor commercials. The Blue Man Group mount entertaining and energetic performances which slyly introduce audiences to performance art, sound experiments (using ‘non-intruments’ as instruments), and commentary on contemporary techno-culture.
In pop music of the 2000s, there were few artists as acclaimed or as controversial as Eminem. Backed by Dr. Dre’s impeccable production, Eminem’s uncompromising vision fused dark, autobiographical lyrics with cartoonish (and equally dark) alternate personas (such as Slim Shady and Stan). Here is his Oscar-winning song “Lose Yourself,” which sheds a lot of the edge and humor in favor of a somewhat out-of-character “inspriation song.”
5. Osvaldo Golijov
The Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov is perhaps the most famous composer to emerge in the 2000s, with compositions such as his St. Mark Passion and his opera Ainadamar. Fusing classical composition with tango and Jewish folk songs, Golijov has created quite an intriguing and international style. This video, El Cordero Pascual, is an excerpt from the St. Mark Passion.
6. Mike Patton
Mike Patton’s most famous bands were active in the 1990s (Faith No More and Mr. Bungle). However, Patton has forged ahead with numerous bands, collaborations, and solo projects, bringing a versatile vocal prowess and experimental sensibility to rock. Here is a live performance of “God Hates A Coward,” with his band Tomahawk, a supergroup of sorts with members of The Jesus Lizard, the Melvins, and Helmet.
Formed by professors Perry Cook and Dan Trueman, the Princeton Laptop Orchestra, or PLOrk for short, has brought a newfound excitement to academic computer music. PLOrk helped bring computer music out of the studio, brought performance into the genre, and enabled young non-musicians to participate in music-making. This video is a great introduction to the PLOrk concept.
8. Sigur Ros
A fine example of a genre dubbed “post-rock,” Icelandic band Sigur Ros has been creating beautiful music since the late 1990s. Their sound is ethereal and texture driven, and the vocals are sung in an invented language called “Hopelandic.” Below is a video for the first track of their superb 2002 album “( ).”
9. Tan Dun
Chinese composer Tan Dun has been active in both concert music and film soundtracks. He is perhaps most famous for his score to Ang Lee’s 2000 film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Bringing together Eastern and Western music, Tan Dun creates beautiful melodies, exciting rhythms, and interesting timbres, such as his Water Concerto for water instruments and orchestra.
10. Kanye West
Although he continually tarnishes his image with egocentric outbursts, Kanye West remains a talented producer, creating some of the most memorable hip-hop tracks of the 2000s. While many hip-hop producers were sampling sparingly, West sampled with glee, from old R&B records, to Steely Dan and Daft Punk. In 2008 he made a surprising stylistic turn with his cold, electronic 808s and Heartbreaks. Below is a video for his track “Flashing Lights” from the Graduation album.