While technically all music is mathematical, the term Math Rock is very generically applied to implicate music with more emphasis on a non-traditional mathematical components.
Math Rock started in the mid to late 80’s early 90’s with notable Noise Rock musicians such as Steve Albini (Shellac), Bill Laswell (Praxis), KK Null (Zeni Geva), Buckethead (Praxis) and post-hardcore punk groups like Fugazi, and Drive Like Jehu (just to name a few). They often experimented with dissonant chords, odd time structures, polyrhythms, and other atypical rhythmic anomalies in their music.
This led to an influential wave of artist creating music beyond its typical entertainment face value. The music structures became more cerebral and thought provoking as these musicians started challenging their creative abilities at the cost of catchy lyrics and danceable rock beats. Much of it got a bit complex to follow and too confusing to snap your fingers to, but it was out there and smaller numbers of fans started to appreciate the complexity. Much of this is found in later works of bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Tool, ISIS (Named long before the terrorist organization) and a whole host of specialized mathcore bands.
These days odd rhythm structures and math rock influences are found across all genres. More notably and subtly in Techno/Emo and EDM music styles as pronounced fills and counter rhythms to the core beats, and more literally in various underground metal bands.
In 2001, the progressive metal band Tool, on a whim, decided to take the phrase “math rock” literally, and kicked it up to a whole other level, creating a masterpiece based entirely on the works of the Italian mathematician Leonardo Pisano Bigollo Fibonacci and his work with the Golden ratio also known as the “Fibonacci Sequence“. The title track Lateralus incorporates not only the Fibonacci Sequence in it’s rhythm and structure but lyrically as well. It’s a very thought provoking piece that emphasizes our never ending quench for knowledge. It’s said, that when the song order of the entire album is rearranged properly, every song lines up with the sequence when leading into the next.
Years later, band leader Maynard James Keenan, expressed some regret in the work. He felt it might be a bit gimmicky and since everything natural can ultimately be summed up one way or another in the golden ratio it’s more of a “captain obvious” work in hindsight. I think Maynard maybe a bit harsh on the work, as I find it thought provoking and refreshing.
Here is a Youtube video that explains the complexity of the Tool song as you listen to it.
Question of the night
What are some examples of your favorite avant-garde music styles?