From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Experimental refers to ideas or techniques not yet established or finalized involving innovation. The term derives from experiment. It is a practice of art where it replaced the term avant-garde somewhere in the 1950s.
The first text generally cited in this category is Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759). This text occurs so early in the standard history of the novel that one can't refer to its "breaking" conventions that had yet to solidify. But in its mockery of narrative, and its willingness to use such graphic elements as an all-black page to mourn the death of a character, Sterne's novel is considered a fundamental text for many post-World War II authors. However, Sterne's work was not without detractors even in its time; for instance, Samuel Johnson is quoted in Boswell as saying "The merely odd does not last. Tristram Shandy did not last." Denis Diderot's Jacques the Fatalist and His Master, drew many elements from Tristam Shandy, a fact not concealed in the text, making it an early example of metafiction.
Experimental film, or "experimental cinema," is a term that describes a range of filmmaking styles that are generally quite different from, and often trangress, the practices of mainstream commercial and documentary filmmaking. "Avant-garde film" and "underground" have also been used in the past this kind of cinema, though with slightly different connotations. While "experimental" covers a wide range of practice, an "experimental film" is often characterized by the absence of linear narrative, the use of various abstracting techniques (out of focus, painting or scratching on film, rapid editing), the use of asynchronous (non-diegetic) sound or even the absence of any sound track. The goal is often to place the viewer in a more active and more thoughtful relationship to the film. At least through the 1960s, and to some extent after, many experimental films took an oppositional stance toward mainstream culture. Most such films are made on very low budgets, self-financed or financed through small grants, with a minimal crew or, quite often, a crew of only one person, the filmmaker. It has been argued that much experimental film is no longer in fact "experimental," but has in fact become a film genre and that many of its more typical features - such as a non-narrative, impressionistic or poetic approaches to the film's construction - define what is generally understood to be "experimental".
Experimental music is any music that challenges the commonly accepted notions of what music is. There is an overlap with avant-garde music. John Cage was a pioneer in experimental music and defined and gave credibility to the form. David Cope describes experimental music as that, "which represents a refusal to accept the status quo" (Cope, 1997, p. 222). Michael Nyman (1974) uses the term "experimental" to describe the work of American modernist composers (John Cage, Meredith Monk, Morton Feldman, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, etc.) as opposed to the European avant-garde at the time (Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, Iannis Xenakis). The "experiment" in this case is not whether a piece succeeds or fails, but is in the fact that the outcome of the piece is uncertain or unforeseeable (Cage 1961, 13).