The most-acclaimed new classical music of 2015

Barney Sherman’s 2015 classical music mega-meta-list is now up (part 1part 2), pulling together the results of 64 different “best of the 2015” lists from classical music critics.

Most of the selections are new performances of older works. Here, I want to highlight the contemporary classical pieces that were recorded for the first time in 2015 (and usually composed in the last few years), and that were included in 6 or more of the lists in Sherman’s analysis:

  1. Anna Thorvaldsdottir: In the Light of Air
  2. Andrew Norman: Play / Try
  3. Julia Wolfe: Anthracite Fields
  4. Various composers: Render
  5. Various composers: Clockworking
  6. John Luther Adams: The Wind in High Places
  7. John Adams: Absolute Jest

The links go to Spotify. If you’re relatively new to contemporary classical music, my guess is that Absolute Jest is the most widely accessible selection here, followed by Render.

Musical shiver moments, 2015 edition

Back in 2004, I wrote a list of (what I now call) “musical shiver moments.” A musical shiver moment is a moment in a musical track that hits you with special emotional force (perhaps sending a shiver down your spine). It can be the climax of a pop song, or the beginning of a catchy riff, or a particularly well-conceived mood shift, etc.

A classic example is the moment the drums finally enter in Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” Another is the chord shift for the final performance of the chorus in Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”

(Note that for most of these shiver moments to have their impact, you need to listen to all or most of the track up to that point, first. You can’t just jump right to the shiver moment.)

It’s been over a decade since I made my original list. Here are a few more I’ve discovered since then:

  • “Solo begins” – Carla Bley – Escalator Over the Hill: Hotel Overture – 7:45
  • “The world crumbles” – Arvo Pärt – Tabula Rasa: Ludus – 7:20
  • “I knew nothing of the horses” – Scott Walker – Tilt: Farmer in the City – 5:22
  • “The riff enters” – Justice – Cross: Genesis – 0:38
  • “Desperate cry” – Osvaldo Golijov – The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind: Agitato – 7:00
  • “Sudden slices” – Klaus Schulze – Irrlicht: Satz Ebene – 9:30
  • “The theme enters” – John Adams – Grand Pianola Music: On the Great Divide – 2:20
  • “Swelling” – M83 – Hurry Up We’re Dreaming: My Tears Are Becoming a Sea – 1:11
  • “The sweet” – Anna von Hausswolff – Ceremony: Red Sun – 2:10
  • “Drums enter” – The Shining – In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster: Goretex Weather Report – 1:05
  • “Entrance” – Ryan Power – Identity Picks: Sweetheart – 0:05
  • “Tone added” – Jon Hopkins – Immunity: We Disappear – 2:20
  • “Verse 2 begins” – The Fiery Furnaces – EP: Here Comes the Summer – 1:30
  • “Tonight” – Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE: Pyramids – 5:22
  • “Electronic instruments solo” – James Blake – James Blake: I Never Learnt to Share – 3:40
  • “Guitar solo peaks” – Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid: Cold War – 2:11
  • “Surprising transition” – Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: Lost in the World – 0:59
  • “Soprano rising” – Henryk Górecki – Symphony No. 3: 1st movement – 15:57
  • “New instrument enters” – Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport: Surf Solar – 5:18
  • “Into the final stretch” – Lindstrøm – Where You Go I Go Too: Where You Go I Go Too – 22:46
  • “New instrument” – Modeselektor – Happy Birthday!: Sucker Pin – 3:10
  • “Rising” – Glasvegas – Glasvegas: Ice Cream Van – 3:30
  • “Quiet after the storm” – Howard Shore – The Fellowship of the Ring: The Bridge of Khazad Dum – 4:57
  • “Finale” – John Adams – Harmonielehre: Part I – 17:01
  • “Chorus” – Phantom Planet – Phantom Planet: Knowitall – 1:06
  • “Suddenly, a groove” – Herbie Hancock – Crossings: Sleeping Giant – 11:09
  • “You thought this track couldn’t get any more epic. You were wrong.” – Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!: We Drift Like Worried Fire – 18:48
  • “One of my favorite melodies, 2nd time” – Jean Sibelius – Symphony No. 5: 3rd movement – 1:55

(The time markings for the classical pieces will be off for some performances/recordings, naturally.)

What are some of your musical shiver moments?

added after initial publication of this post:

  • “From percussion to melody” – Nils Frahm – Spaces: For / Peter / Toilet Brushes / More – 13:49
  • “Final atmospheric passage” – Dave Douglas – Dark Territory: Loom Large – 4:57
  • “One last time” – John Murphy – Adagio in D Minor: Adagio in D Minor (2012 Remaster) – 3:04
  • “Building groove” – Tonbruket – Forevergreens: First Flight of a Newbird – 3:19
  • “Is this the climax yet?” – Blanck Mass – World Eater: Rhesus Negative – 7:44
  • “Panic” & “Double time” – The Algorithm – Polymorphic Code: Panic – 3:32 & 6:51
  • “Explosion” – The Great Harry Hillman – Tilt: 354° – 2:37
  • “Voices rise” – Eskaton – 4 Visions: Ecoute – 5:52
  • [more to come]

Some 2016 movies I’m looking forward to

I’m only counting films to be first released in 2016 according to IMDB. In descending order of how confident I am that I’ll rate it as “really liked” or “loved”:

  1. Coen brothers, Hail, Caesar!
  2. Stanton, Finding Dory
  3. Linklater, Everybody Wants Some
  4. Nichols, Midnight Special
  5. Villeneuve, Story of Your Life
  6. Dardenne brothers, The Unknown Girl
  7. Farhadi, Seller
  8. Scorsese, Silence

For all other movies coming out in 2016 that I’ve seen mentioned, I’m <70% confident I’ll rate them as “really liked” or “loved.”

Some books I’m looking forward to, January 2016 edition

* = added this round

Books, music, etc. from December 2015



Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:


Ones I really liked, or loved:

  • Phoenix (2014, Christian Petzold)

Some books I’m looking forward to, December 2015 edition

* = added this round

Books, music, etc. from November 2015



Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:


Ones I really liked, or loved:

Some books I’m looking forward to, November 2015 edition

* = added this round

Books, music, etc. from October 2015



Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:


Ones I really liked, or loved:

Job openings in the EA-sphere, October 2015

There are lots of job openings in the effective altruism world right now. Many of these positions will be hard to fill, and I’m sure the hiring organizations would appreciate you sending their job ads to people who might be a good fit, or sharing the job ad on social media if your followers might be particularly likely to include some candidates who might be good fits.

Most of what you see below is re-organized from a recent EA newsletter. Jobs are listed by organization; organizations are listed alphabetically. Jobs that can be done remotely from any location are marked “(remote),” though I probably missed a few of these.

If you work at an explicitly EA-motivated organization and you have additions or corrections to the job openings listed below, please let me know.


80,000 Hours (Oxford, UK) wants a full-stack web developer with an eye for design. $1000 for successful referrals. Deadline is Oct. 18.

Animal Charity Evaluators (San Diego, USA) wants an Advocacy Research Program Officer. No deadline specified.

The Centre for Effective Altruism (Oxford, UK) wants an Event Manager, a Project Manager, an Office Manager, a Director of US Operations, a Finance Manager, a Full-Stack Marketer, a Strategy Fellow, and a Development Manager. Deadlines are Oct. 18.

The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (Cambridge, UK) wants four post-docs and an Academic Project Manager to work on extreme technological risk. Deadlines are Nov. 12.

The Future of Life Institute (Boston, USA) wants a Project Coordinator and a News Website Editor. Deadlines not specified.

GiveWell (San Francisco, USA) wants Summer Research Analysts for 2016, Research Analysts, Outreach Associates, Operations Associates, and (remote) Conversation Notes Writers. Deadlines not specified.

Giving What We Can (Oxford, UK) wants a Director of Growth and multiple Research Analysts. Deadlines are Oct. 18.

The Global Priorities Project (Oxford, UK) wants a Director of Policy and multiple Research Fellows. Deadlines are Oct. 18.

The Machine Intelligence Research Institute (Berkeley, USA) wants Research Fellows to work on technical problems related to superintelligence alignment.

The Open Philanthropy Project (San Francisco, USA) wants a Biosecurity Program Officer, Advisors and Senior Advisors for its Life Sciences program category, and (remote) Social Sciences Research Assistants. Deadlines not specified.

Sentience Politics (Basel, Switzerland) wants a Project Manager to establish the organization in Germany. Deadline is Oct. 31.

Some books I’m looking forward to, October 2015 edition

* = added this round

Books, music, etc. from September 2015


I thoroughly enjoyed MacFarquhar’s Strangers Drowning. It does contain at least one error:

[Stephanie] didn’t know what [“bigger” thing she should be doing]… [maybe] preventing malevolent computers from attacking mankind, like the people at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute?


Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:


Ones I really liked, or loved:

Unabashedly emotional or catchy avant-garde music

Holden wrote me a fictional conversation to illustrate his experience of trying to find music that is (1) complex, (2) structurally interesting, and yet (3) listenable / emotional / catchy (at least in some parts):

Holden: I’m bored by pop music. Got anything interesting?

Person: Here, try this 7-second riff played repeatedly for 26 minutes.

Holden: Umm … but what about … something a little more varied?

Person: Check out 38 minutes of somebody screaming incoherently while 5 incompatible instruments play random notes and a monotone voice recites surreal poetry.

Holden: But like … uh … more listenable maybe?

Person: I thought you didn’t want pop bullshit. Well, here’s something middlebrow: a guy playing 3 chords on a guitar who sounds kind of sarcastic.

Holden’s three criteria describe a great deal of my favorite music, much of which is scattered throughout my guides to modern classical music and modern art jazz. So if those criteria sound good to you, too, then I’ve listed below a few musical passages you might like.

Osvaldo Golijov, The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, I. Agitato, 4:53-7:45

A string quartet + clarinet piece with a distinctly Jewish sound which, in this passage, sounds to me like a scene of building tension and frantic activity until all falls away (6:23) and the clarinet screams prayers of desperation to God (6:59).

Carla Bley, Escalator Over the Hill, Hotel Overture, 6:26-10:30

A circus-music refrain ambles along until things slow down (7:40) and a sax begins to solo (7:45) over repeating fatalistic-sounding chords in a way that, like the clarinet in the passage above, sounds to me like a cry of desperation, one with a cracking voice (e.g. at 8:03 & 8:09), and, at times, non-tonal gargled screaming (8:32), finally fading back into earlier themes from the overture (9:45).

Arvo Pärt, Tabula Rasa, Ludus, 4:10-9:52

Violins swirl around chords that seem to endlessly descend until a period of relative quiet (4:50) accented by bells. The earlier pattern returns (5:26), eventually picking up pace (5:44), until a momentary return to the calm of the bells (6:14). Then another return to the swirling violins (6:55), which again pick up their pace but this time with a thundering crash (7:15) that foreshadows the destruction that lies ahead. The violins ascend to a peak (7:55), and then quiver as they fall — farther and farther — until booming chords (8:44) announce the final desperate race (8:49) to the shattering end (9:36). If this doesn’t move you, you might be dead.

Sergey Kuryokhin, The Sparrow Oratorium, Summer, 0:55-4:36

Squeaky strings wander aimlessly until the piece suddenly jumps into a rollicking riff (1:11) that will be repeated throughout the piece. Variations on this riff continue as a high-gain guitar plays a free jazz solo. The solo ends (2:30), the noise builds, and then suddenly transitions (2:46) to a silly refrain of “zee zee zee zee…” and other vocalizations and then (3:17) a female pop singer with a soaring chorus that bleeds into (4:05) a variation on the original riff with sparse instrumentation which then launches into a louder, fuller-sounding version of the riff (4:20). (To me, this track is more catchy than emotional.)

John Adams, Harmonielehre, 1st movement, 12:19-16:18

Melancholy strings descend, but there is tension in the mood, announced by an ominous trill (12:45), and then another (12:51). But then, the mood lifts with piano and woodwinds (13:03) repeating an optimistic chord. The music accelerates, and takes another tonal shift toward a tense alert (13:22). Booming brass and drums enter (13:41) as things continue to accelerate, and the drums and brass strike again (14:29) and drag the whole piece down with them, in pitch and pace. The strings and horns struggle to rise again until the horns soar free (15:11) . The instruments rise and accelerate again until they break through to the upper atmosphere (15:32). Then they pull back, as if they see something up ahead, and… BOOM (16:04) there are the thundering E minor chords the opened the piece, here again to close the movement.

Tracks or albums pushing musical boundaries

Here’s a playlist of tracks or albums pushing musical boundaries, released in 2012 or later:

This list is exclusive to rock-descended music. My knowledge of jazz and contemporary classical is less comprehensive than my knowledge of rock and its descendents, so I’m less able to tell what is genuinely new for jazz and contemporary classical.

And no, I don’t know why the artists named above all begin with a letter in the first half of the alphabet.

Some books I’m looking forward to, September 2015 edition

* = added this round

Books, music, etc. from August 2015


López’s Dog Whistle Politics was rarely persuasive. A lot of stuff like “Reagan said these two race-baiting things, and then people voted for him and didn’t mind his regressive tax policies, because they were racist and fell for his dog whistle statements.” I assume lots of Americans are fairly racist, and I assume politicians use racist dog whistles from time to time, but I don’t know how important those dog whistles are for American politics, and López didn’t put much effort into supporting his claims on that question.


Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:


Ones I really liked, or loved:

Films I’m looking forward to

  • Swanberg, Digging for Fire (Aug 21, 2015)
  • Perry, Queen of Earth (Aug 26, 2015)
  • Villeneuve, Sicario (Sep 25, 2015)
  • Mendes, Spectre (Nov 6, 2015)
  • Haynes, Carol (Nov 20, 2015)
  • Sohn, The Good Dinosaur (Nov 25, 2015)
  • Abrams, The Force Awakens (Dec 18, 2015)
  • Tarantino, The Hateful Eight (Dec 25, 2015)
  • Russell, Joy (Dec 25, 2015)
  • Iñárritu, The Revenant (Dec 25, 2015)
  • Coen brothers, Hail, Caesar! (Feb 5, 2016)
  • Nichols, Midnight Special (Mar 18, 2016)
  • Stanton, Finding Dory (Jun 17, 2016)
  • Edwards, Rogue One (Dec 16, 2016)
  • Scorsese, Silence (TBD 2016)
  • Reeves, War of the Planet of the Apes (Jul 14, 2017)
  • Cameron, Avatar 2 (Dec 2017)
  • Audiard, Dheepan (TBD)
  • Haneke, Flashmob (TBD)
  • Dardenne brothers, The Unknown Girl (TBD)

Replies to people who argue against worrying about long-term AI safety risks today

More replies will be added here as I remember or discover them. To focus on the “modern” discussion, I’ll somewhat-arbitrarily limit this to replies to comments or articles that were published after the release of Bostrom’s Superintelligence on Sep. 3rd, 2014. Please remind me which ones I’m forgetting.

By me

  • My reply to critics in’s “Myth of AI” discussion. (Timelines, malevolence confusion, convergent instrumental goals.)
  • My reply to AI researcher Andrew Ng. (Timelines, malevolence confusion.)
  • My reply to AI researcher Oren Etzioni. (Timelines, convergent instrumental goals.)
  • My reply to economist Alex Tabarrok. (Timelines, glide scenario.)
  • My reply to AI researcher David Buchanan. (Consciousness confusion.)
  • My reply to physicist Lawrence Krauss. (Power requirements.)
  • My reply to AI researcher Jeff Hawkins. (Self-replication, anthropomorphic AI, intelligence explosion, timelines.)
  • My reply to AI researcher Pedro Domingos. (Consciousness confusion? Not sure.)
  • My reply to AI researcher Yann LeCun. (Timelines, malevolence confusion.)

By others

  • Eliezer Yudkowsky replies to Francois Chollet. (Intelligent explosion, nature of intelligence, various.)
  • Matthew Graves replies to Maciej Cegłowski. (various)
  • Stuart Russell replies to critics in’s “Myth of AI” discussion. (Convergent instrumental goals.)
  • Rob Bensinger replies to computer scientist Ernest Davis. (Intelligence explosion, AGI capability, value learning.)
  • Rob Bensinger replies to roboticist Rodney Brooks and philosopher John Searle. (Narrow AI, timelines, malevolence confusion.)
  • Scott Alexander replies to technologist and novelist Ramez Naam and others. (Mainstream acceptance of AI risks.)
  • Olle Häggström replies to nuclear security specialist Edward Moore Geist. (Plausibility of superhuman AI, goal content integrity.)
  • Olle Häggström replies to science writer Michael Shermer. (Malevolence confusion.)
  • Olle Häggström replies to philosopher John Searle. (Consciousness confusion.)
  • Olle Häggström replies to cognitive scientist Steven Pinker. (Malevolence confusion.)
  • On the Impossibility of Supersized Machines,” a parody of bad arguments commonly made against the possibility of AGI.


Some books I’m looking forward to, August 2015 edition

* = added this round

Books, music, etc. from July 2015


Minger’s Death by Food Pyramid has some good warnings against the missteps of the nutrition profession, government nutrition recommendations, and fad diets. Minger is mostly excited by Weston Price ideas about nutrition. I haven’t examined that evidence base, but I’d be surprised if e.g. we actually had decent measures of the rates of cancer, etc. in the populations Price visited. His work might elevate some hypotheses to the level of “Okay, we should test this,” in which case my question is “Have we done those RCTs yet?”

Ansari & Klinenberg’s Modern Romance was mildly amusing but not very good.


This month I again listened to dozens of jazz albums while working on my in-progress jazz guide. This month, I started finally got to the stage where I hadn’t heard many of the albums, so I had lots of new encounters with albums I enjoyed a lot:

Albums I liked a lot, from other genres:


Ones I really liked, or loved:

  • Andrey Zvyagintsev, Leviathan (2014)
  • Noah Baumbach, While We’re Young (2014)
  • Abderrahmane Sissako, Timbuktu (2014)
  • Judd Apatow, Trainwreck (2015)