First installment in a mixtape series for the Contemporary Museum's Mobtown Modern music series in Baltimore. For more information, visit www.mobtownmodern.com
The music of György Ligeti has been one of the most enduring influences on the idea of texture as a musical focus for many composers. In many genres of contemporary Electronica, some of these textural ideas—such as slowly shifting masses of sound, and the imagery of broken machinery—have been married to dance rhythms and absorbed into subcultures widely dispersed from the audience that Ligeti himself interacted with. Ligeti’s interest in African rhythm in his later music reconnects him with the source of these genres that evolved from the dance floor toward a more abstracted focus on musical texture.
This mix integrates samples of Ligeti's music with the following tracks by Electronica artists:
1. Lucky Dragons – “Restraint”
“Micropolyphony” is a textural idea found throughout Ligeti’s music that features a multitude of independent musical lines intersecting within a condensed (usually dissonant) harmonic space, shifting slowly over time. This short track by the Lucky Dragons features at least 3 layers of repetitious musical activity that seem to each have their own pulse, yet confine themselves within a cluster of notes. The intersection of two contrasting timbres heard from the plucked string instrument (ukelele?) remind me of some of the glitchier moments in Ligeti’s string quartet writing.
2. The Books – “The Future, Wouldn’t That Be Nice?”
The poly-rhythms and evocation of machinery running at different rates in the first part of this track reminds me quite a bit of Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique. The entry of the pitched instruments, and then the vocals, humanize the gear-work.
3. Madlib – “Tear Gas and Bullets For Freedom”
The layers of unpitched percussion, clapping, and crowd whistling and vocalization in higher end of the frequency spectrum here float in and out of synch with the dominant loops on the lower end of the spectrum- the guitar, main drums and the dominant vocal loop. The distinctive use of EQ draws attention to the cluster of competing polyrhythms, and accentuates Madlib’s interest in abstract texture.
4. Filastine – “Strategy of Tension”
I think that Ligeti might have appreciated the development of this track from a collection of rhythmic cells, expanding in an additive way into a call-and-response between different timbres. The efficient use of a handful of materials is similar to the approach taken by Ligeti in Musica ricercata.
5. Dimlite – “Kalimba Deathswamp / Kurt Feelings”
The elements of surrealism and playful juxtapositions that characterize this track, especially in the first part, remind me of moments in Ligeti’s opera Le Grand Macabre. Later on, the spirit of Frank Zappa seems to take over.
6. J Dilla – “Let’s Take It Back [Instrumental]”
The irrational rhythm and micropolyphonic pileup of the main synth layers—same timbre, same pitch space, wildly independent motion—could easily be mistaken for a transcription of a few bars from some of Ligeti’s later music. But then Dilla loops it, adds some record crackle, a kick and snare, a few bass tones and it becomes one of the most authentic representations of Hip-Hop that you can find.
7. M.I.A. – “Space”
M.I.A. sings here about floating around in “space odyssey.” Ligeti had his music featured in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey without his consent, and reached his widest audience. The glissandi and unpitched sound effects heard in M.I.A.’s electronics would not sound wildly out of place in Ligeti’s best-known piece of early electronic music, Artikulation.
8. KenLo Craqnuques – “SaAtivaA”
This track is great example of playing with a listener’s genre expectations, embracing both experimentalism and the head nod. The jazz and funk elements in the looped material fluctuate with more unstable noise elements, extreme filtering, bit-crushing, and interjected moments of rhythmic and tonal conflict. In KenLo Craqnuques’ treatment of these sample sources inherited through Hip-Hop, one could see a connection with Ligeti’s creative relationship with Romanian folk music in some of his early (and late) compositions.
9. Sephirot – “Bremsstrahlung”
In the first third of this track, a background synth layer similar to the one in the J Dilla beat mentioned previously brings to mind the independently accelerating and decelerating notes, confined to a short sequence of pitches, that is sometimes found within Ligeti’s micro-polyphonic writing. As a side note: Glissandi just never lose their appeal to the electronic musician, do they?
10. Zomby – “Kaliko”
It was interesting to discover that another person has also seen a connection between this track by Hyperdub artist Zomby and some of Ligeti’s piano etudes, with a transcription of the song to boot. This is one of the most disciplined etudes in metrical shifts, fractional rhythmic variation, and structural use of dissonant intervals that I have ever heard in a “dance music” genre.