Lukas Ligeti’s Postmodern Post-African Fusion | Bleader

Lukas Ligeti’s Postmodern Post-African Fusion


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Lukas Ligeti
  • Lukas Ligeti
On Thursday night Elastic plays host to an intriguing New York trio called Hypercolor. I’ve never seen the group live, and they only have a handful of tracks on their Myspace page, but the presence of percussionist and composer Lukas Ligeti, son of brilliant Hungarian composer György Ligeti, is enough to get me interested.

The group plays intricate, aggressive fusion that borders on math rock, weaving through frequent tempo shifts, dizzyingly jagged unison lines, and terse bits of improvisation at ear-popping volume. Rounding out the band are electric guitarist Eyal Maoz, a Sonny Sharrock-inspired shredder with a thing for the single-note curlicues of Gary Lucas, and electric bassist James Ilgenfritz, who also grounds the out-jazz grooves on Mysterium's new album.

Though Ligeti does a fine job propelling Hypercolor with his polyrhythmic mayhem, to be honest I think I’d rather hear his solo work. Last year he released Afrikan Machinery (Tzadik), a collection of rigorous pieces in which he borrows rhythms, forms, and concepts from a variety of African sources—ziglibithy music from the Ivory Coast, an Angolan proverb, balafon tones. As he writes in his liner notes, “I love to play instruments, and love to watch people playing, but I don’t much enjoy watching people play laptops, with movements so minuscule that I can no longer follow them.” His instrument, accordingly, isn't a computer but something called a Marimba Lumina, designed by synthesizer pioneer Don Buchla. Ligeti loaded the device with samples he’d recorded over years of travel—much of it in Africa—and then altered and detuned them according to his melodic and harmonic concerns.

“Chimæric Procession,” with its rapidly unfolding series of sine-wave textures, electronic flickers, fluttering flutes, and resonant drones, is the odd track out—most of the album sparkles with dense polymetric activity. “Balafon Dance” ripples with the sort of melodies you’d expect from a tuned percussion instrument, but Ligeti manipulates the pitches in mind-warping ways. “Story of the Unknown” was commissioned as a reflection of the ngoma buntibe funeral music of Zimbabwe’s Batonga tribe, and Ligeti uses a single one-minute excerpt as his sole reference, piling on hand percussion, darting electronic tones, and piano and string sounds to create a multilayered cyclone of activity. Ligeti definitely draws on his knowledge of African rhythms in many of his projects, Hypercolor included, but the music on Afrikan Machine is the best showcase I’ve heard so far for his fractured sensibilities.

photo: Peter Gannushkin

Today’s playlist:

Max Roach Plus Four, Quiet as It’s Kept (Verve)
Various artists, MAG All Stars Vol. II: The Best Peruvian Orchestras of the 50’s & 60’s (MAG)
Sundowners, Chicago Country Legends (Bloodshot)
Pablo Milanés & Chucho Valdés, Más Allá de Todo (Universal Latin)
Maxwell, BLACKsummer’s Night (Columbia)