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Ligeti: Artikulation (1958)

Listening exercise for Ligeti's Artikulation (1958)

Listening exercise

A polish composer now! Throughout the 20th century, the WDR was a focal point throughout Europe for composers wanting to learn about and make electronic music. György Ligeti is probably best known for his dense, microtonal compositions for orchestras and large ensembles (you’ve probably hear his music in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey), but he was one of many composers who found their paths crossing with the WDR. Artikulation is his second electronic work, and does a whole lot in just under four minutes!

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Ligeti first encountered electronic music listening to a broadcast of Gesang der Jünglinge in 1956, joining the WDR a year later. Ligeti was less interested in electronic music for its use as a tool for total serialism, and engaged with its potential for constructing a completely new musical language, complete with unique associations, images, and implications. His first work, Glissandi (1957) consists of, as the name suggests, tones and filtered noise sliding up and down in pitch. It’s quite rudimentary and noted more for its indication towards the kinds of sounds Ligeti would subsequently pursue in his acoustic work across his career. Artikulation however feels very much like a complete and polished piece of music.

Ligeti’s sketches for Artikulation indicate that he adopted serial, empirical, and aleatoric thinking in devising the materials, but listening to it you wouldn’t know. The piece feels spontaneous and lively throughout, seeming to emerge naturally rather than telegraphing a broader structure. The work focuses on articulating short events of different materials. Using small fragments and filters of sounds from tone, impulse and white noise generators collected in ten categories (grainy, friable, fibrous, slimy, sticky, and so on) these snippets were spliced together and assembled into new sequences. This approach was conceived of by Ligeti as approximating language, of combining sounds to make syllables, to combine syllables to make words, and to combine words to make sentences. You can feel this in the music, how each sequence is somewhat self-contained, and yet the individual sounds seem to flow and connection to one another in a manner not dissimilar to speech.

Ultimately, Ligeti didn’t continue to explore electronic music much beyond Artikulation, instead focusing on composing for acoustic instruments, but this period of his practice fundamentally shaped his thinking towards how the orchestra could be harnessed to synthesise great masses of sound. Artikulation remains a great example of the international perspectives that gathered at the WDR and challenged not only challenged existing views regarding the techniques, opportunities and difficulties of the medium, but also of electronic music’s legitimacy within the wider field of music at the time.

Over to you

How does Artikulation make you feel compared to the other pieces we’ve listened to so far? In particular, what are the differences between Artikulation and Eimert’s Klangstudie I that we looked at previously? What is the most striking feature of Artikulation?

References

Steinitz, R. (2013) György Ligeti: Music of the Imagination. London: Faber and Faber Ltd.

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