Even if you don’t know the name György Ligeti, you probably already associate his music with a set of mesmerizing visions. The work of that Hungarian composer of 20th-century classical music appealed mightily to Stanley Kubrick, so much so that he used four of Ligeti’s pieces to score 2001: A Space Odyssey. One of them, 1962’s Aventures, plays over the final scenes in an electronically altered form, which drew a lawsuit from the composer who’d been unaware of the modification. But he didn’t do it out of purism: though he wrote, over his long career, almost entirely for traditional instruments, he’d made a couple forays into electronic music himself a decade earlier.
Ligeti fled Hungary for Vienna in 1956, soon afterward making his way to Cologne, where he met the electronically innovative likes of Karlheinz Stockhausen and Gottfried Michael Koenig and worked in West German Radio’s Studio for Electronic Music.
There he produced 1957’s Glissandi and 1958’s Artikulation, the latter of which lasts just under four minutes, but, in the words of The Guardian‘s Tom Service, “packs a lot of drama in its diminutive electronic frame.” Ligeti himself “imagined the sounds of Artikulation conjuring up images and ideas of labyrinths, texts, dialogues, insects, catastrophes, transformations, disappearances,” which you can see visualized in shape and color in the “listening score” in the video above.
Created in 1970 by graphic designer Rainer Wehinger of the State University of Music and Performing Arts Stuttgart, and approved by Ligeti himself, the score’s “visuals are beautiful to watch in tandem with Ligeti’s music; there’s an especially arresting sonic and visual pile-up, about 3 mins 15 secs into the piece. This isn’t electronic music as postwar utopia, a la Stockhausen, it’s electronics as human, humorous drama,” writes Service. Have a watch and a listen, or a couple of them, and you’ll get a feel for how Wehinger’s visual choices reflect the nature of Ligeti’s sounds. Just as 2001 still launches sci-fi buffs into an experience like nothing else in the genre, those sounds will still strike a fair few self-described electronic music fans of the 21st century as strange and new — especially when they can see them at the same time.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.