The first time listening to Ligeti is a trip. It changes you. Film a baby laughing, hundreds of monarch butterflies in migration, or a peaceful lake in the dawn of a perfect summer’s day. A small helping of Ligeti on top and suddenly all of these scenes become fucking nightmares. It draws the depravity, the nauseating monotony, the existential fucking rage of all of it. That baby? A pinch of Ligeti and you’re convinced that baby is the unloving creator of us all and laughing directly at our feeble attempts at existence. Those butterflies? Just a smidge and it’s a single consciousness spread amongst thousands of beings unknowingly following a desire within themselves they do not control. That fucking lake. That stupid fucking lake. That watery bitch. A dash of our man and it’s eating happy splashy people. Metal? Naw, dude. Metal is kids with guitars wanting to be rock stars and having an excuse to wear makeup. Metal is cute. Noise music? Please. It’s a wall of sound. A sonic boulder. Big, bold, and easy to walk away from. Ligeti fucks with you. It gets inside of you. His technically precise and haunting music perniciously infects you. It’s fun in this fantastically sick way, the same way a thick scream from the loudest track you can imagine is fun. It’s angry. It’s rebellious. It’s so wrong it turns left till it’s alright again. Sure, there are days when Ligeti isn’t enjoyable. But then there are those other days, those demon days, the days when the only way to express yourself is by screaming so hard blood paints your tongue and then you lick that shit like the cat that got the cream. Ligeti days. On these days? Nothing else can quench that bawdy barbarity.
Let’s start with the easy shit: Étude No. 13, L’escalier du diable / The Devil’s Staircase. Strangely, this track sounds exactly what that name suggests. You feel like you’re on a staircase to hell and, hot fuck, it’s moving fast. This shit is so thick it gets hit on at the club. It’s so chewy vegans won’t eat it. It’s a demonic slide full of creepy crawlies and it’s fun as hell. For the few fucks that don’t know, the sign ‘f‘ on sheet music, it means you gotta play that shit “loud or strong.” Well, this motherfucker’s got a chord that’s played as ‘ffffffff‘. No shit. That’s the notation. Ligeti is just waiting for the motherfucker with enough stones to kick the shit out of the piano and spit on its broken body before taking a shit inside then taking their bow. The idea of build, harshness, and repetition on this piece is essential for its sonic and ideological hellscape. For those of you that enjoy darkness done right, here’s your motherfucker.
Lux Aeterna, Ligeti’s most famous piece. Why? Because it’s on the fucking soundtrack to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick was incessantly tumescent for Ligeti. You know how shit just doesn’t feel right in The Shining? That’s Ligeti. What about the added creep to Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut? You fucking guessed it, Ligeti. There’s a reason his shit works in Kubrick’s film. This song is a grand and beautiful choir singing out into grand expanse and coming to terms with a demonic force, something like an A.I. that’s fanatical about your demise, mayhaps? This piece, all around, is a tough flex. It’s slow. It’s moiling. It’s got cluster chords and this tight shit Ligeti calls micropolyphony. This basically means different motherfuckers singing in different tempos and rhythms. This gives each member of the choir a “where the fuck did you just come from!” feel. It’s the musical version of someone creeping behind you without you knowing about it. FUCK! Where did you come from baseline? The fuck out of here! SHIT! Tenor, you freaked me out! By the way, they be singing Latin up in this bitch. Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine, cum sanctis tuis in aeternum, quia pius es. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis, which means “May everlasting light shine upon them, O Lord, with thy saints in eternity, for thou art merciful. Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may everlasting light shine upon them.” The message is chill, kinda, but how it’s done is freaky as hell. In the end the execution makes this shit straight up existential. It turns eternal life into living fucking forever. Like, forever-ever. Ever-ever. The planet is dead. The sun is burnt out. And you’re just some dumb fuck floating in entropic blackness propelling yourself with farts. This piece sticks to your shit like ass hair.
Ligeti wasn’t all just soundtracks and dope chops, though. His depth was real. Being Hungarian Jews, both his brother and father were killed in concentration camps. His mother survived Auschwitz. Then, after the war, he went straight into some super fucky communism. After going through this kinda shit? You just don’t feel pop music anymore. It seems childish. All You Need Is Love can fuck itself with a burning cactus. God? Naw dawg, you had your chance. Shit’s over. It’s time for chaos, motherfucker. Not just for the pain that’s felt in loss but for the joy and the guilt in having survived it. For the painful forgetting that comes alongside peace. It’s the fear that comes when you realize no one is piloting the goddamn plane. This dude lived in the quick witness and humility of someone that truly fucking lived. You listen to shit like Hamburg Concerto and it’s no longer about depth of space. Shit’s about havoc, joy, pain, loss, and everything else. It’s an everything bagel you keep ordering even though you don’t know why. Whenever I think I got a hold of this thing called music, I go back to Ligeti. There’s always something in it I just don’t get, something too odd, something that’s beyond me. Then, after a while, I feel the shape of it. And it scratches something in me that I didn’t know itched. I get it if you think I’m fucking with ya. This shit is really weird. You might think I’m some overeducated shit trying to be smart by tapping my foot to noise. It’s not like that. Sometimes life just throws you shit that’s stranger than alternative, angrier than metal, and deeper than ambient. There are moments when you’re suspended in madness. Did you ever think the grocery store would look like a dystopian landscape? Are we all just cool with this now? Ligeti is for the moments you tell yourself this world can’t be real. When nothing feels normal. That’s when I put this shit on and stare out into a lake made of monarch butterflies that’s eating some laughing baby and say to myself, “This motherfucker jams.”