As though to demonstrate the flip-side of my argument (does the very word “flip-side” date me?), an e-mail arrives this morning announcing the appearance of Lukas Ligeti’s new web site. Ligeti is a Hungarian-American who’s performed and studied a lot in Africa, but who’s made his home in New York’s Downtown scene. His biography runs thusly:
Lukas Ligeti’s music is a unique fusion of acoustic and electronic, traditional and avantgarde, Occidental, African, and other influences. [Immediately he tells you what kind of music he writes. What a great idea!] With his uncompromising musical vision and his collaborations ranging from contemporary music groups to free-improvisors to traditional musicians, he has established himself as one of today’s foremost musical innovators.
Lukas Ligeti was born in Vienna, Austria, to Hungarian parents [one of them a famous composer named, uh… Stockhausen, I think]. He studied composition (with Erich Urbanner) and jazz drums (with Fritz Ozmec) at the Vienna Music Academy (University for Music and the Performing Arts), obtaining a Diploma in composition and a Certificate in jazz drums (1993). He also holds a Master of Arts degree from the Vienna Music Academy (thesis on “World Music and Improvised Music”, 1997), and took part in workshops led by John Zorn, George Crumb, and David Moss, and in the Darmstadt Ferienkurse.
From 1994 until 1996, he lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he was a visiting composer at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford University. In 1998, he settled in New York City….
Ethno-musicological recordings and analyses, especially of African music, were a great influence on him from the beginning on; other areas of interest include experimental mathematics, architecture and visual art, geography and traveling, as well as sociology and politics. Musically, he is interested in creating new forms of ensemble interplay, non-tempered tunings, and the possibilities generated by electronics and by cultural exchange.
He is equally engaged in composition and in improvisation and is fond of many kinds of combination of these two extremes. An interest in jazz led him to the “downtown” New York avant-garde, and on the whole, in his attitude and development as a composer, he probably has more in common with the so-called American “mavericks” (including composers like Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, Harry Partch, Conlon Nancarrow, the so-called “minimalists”, John Zorn, and others) than with any European contemporary tradition.
Then, after you’ve gotten some idea what he’s about, he names the awards he’s gotten. There’s a long paragraph listing all the musicians he’s worked with. At the top of the page, this would have looked boastful, but it’s buried down at the bottom, where you’ll run into it if you’ll still interested that long. Overall the whole web site radiates enthusiasm, a sense of Ligeti’s passion for music and why he makes it the way he does. You want to hear the stuff. Compare this with any Uptown symphonist’s list of their awards and residencies, and – without any value judgment made about a single note of music – you’ll get a vivid sense of the European/Downtown eagerness for innovation and creativity versus Uptown prize-validated pretentiousness.