vs. Interpretation




Lukas Ligeti

Journeys of Improvised Music in Africa: A presentation from the vs. Interpretation Festival and Symposium in July 2014.

“Many West African music traditions and forms (my initial experiences were in Côte d’Ivoire) have contributed to the fundamental concepts of jazz, and in working with musicians from these traditions, it is possible to see some of the basic ingredients of American improvised music at work. The rules governing improvisation in these traditions are often quite complex, but, as in jazz, they build upon and further permit, to a degree, spontaneous interaction between musicians, allowing for conversational interplay. However, there also exist music traditions—I have come across these mainly in other parts of Africa such as Uganda—where improvisation is rather limited and does not strongly impact the overall form of the music. “I have attempted many approaches to improvisation in my African collaborations, ranging from collective free improvisation (an activity otherwise nonexistent in this part of the world) to collectively developing frameworks and rules for interplay. In some instances, I encouraged musicians to appropriate concepts from other music traditions or cultures as part of our nascent improvisational vocabulary. Some approaches employed computer technology as an additional challenge or as an aid in performance, acting as a conductor of sorts. In a band I co-founded in Burkina Faso, Ableton Live is used extensively, but a complex cueing system is simultaenously in place to help make our performances more flexible and spontaneous. But I have also done more ‘straightforward’ improvising in contexts such as the ever popular ‘jam sessions’ and played jazz standards with African musicians: many musicians I have worked with consider themselves jazz musicians, but the way they handle rhythm and form tends to be somewhat different from their American colleagues, informed by the traditions of the region and by local patterns of jazz reception (which are often strongly dependent on the selection of imported recordings, a dependency now in decline due to the internet, but still relevant).” Lukas Ligeti is transcending the boundaries of genre. The Austrian New York City-based composer–percussionist has developed a musical style of his own that draws upon downtown New York experimentalism, contemporary classical music, jazz, electronica, and world music, particularly from Africa. Known for his nonconformity and diverse interests, Lukas creates music ranging from the through-composed to the free-improvised, often exploring polyrhythmic/polytempo structures, non-tempered tunings, and non-western elements. Other major sources of inspiration include experimental mathematics, computer technology, architecture and visual art, sociology and politics, and travel. He has also been participating in cultural exchange projects in Africa for the past fifteen years.