Ligeti's Volumina

Imagine taking a full-scale cathedral organ, the kind with three million pipes and a basement full of machinery, turning all the blowers right up to ‘hearing damage’ mode, and then leaning on all the keys and pedals at once. That’s the opening chord of Volumina.

You feel as though, in settling down to write this piece, Ligeti carefully collected together lots of textbooks on classical harmony, sacred music, organ writing and so forth - and then chucked them out the bloody window. Volumina is an exploration of the sound limits of the organ, making it sound like the most adventurous of synthesizers before such things were even invented. Ligeti conjures extraordinary, hallucinogenic soundscapes from the instrument. Eerie floating, throbbing textures of wind moaning through industrial piping give way to furious explosive rages that sound as though a serious bar brawl has actually broken out inside the organ. In between these are frankly disturbing collections of noises that sound as though they were made by no Earthly instrument, ranging from banging on the pipes to blowing across them to what sounds like the hoarse, dying bubbles of someone choking to death on a kazoo, while someone twiddles the tuning knob on a radio.

One reviewer wrote “Volumina is a piece whose notes (every key on the organ, in fact) are sustained throughout its entire fifteen-minute length. What makes this piece so unique, however, is the way in which these static notes are manipulated in order to demonstrate the instrument’s full range of sonic capabilities. The work is not about melody; in fact, most casual listeners would consider it to be somewhat if not entirely unlistenable. Rather, Volumina was composed to explore the complete spectrum of sound that can be expressed by simple, unchanging notes without any reference to melody whatsoever.”

You might be more familiar with Ligeti’s work than you think. If you’ve ever watched 2001: A Space Odyssey and started thinking, “Dude. This music is pretty fucked up right here,” that’d be Ligeti. Volumina is about as avant-garde as you can get without going right beyond music and breaching the Geneva Conventions. The mere performance of this piece has actually destroyed two organs, and caused a complete electrical failure in the Royal Festival Hall.

It is one of those things which, a bit like perforating your cheeks with a stapler, is really nice when it stops. But after a few listens it does grow on you. At times you just want to laugh out loud and shake Ligeti by the hand for being such an outrageous fucking nutcase. I can see him sitting there, scoring a particularly horrific anti-tonal sonic assault, chuckling to himself and scribbling in the margin, “That’ll shit them right up.”

After listening to this have a good long lie down in a darkened room with a cocktail of anti-psychotics.

Oh my God, she's been arrested and hanged!

Things to be cheerful about:

  1. Nuts
  2. Jumpers
  3. Bach
  4. Mulligatawny
  5. Friday evenings
  6. Housemates
  7. James Bond movies
  8. My car
  9. Making bread
  10. The Two Towers
  11. Hiking
  12. Sunshine
  13. Dustbuster
  14. Massive phone
  15. Writing with a fountain pen
  16. Wine
  17. Yoga
  18. Penny Arcade
  20. The Black Project
  21. Saturday mornings
  22. Sunday mornings
  23. Baths
  24. Table-tennis
  25. Being up early by mistake
  26. Trees
  27. Sainsburys
  28. Books
  29. The name 'Keith'
  30. Playstation
  31. Compassion
  32. Being comfy
  33. All nice girls have been interned in a special camp, I just have to find it.
  34. Radio 3
  35. Being in bed generally (not in a rude way)
  36. Being in bed (in a rude way)
  37. Chums
  38. Sand
  39. iPhone
  40. Telly
  41. Bacon sarnie
  42. Letters
  43. Sawing things (you feel like your dad)
  44. Waxing boots
  45. Pink things
  46. Talking crap
  47. The word 'chipper'
  48. Being tired
  49. Beethoven
  50. Beanie hats
  51. Candles
  52. Showers
  53. Fresh coffee
  54. Christmas
  55. Taking a moment
  56. Fish fingers
  57. Guitars
  58. Lists
  59. Maps
  60. Gmail
  61. Buckaroo
  62. The word 'snick'
  63. Instant messenger
  64. Charity shops
  65. Pepper
  66. Whistling
  67. Breakfast
  68. Sexy underwear
  69. Having a cherry tree outside your window
  70. Hot towels from the heated towel rail
  71. Clean hair
  72. Duvets
  73. The Simpsons
  74. Mouse with a scroll wheel
  75. Winning
  76. Losing and not minding
  77. People asking you how your day was
  78. Curry
  79. Inflatable things
  80. Dips
  81. Things to dip in the dip eg crisps
  82. Crackling
  83. A really amazingly sharp knife
  84. Coming home after being away
  85. Peanuts (the comic, not the snack)
  86. Going to the pictures
  87. Nigella
  88. A big lads' night in
  89. Making things out of Blu-Tack
  90. MP3s
  91. Exes you still talk to
  92. Cornwall
  93. Pastry
  94. Bob van Asperen
  95. Being adequately prepared
  96. Checking things into Git
  97. Wood
  98. Stars
  99. Getting back from the shops and looking at the stuff you bought
  100. When you let someone in on the motorway and they blip their hazard lights to say thanks