First off: electronics are not The Devil’s Toenails there’s precious little difference between a flute made from a hunk of wood and a digital sampler. Both are designed to help us humans make sounds that we otherwise could not. But then: some of us have from heard from seers, egotistical performers and critics, hypeheads and trendy jackasses that the nebulous genre known as "Electronica" music/sound/noises produced via electronic media was going to supplant rock and/or jazz and/or whatever as THE dominant creative music form in the 90s/00s. Well, as any schmoe can see, that didn’t quite happen. But that’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater there’s [still a few] musicians out there CREATIVELY making music with electronic media. Lukas Ligeti is one such.
Lukas Ligeti is a composer and percussionist at home with many styles/genres of music, though of late he’s been focusing on group improvisation (with John Tchicai, Bruce Eisenbill, Michael Manring, Thurston Moore and others); notated composition (performed by Ensemble Moderne and the Kronos Quartet among others) and his own as-yet-unnamed genre consisting of a fusion of West African folk and pop and Anglo/Euro-prog-pop delivered by a fully integrated combination of the human voice and acoustic and electronically-generated musical sounds. Before I engage in any further run-on sentences, let’s use the somewhat acceptable handle "world-fusion." An important element in his equation is vocalist Mai Lingani, a superb vocalist from Burkina Faso (the country formerly known as Upper Volta), whose soulful, very human sound both "anchors" the proceedings (keeping them from getting too cerebral ‘n’ arty) while it soars. In this afternoon concert performance, Ligeti, Lingani & company engaged the small crowd packed into the gallery/performance space Egizio’s Project in Manhattan. High points included "Entrons Dans La Danse," an exhilarating blend of Western electronic dance and traditional West African sounds, whose synthesized melodic motif (what pop people call a "hook") had a gloriously raw sound recalling the first wave of Industrial bands from England (Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, et. al.), buoyant rhythms and emotive singing from Lingani. What is most striking about her singing is the soaring, clear, sweet (but never cloying) quality and unlike many African vocalists, she doesn’t overdo the melisma (the way of drawing out syllables that you hear in much Arabic and Middle Eastern music) and is expressive without excess. "Song 8" was described in the program notes as an "improvisation featuring violins, Egyptian voices, the walls of an office building in Austria, funeral music of Zimbabwe and guitars." It was a symphonic clash that, taken as a whole, reminded me somewhat of Penderecki, M. Gira’s Body Lovers music and Glenn Branca’s "guitar symphonies" sounds ascended and descended, melodies (and cultures) crossed each other and the total effect was as an Invocation, a Chorus wailing from the Earth/Abyss toward the heavens. The duo was joined on some pieces by Dafna Naphtali on vocals and computer processing and Abdoulaye Diabate on vocals and electric guitar, whose deeper, blues-tinged wail made for a nice blend and contrast with Mai L’s. The downside: every now and then some of the music, though fascinating, sounded a bit tentative, patchy and like a work-in-progress ("Zaida’s Image").
With eyes closed (or off in a corner where I sat), this duo/trio/quartet sounded like an entire orchestra, which would occasionally get sucked through the microchip nano-universe and come out all Salvador Dali. The music of Ligeti and Lingani points to a new fusion, one in which electronic and acoustic sounds blur together and elements from Anglo/Euro and West African music meet, mingle and party down without one being ceding to the other.