Drummer/composer Lukas Ligeti emerged from his role as Artist-in-Residence at Warsaw’s POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews with a new and deeply personal album. Son of notable composer György Ligeti, his family lost many relatives in the Holocaust, and Lukas Ligeti used this work to begin to grapple with that legacy. That Which Has Remained…That Which Will Emerge is constructed from interviews and the singing of interviewees regarding their own recollections of Jewish life in Warsaw.
The compositional process behind this album is quite fascinating, with the spoken interviews and sung melodies becoming the center around which the musicians orbit. The ensemble, consisting of Barbara Kinga Majewska on vocals, Pawel Szamburski on clarinet, Mikolaj Palosz on cello, Patryk Zakrocki on violin, viola and mbira, Wojtek Kurek on drums and synthesizer, and Ligeti himself functioning as conductor, composer, and arranger while playing marimba lumina and electronics, reacts with great sensitivity to the base material. Ligeti encouraged the musicians to react to certain points of the dialogue that he found intriguing, going as far as controlling what the musicians heard through their headphones.
On a track like “Elusive Counterpoint,” the music attempts to capture the unpredictable rhythms of speech, remarkably mirroring the speaker whose voice dances underneath the instruments. On “City of the Damned,” a similar interplay takes place, but this time with a female speaker. The ensemble reacts in a more varied manner, with more melodic invention. Majewska’s voice in particular rises forth with some striking improvisations. The other instruments provide a subtle and tangled rhythmic foundation, while quiet but ever-present electronics bubble underneath. Near the end of the track, the interviewee takes center stage. Other than an electronic tone, the voice is unadorned. Since she is speaking Polish, her voice will exist only as musical material for many listeners. One is led to compare and contrast the information she delivers as a sonic event versus the actual words she says.
On “Andenk an Belz…in the papers, she was Polish,” the line between interviewees and ensemble is further eroded, with multiple voices and melodies intertwining with each other. Majeska’s voice and Palosz’s cello seem to come in and out, trying to take their place within the human voices, rather than stand apart from them. Then Palosz is joined by Zarocki, and slowly the ensemble emerges, seeming to freely improvise but maintain the plaintive mood of the voices. These passages find the ensemble at their most full-throated and reveal the fascinating interaction the instrumentalists are capable of achieving. When the vocal melody returns, it is in a beautiful duet with Szamburski’s clarinet.
That Which Has Remained…That Which Will Emerge is a challenging yet captivating album. Not only is the thematic inspiration behind the work important, but the music is a complex web that the listener will happily spend many listening sessions trying to untangle. While the voices of the interviewees come to the fore then move into the background, they undoubtedly are the heart of the music. Their stories, whether in English or Polish, seem to come through, both intellectually and emotionally. This isn’t easy music, but it is rewarding.
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