CD Review: The duo Lukas Ligeti and Thollem McDonas…prepare yourself for a peregrination into a vast spectrum of musical revelation

Lukas Ligeti, Thollem Mcdonas CD coverArtist: Lukas Ligeti and Thollem McDonas
Title: Imaginary Images
Label: Leo Records
Genre: improv/free style/nu music

Review by Dawoud Kringle

The most natural thing in the world is a meeting between two improvising musicians. On Imaginary Images drummer/percussionist Lukas Ligeti and pianist Thollem McDonas have given us an assemblage of deftly crafted improvisations.

According to Thollem‘s website, his earliest memories were climbing up and inside his family’s piano. Born and raised in the San Francisco, he began studying piano at the age of five, he studied with Aiko Onishi, Lou Harrison, and others. After graduating with degrees in both piano performance and composition, he stepped from the concert pianist trajectory to dedicate his time to grassroots political movements and ecological restoration projects. He returned to music in 2005 saw incorporating his myriad experiences into his compositions, improvisations and teaching. He has performed extensively as a soloist, with symphonies, West African drumming troupes, Javanese Gamelan ensembles, punk bands, film makers, dancers, poets and painters and a wide array of divergent musicians. A prolific writer, his essay, Deep Listening and the Peripatetic Life of an Improvising Musician was written specifically for An Anthology of Essays on Deep Listening (Deep Listening Institute, 2012) in honor of Pauline Oliveros‘ 80th birthday. He also wrote for Full Moon Magazine, and for First American Art Magazine. In this last decade alone he has played well over 1,000 concerts throughout the USA and Europe and has released over 40 albums in that span as leader or co-leader on 18 different vanguard labels, to international critical acclaim.

Composer/percussionist Ligeti ( the son of the noted composer Gyorgy Ligeti) holds a master’s degree from the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna where he studied composition with Erich Urbanner. He has performed with musicians from Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Zimbabwe and several other African nations. His group, Burkina Electric, brings together electronica and Burkinabe popular music. Between 1994 and 1996 he was visiting composer at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford University, and in 2006 he was visiting professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He has worked with Elliott Sharp, George Lewis, Henry Kaiser, and many others; and his compositions have been commissioned by the London Sinfonietta, the Amadinda Ensemble Budapest, Icebreaker, the London Composers’ Ensemble, the Synergy Percussion Sydney, the Ensemble Modern, Kronos Quartet, Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Bang on a Can and others.

The first track, “Dark Correspondence” begins with a startling chord, to my ears reminiscent of a violent Asian musical device intended to shock the audience into a heightened state of awareness. Ligeti leads the music through a laid back groove that occasionally shatters itself into sharp, angular pieces. McDonas answers in kind, his metallic tones attack the rhythm from all melodic and harmonic angles.

“Minds Fill In” finds the duo traversing a torrential musical maelstrom. I was raised in Wisconsin, and somehow this track invoked the memories of my youth, walking through violent Wisconsin winter storms. It was doubtless not the imagery they’d intended (if they intended any imagery at all). But it speaks volumes of the evocative power of this music to move the listener in a very deep and fundamental way.

“Whisper Stream” lures the listener into a strange dimension where all solids are liquid, and all liquid is fractal.
As the CD progresses, McDonas and Ligeti forge a psychonautic path through labyrinthine realms of peripatetic musical possibilities and improbabilities distilled into interwoven sets of fluctuations.

This is very cerebral music, and also very emotional in its dare to nonconformity and will to visionary manifestation. Prepare yourself for a peregrination into a vast spectrum of musical revelation.

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