György Ligeti composed music as if he was a 3d printer. He was all about accretion, layering sounds on top of each other, either to build solid slabs of noise or to then slide them about like some queasy sonic oil slick. That's not something you could do in a piece for solo organ though, you're limited to one hand per keyboard and whatever the pedals are doing. Still, it should be possible to get the same sort of effect if you have a bunch of helpers working the stops and letting the organist get on with the business of just using the keys. And since every voice on the organ is available this way, why not introduce the piece by playing all of them at once? Why not pull out all the stops and play all the keys at once?
The reason is that if you do that, the organ catches fire. At least that's what happened during rehearsals prior to the Volumina
's debut. But hey, if you don't mind cripplingly high insurance premiums, you too can stage a performance, and thankfully for us several people have done so since. This version is taken from volume 6 of Sony's Ligeti Edition series, and it's great. The opening rush of sound is suitably terrifying, and I'm especially fond of some of the effects made by what sounds like stops being changed mid-note. But best of all are the moments when it sounds as if the organ is half-exhausted, out of breath as it wheezes out the sort of microtonal sounds that audiences seldom get to ever hear. But the majority of Volumina
is high, thin and tremendously quiet. Post Kubrick's 2001
it's impossible to hear these sounds as anything other than celestial dread, but that does nothing to diminish this astonishing composition.György Ligeti - Volumina(alt)