Amazing Moments in Timbre #1

We’re beginning our “amazing moments in timbre” series with a true classic, György Ligeti’s paralyzingly beautiful orchestral masterpiece Atmosphères (1961).  This is one of the relatively few avant-garde compositions from the second half of the 20th century to gain popular recognition, due in part to its inclusion in the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey.  It takes Schoenberg’s idea of Klangfarbenmelodie, in which sound-colour or timbre assumes the focal role traditionally held by melody, to a whole new level.  The opening chord has become one of the go-to examples of sound mass, complex combinations of many sounds that tend to fuse together into a perceptual totality.  Listen to a recording, with a graphical diagram of the music’s organization in pitch space, here:   

by Jason Noble