Lukas Ligeti is an Austrian/American composer and improvisor (drums and electronics) based between the US and South Africa. A recipient of the Herb Alpert Award in Music, he served on the faculty of the University of California, Irvine and is currently an Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria. He co-founded the groups Beta Foly (Côte d’Ivoire) and Burkina Electric (Burkina Faso), receives commissions from many of the world’s leading new music ensembles, and performs at festivals worldwide.
Drawing upon influences including Downtown New York experimentalism, contemporary composition, jazz, and traditional music from Africa, Lukas Ligeti has developed a unique voice as a composer and improvisor.
Lukas Ligeti studied composition at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, Austria, his city of birth. He was a visiting scholar at Stanford University and subsequently lived in New York City from 1998 until 2015. After serving for several years on the faculty of the University of California, Irvine, where he taught in the PhD program in Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology, he is currently an Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria. He has also taught at the University of Ghana, lecturing in collaboration with the eminent composer/musicologist J.H. Kwabena Nketia, and has a PhD from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was previously composer-in-residence. He lives in Miami and Johannesburg.
Lukas received the CalArts Alpert Award in Music in 2010. He has also been awarded two Composition Fellowships by the New York Foundation for the Arts and two yearlong Austrian State Grants in composition, among other awards. His music is featured on CDs on col legno, Tzadik, Cantaloupe, Intuition, Innova, Leo, and other record labels, and he is an endorser of Vic Firth drumsticks.
With performances at major venues and festivals worldwide, his compositions have been commissioned among others by Bang on a Can, Kronos Quartet, Eighth Blackbird, Ensemble Modern, the American Composers Orchestra, MDR Orchestra (Germany), Håkan Hardenberger and Colin Currie, the Vienna Festwochen, Radio France, and choreographer Karole Armitage. His music has also been performed by the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de Lyon, Tonkünstler Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Liverpool Philharmonic Ensemble 10/10, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, etc. He created a sound installation for the Goethe Institute on the occasion of the 2014 Soccer World Cup in Brazil, has participated in two projects of Lebanese sound artist Tarek Atoui, and was artist-in-residence at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, where he created a site-specific performance. In 2019, he was artist-in-residence in Porto, Portugal, where he created a work for improvising musicians and an electro-mechanical, robotic sound sculpture developed by the association Sonoscopia.
As a drummer, he has worked with John Zorn, Marilyn Crispell, Gary Lucas, John Tchicai, Henry Kaiser, Michael Manring, Wadada Leo Smith, DJ Spooky, Elliott Sharp, members of Sonic Youth and the Grateful Dead, etc., and leads or co-leads several bands such as Hypercolor (with Eyal Maoz and James Ilgenfritz) and Notebook. He has given solo electronic percussion concerts on five continents, performing on the Marimba Lumina, an instrument designed by seminal synthesizer engineer Don Buchla for which he has composed a wide-ranging repertoire.
Engaged in experimental intercultural collaboration in Africa for 25 years, he co-founded the ensemble Beta Foly in Côte d’Ivoire and today co-leads Burkina Electric, the first electronica band from Burkina Faso. He has also engaged in collaborations and/or led projects in Egypt (with Nubian musicians and musicians of the Cairo Opera Orchestra), Uganda (with that country’s premier music/dance group, the Ndere Troupe), Kenya, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, etc.
The composer and drummer/electronic percussionist/improvisor Lukas Ligeti has forged a fiercely independent path at the cutting edge of new music, creating strikingly original work cognizant of a multitude of traditions yet belonging to none of contemporary music's known streams or groupings. At the intersection of contemporary composition, Downtown New York experimentalism, jazz, and electronics, his work builds strongly on concepts from various music traditions from around the world, especially from Africa. Often characterized by complex polymetric structures, his music ranges from the through-composed to the free-improvised. He is deeply engaged in the field of "experimental intercultural collaboration", a phrase he has coined. Born in Austria, he lived mainly in New York City from 1998 until 2015 and then relocated to Southern California, where je was a core faculty member of the PhD program "Integrated Composition, Improvisation and Technology" at the University of California, Irvine. He is currently an Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria and divides his time between Florida and South Africa.
After taking up percussion at the age of 18, Lukas studied composition (with Erich Urbanner, Kurt Schwertsik, Heinrich Gattermeyer, and Dieter Kaufmann) and jazz drums (with Fritz Ozmec) at the University for Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, obtaining a Diploma (with “unanimous distinction”, 1993) and a MA (with highest grade, 1997). He also holds a PhD from the University of the Witwatersrand (2020). From 1994 until 1996, he was a visiting scholar at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford University. At various workshops, summer courses, and in other semiformal situations, he also studied with George Crumb, Jonathan Harvey, David Moss, Michel Waisvisz, and John Zorn, among others. He was composer-in-residence at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in 2006, and has also taught composition at the University of Ghana, lecturing jointly with the eminent composer-ethnomusicologist J. H. Kwabena Nketia.
Among his awards is, most notably, the California Institute of the Arts Herb Alpert Award in Music (2010); he is a two-time recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Composition Fellowship (2002, 2008) and of the Austrian State Grant for Composition (1991, 1996), and was awarded the “Förderungspreis” of the City of Vienna in 1990. In 2013 and yearly 2015-19, he was shortlisted as a “Rising Star” percussionist in the Critics’ Poll of the leading jazz magazine DownBeat, and he was a nominee for the Rome Prize in 2017 and 2018. He was also the winner of the NYC-based “UnCaged Toy Piano” composition competition in 2013. Residencies have included Villa Montalvo (Saratoga, CA) and the Emily Harvey Foundation (Venice, Italy).
His 50th birthday, in 2015, was celebrated in NYC with a two-day festival of his classical compositions at the Austrian Cultural Forum and Roulette and a week of his improvised music at The Stone, the performance space founded by John Zorn. The same year, he was Artist-in-Residence at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, where he composed an extensive "performed sound installation" featuring local musicians and material recorded on-site; this is slated for release on CD in early 2020. In 2016/17, the Balassi Intézet (Hungarian Cultural Institute) presented his music in portrait concerts in New York and Los Angeles in conjunction with an exhibition of works by László Moholy-Nagy at the Guggenheim Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). At the Artists Space Gallery in NYC, he gave a solo performance accompanying the silent film "Phantom Limb" by Karin Schneider and Nicolas Guagnini. Commissioned by Mitteldeutsches Radio (Germany), he composed a suite of music for the joint forces of his West African electronica band Burkina Electric and the MDR Symphony Orchestra, which premiered in Leipzig. A piece honoring György Kurtág and composed for the Italian trio Costellazione K was premiered at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, and a solo drum-set work commissioned by Ian Ding was premiered at Constellation in Chicago. With the group Hypercolor, he performed at the Vicenza Jazz Festival (Italy), Salihara Festival (Indonesia), and at many other venues. In 2017, he was a featured composer at the Musica Nova Festival in Helsinki, curated by André de Ridder. He was also one of the featured performer/composers performing on the recreated original stage at the Hellerau European Center for the Arts in Dresden and performed solo at Digging the Global South, a festival of African electronic music in Cologne. A work for 10 musicians, commissioned by Eighth Blackbird for the joint forces of that ensemble and the Amadinda Percussion Group, premiered in October 2017 in Budapest. Recently, he was the resident artist at the 2018 Acéfalo Festival in Chile, giving solo concerts and workshops and the featured guest composer at the 2019 Composers National Collegium at the University of Pretoria in South Africa; also in 2019, he performed an improvised soundtrack to Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” at the festival Look Into the Future in Germany. In August/September 2019, he was an artist-in-residence of the city of Porto, Portugal, and composed a work for an electro-mechanical sound sculpture (designed by the experimental music organization Sonoscopia) and instrumental ensemble. 2021 will see the premieres of two new works commissioned by the Ars Musica festival in Brussels.
Lukas’ compositions have also been commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra (a concerto featuring himself as improvising soloist on electronic marimba, premiered at Carnegie Hall), Bang On A Can (People’s Commissioning Fund), Kronos Quartet, Ensemble Modern, the Vienna Festwochen, the Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich, Austrian Radio, Ensemble “die reihe” (Vienna), New York University/Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, Subtropics Festival (Miami), Historical Museum of Southern Florida, Icebreaker (UK), Colin Currie and Håkan Hardenberger/Borletti Buitoni Trust, Radio France, Performa Biennial, the Austrian Cultural Forum NYC, Kathleen Supové, Phyllis Chen, Jennifer Hymer, Ben Reimer and David Cossin, a consortium of 16 marimba soloists including Eric Cha-Beach and Ji Hye Jung, and many others. His music has also been performed by the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de Lyon, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Contemporaneous, Ensemble mise-en, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, London Sinfonietta, Avanti! (Finland), Ensemble 10/10 (Liverpool Philharmonic), the London Composers Ensemble, Vienna Saxophone Quartet, the Del Sol, Kamus, Koehne and Flux String Quartets, the Amadinda, Kroumata, Synergy, Third Coast, and So Percussion Groups, violinists Darragh Morgan and Lara St.John, trombonist David Taylor, and pianists Ben Schoeman, Jay Gottlieb, Mary Dullea, Mark Gasser, and Imri Talgam, among others. He has been commissioned by choreographers (Karole Armitage, Susan Quinn, Panaibra Gabriel Canda, Bettina Essaka), composed film scores (commissioned by the European TV channel ARTE), and created music for installations (such as a surround sound piece on the occasion of the 2014 Soccer World Cup in Brazil, commissioned by the Goethe Institute Rio de Janeiro). His music has been performed at festivals worldwide.
As a drummer, he co-leads several bands including Burkina Electric, the first electronica group from Burkina Faso in West Africa, the innovative jazz trio Hypercolor (with Eyal Maoz and James Ilgenfritz), and his ensemble Notebook, integrating new techniques of composition and improvisation. He has performed at the Montréal, Rochester, Angel City (Los Angeles), Mulhouse, and Tampere Jazz Festivals, the Opéra de Monte Carlo, High Zero (Baltimore), Angelica Festival (Italy), Wien Modern (Austria), Luminato Festival (Toronto), World Music Meeting (Netherlands), Sauti za Busara (Zanzibar), the Sharjah Biennial (UAE), etc., and has worked with musicians such as John Zorn, Henry Kaiser, Raoul Björkenheim, Elliott Sharp, Robert Dick, Gary Lucas, Frisk Frugt, Tarek Atoui, “Pyrolator” Kurt Dahlke, Marilyn Crispell, John Tchicai, Fred Frith, Jon Rose, Paul Dutton, Michael Snow, John Oswald, Pamelia Stickney, Wadada Leo Smith, Borah Bergman, Butch Morris, Miya Masaoka, George Lewis, Yedda Lin, Thollem McDonas, Benoît Delbecq, Gianni Gebbia, Susie Ibarra, Stefan Poetzsch, Frank Gratkowski, Vincent Chancey, Guillermo Gregorio, Michael Manring, Aly Keïta, Marc Duby, Fritz Novotny/Reform Art Unit, David Rothenberg, Ned Rothenberg, Jonas Hellborg, Wu Fei, Khyam Allami, Maurice Louca, Jim O’Rourke, Rupert Huber, Martin Philadelphy, Eugene Chadbourne, DJ Spooky, DJ Khan, members of Sonic Youth, Wilco, the Dixie Dregs, the Grateful Dead, and many others. He performs frequently on the marimba lumina, an electronic marimba designed by engineer Don Buchla, and has given solo concerts of his music for this instrument on five continents including at the London Jazz Festival, San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, Visiones Sonoras (Mexico), Kala Ghoda Festival and Carnival of e-Creativity (India), Kraak Festival (Belgium), Winter Nights (Israel), Irtijal Festival (Lebanon), Forum Wallis (Switzerland), Unyazi Electronic Music Festival (South Africa), etc.
He has led or co-led experimental intercultural projects since 1994, when he was commissioned by the Goethe Institute to conduct a workshop in Côte d’Ivoire; this led to founding an ensemble, Beta Foly, based in Abidjan, and much touring throughout the late 1990s. His current group Burkina Electric, based in Burkina Faso, is a long-term consequence of this work. In addition to numerous further Goethe Institute commissions, his intercultural work has also been commissioned by various African NGOs, MAPP International (NYC), and the Austrian Development Cooperation. As part of the American Composers Forum's Continental Harmony project (White House Millennium Council), he composed an extended piece for musicians from various Caribbean islands residing in Miami, Florida. He collaborated with traditional musicians in Egypt, performing at the Cairo Opera; in Uganda, he created music in collaboration with members of that country's foremost music and dance group, the Ndere Troupe. In Zimbabwe, he worked with Batonga musicians; in Lesotho, he collaborated with some of the few remaining virtuosos of the lesiba, an unusual and nearly-extinct instrument, while in Kenya he was a guest artist in the Goethe Institute's Ten Cities project, an exchange of ideas about electronic dance music.
Lukas Ligeti’s music has been released to high acclaim on three CDs on the Tzadik label as well several more on the Cantaloupe, Intuition, Leo, TUM, Wallace, and Innova labels, among others. His newest CD, documenting his work as an artist-in-residence at the POLIN Museum in Warsaw, was released in 2021 by the Austrian label col legno. He has curated various festivals and concerts including Ohren auf Europa (2007), a festival consisting of four concerts of contemporary music at the Tonhalle in Düsseldorf, Germany; on that occasion, he was commissioned by the Tonhalle to compose a piece for the Notabu Ensemble, a Düsseldorf chamber orchestra. He has also curated a month of concerts at The Stone in NYC (2009), and the CD compilation "The Politics of Sound Art" for Leonardo Music Journal (MIT Press, 2015), and was a member of the curatorial team of the Brooklyn concert venue National Sawdust.
Articles by Lukas Ligeti on various aspects of his music have been published in academic periodicals such as Leonardo Music Journal (MIT Press) and Postamble (University of Cape Town) and in the book Arcana II, edited by John Zorn. His marimba solo work “Thinking Songs” was recently the subject of a dissertation by Caitlin Jones (University of South Carolina). Lukas has presented talks on various topics at conferences such as A Body of Knowledge: Embodied Cognition and the Arts (UC Irvine), György Ligeti Symposium (Sibelius Academy, Helsinki, Finland), Pan African Society for Music and Arts Education (Mbabane, Swaziland, and Victoria, Seychelles), South African Society for Research in Music (Northwest University, Potchefstroom, South Africa), Orpheus Doctoral Conference (Orpheus Trust, Ghent, Belgium), and the Working Group on African Musics of the Council of Traditional Music (University of Ghana, Legon). He is a board member of NewMusicSA, South Africa’s ISCM chapter, and has served as an external examiner for the University of South Africa and Northwest University in South Africa, the CUNY Graduate Center in the US, and as an assessor for South Africa’s National Research Foundation.