I made a connection with the starry dynamo of night and the cosmos two days ago whilst looking up at the sky and listening to Ligeti’s ‘Lux Aeterna’. It was not by design, my reader, but chance that this music came on, and more than that, it’s effect when combined with all that sparkled above was terrifying, yes, terrifying, as if I had encountered God and felt the fear of God fully, a horror seeping into my very soul – and I don’t believe in God, or know if a soul exists in us.
The association with Kubrick’s use of Ligeti in ‘2001’ was inescapable, and his rejection of Alex North’s original score was undoubtedly the right one. As good as North’s score is it does not come close to creating the same magical effect as, for instance, ‘The Blue Danube’ waltz mirroring the twirl of ships dancing in space. Neither could it match Ligeti’s other-worldly micropolyphonic masterpiece for 16 voices, or the astounding sound mass of ‘Atmospheres’, also used by Kubrick for the film.
Yes, I felt fear, not awe, although perhaps it was a combination of both, and it’s possible that what I felt was akin to that of an astronaut’s encounter with outer space. To be up there, even without the kind of experience had by Kubrick’s pilot, must be truly mind-altering. And I was only standing on Earth, looking up at where men have been.
Once the bond between a filmmaker’s imagery and music is formed, it is there forever in our minds. And so Ligeti’s original Latin text from the Roman Catholic requiem mass is made, remade into a hymn to the galaxies in the same way that Coltrane reached for Interstellar Space on his album of the same name.
In ‘Are We Alone?’, the book of interviews originally intended for use in ‘2001’, Norman Lamm rightly suggests that if intelligent alien life is discovered we would have to re-evaluate ourselves, even reformulate what we are. Music such as Ligeti’s reformulates sound and causes us to reconsider what music is and what it can do under certain circumstances. Kubrick understood this perfectly, and so did I as I stood there seeing all those stars and hearing the sound of Gyorgy Ligeti. All I needed was a UFO to appear and I too would have become a Believer, yes, another so-called lunatic, but of course one didn’t. I’m still more drawn towards the faith that swears by the existence of other intelligent life forms than I am in the gods humans have made.