A MUSICAL ESSAY ON TIME
“Music from the solitude of timeless minutes” – so runs the title of Miklós Lukács’s new CD, which for me is less about timelessness, and much more about time itself. Already in the first moments of the opening track, Introduction to a Dream, two distinct concepts of time become apparent: time that exists independently of all else, and that of time determined by our subjective perception. The ticks of the metronome, coming in regular, impersonal uniformity, embody a concept of time that Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655), a seventeenth-century scientist and philosopher, wrote of in 1644: “Whether things exist or not, whether they are in motion or at rest, time flows just the same.” Then, over the beating of the metronome, we hear wind chimes with their unpredictable rhythm, as if to open a new perspective for the perception of time: it can be articulated not only by a regular pulse, but the moment, the musical moment, can expand and contract, and time is defined by how we perceive it.
As Lucretius, an ancient Roman poet and philosopher (99 BCE – 55) wrote in his long didactic poem on natural philosophy, On the Nature of Things: “Even time exists not of itself; but sense / Reads out of things what happened long ago, / What presses now, and what shall follow after.” And when, alongside the evenly ticking metronome and the marvellous rhythmic chaos of the tingling wind chime we hear the cimbalom, it’s difficult to decide which of the two the CD’s main protagonist is siding with. For initially the strange cimbalom chords seem to follow some kind of rhythm that regularly articulates time (albeit in a different tempo to the metronome), but the gradually unfurling, irregular embellishments lie rather in the world of the wind chimes. The cimbalom is searching for time.
The next piece, Metamorphosis, follows without a break with an explosive start that seems to be about searching for time, except the rhythmic complexity of the theme played by the bass, drums and cimbalom (alternating measures of 8/8 and 9/8, asymmetrically accented) continues to confound the listener. Miklós Lukács, of course, is perhaps not inclined to find either one or the other of these concepts of time (the “timelessness” of the title may even refer to this) because he moves with ease in both of them.
The hypersensitive and deeply lyrical cimbalom solo introduction to Nymphaea is a marvellous manifestation of subjective time: the relationship between long and short rhythmic values is clearly perceptible, though their exact length cannot be notated. By contrast, the fourth track, Memento, is the musical realization of objective time, existing independently of everything: we progress in a rock solid, unswerving ¾, this is what the three musician furnish with thrilling rhythmic motifs (it’s worth noting that the folk music style introductory clattering is heard a little later, from 0:38, at half speed).
For sure, listening to this CD we learn much not only about the nature of time, but also of the way emotions work, and how human communication has its limits. And about solitude, if you will. The solitude of timeless minutes. You constantly have the feeling, listening to these three dazzling musicians, that they are exploring the edges of the human emotional world and thought: a place where it is given to only a few to reach, and from which no road leads further on.
The main protagonist on the CD is clearly the cimbalom and Miklós Lukács: he wrote the composed parts of the tracks we hear, yet his two colleagues are indispensable to him, and not only in the improvised sections. The trio’s name, Cimbiosis, perfectly describes the ideal state of mutual interplay within which the three musicians collaborate: sometimes the bass and drums seem to act as a respirator for the cimbalom, while this two-man respirator draws its energy from the cimbalom itself; elsewhere it’s the cimbalom that provides the bass or the drum the foundation on which to build a solo.
Miklós Lukács has here two fellow musicians, or rather fellow creators: György Orbán, a bassist who once aimed to be a classical guitarist but finally found his home in jazz, and the amazing courageous drummer István Baló, who is committed to free music (and used to play in the band of György Szabados, the legendary figure of the Hungarian free jazz movement). In other words, both of them come from the jazz world in the broadest sense. But the music they have created sits uneasily under the “jazz” label, and this is one of the charms of Miklós Lukács’s musical world: he doesn’t give the listener the facile satisfaction of genre labels. It has no genre; it has style, idiom, atmosphere.
Of course, within this style (idiom, atmosphere) can be found something from jazz too, for sure, but behind the musical ideas there is folk music, in its authentic form, in its art form after its Bartókish transfiguration, in the ornamentation there is Gypsy music, in places the volcanic energy of rock music erupts, and in the logic of the compositions, the complex harmonies, and the relentlessly serious attitude to the music is the entire classical tradition, from Bach through Debussy to Kurtág. In this sense, it is a decidedly twenty-first century CD, for I think the era of genres is over: we can refer to them, but they no longer have any meaning. For the most creative artists, genres are no more than posts at the side of the road: they indicate where it’s not worth going. Miklós Lukács is guided through this genre-free no-man’s land by the sure hand of good taste. I do not know if he is aware of the final destination of this journey, but he certainly senses which way he has to go.
The material on the disc falls into two parts: the first four tracks are clearly separate from the second four tracks. The fifth, Ode to the Death Knell, has a free improvisation that starts again from nothing, and into this swirling chaos there breaks in The Long Life of Ephemera, with its tormenting chords tearing forward at breakneck tempo. From here we move to bleaker climes: the contemporary music gestures of Realistic Visions bear the messages of a world beyond time. The last track, Refracted Silence in a Heartbeat, acts as a kind of epilogue: the lonesome solo of the bass is accompanied by chords of an irrational rhythm on the cimbalom, which conjure up in our memories the wind chimes of the opening track. This time though, it is not the impersonal ticking of the metronome that gives a metric framework to the whole; it is that most personal of sounds, a steadily beating heart. In the words of one of the greatest figures of twentieth-century Hungarian literature, Dezső Kosztolányi (1885-1936): “the pulsating heart of volatile time”.
Translated by Richard Robinson