Ligeti’s Atmosphères as a Musical Foreshadowing of Kubrick’s 2001- Part 4 (Conclusions)

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.


“The link between art and real history is the fact that works of art are structured like monads.  History may be called the content of works of art.  Analysing them is the same as becoming conscious of the immanent history stored up in them.” Adorno (1970, p.126).

The bedrock of this essay has been to show how Ligeti’s Atmosphères moved itself away from classical traditions of composing orchestral music.  The parallel drawn by doing so has been to argue for its use in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and while there is no definite answer as to what Kubrick was thinking when using Ligeti’s music, it is clear from the musical analysis that there are indeed a number of ties as well as ironies.

Through its instrumentation, rhythm and meter, tonality and structure, Atmosphères is a clear break away from what could be considered traditional composition.  Ligeti’s arch is not merely a piece of music, mapped out in bar lines but a moment, almost floating on the very concept of time itself.  Whereas classical music so often tended to be beautiful, intelligent mappings of a strict linear time sequence, Atmosphères is at once passing moment, more akin to natural phenomena than man-made.

This is a final crux of the ties between the piece and Kubrick’s film.  2001 remains ambiguous about who exactly instigates its narrative.  Naremore believes that its narrative focuses on the perception of space:

“Kubrick’s film is directly about perception in outer space, which it explores in radical fashion while maintaining some of the elemental pleasures of narrative.” (2007, p.144).

Though this ties in to the readings of the perception of Atmosphères as an entity which gives the illusion of chaos when perceived at the incorrect distance, the film has any number of readings as to who or what built the obelisk and remains pleasingly undecided.  In this way 2001 is about the debate between natural and man-made phenomena; whether something as grand and vast as life happens by accident or at the hands of sentience.

Atmosphères is not such much about this relationship but is a product of it, with Ligeti clearly wishing to remove his own signature and hand from the bare bones of the score, instead wanting to create a moment of which was distanced from a man-made existence within itself.  “That was my point of departure for “woven” music like Atmosphères, where the intertwined strands are so completely blended that you cannot discern the individual parts.” (1983, p.15) states Ligeti, which then further ties into the fact that his creation of woven patterns doesn’t necessarily incur its final use until it is played and away from the hands of its creator.  2001 is about this relationship whereas Atmosphères attempts to enact it.  Though they are, in the end, very different ways of addressing the point in question, it presents a strong tie between the two works and perhaps suggests the final, defining reason why Ligeti’s Atmosphères makes for the perfect overture to Kubrick’s magnum opus.

Adam Scovell



Abrams, J, J., 2007. Nietzsche’s Overman as Posthuman Star Child in 2001: A Space Odyssey from The Philosophy of Stanley Kubrick. The University Press of Kentucky, Kentucky.

Adorno, T., 1970. Aesthetic Theory (1984 edition).  Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

Adorno, T., 1982. Prisms. MIT Press, Massachusetts.

Decker, K, S., 2007. Killer’s Kiss, the Somatic, and Kubrick from The Philosophy of Stanley Kubrick. The University Press of Kentucky, Kentucky.

Ligeti, G., 1961. Atmospheres.  Boosey & Hawkes, New York.

Ligeti, G., 1983. Ligeti in Conversation: Ligeti talking to Peter Varnai (1978), Josef Hausler (1968) and Claude Samuel (1981). Eulenburg Books, London.

Kole, W, J., 2006. Gyorgy Ligeti, composer, dies at 83 from The Seattle Times. [Online] available at:

Naremore, J., 2007. On Kubrick. BFI Publishing, London.

Peitgen, H, O., 2011. A Fractal Friendship from György Ligeti- Of Foreign lands and Strange Sounds. Boydell and Brewer Publishing LTD, Suffolk.

Schnittke, A., 2002. Ligeti’s Orchestral Polyphony from A Schnittke Reader.  Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis.

Schnittke, A., 2002. Static Form: A New Conception of Time from A Schnittke Reader. Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis.

2 thoughts on “Ligeti’s Atmosphères as a Musical Foreshadowing of Kubrick’s 2001- Part 4 (Conclusions)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s