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Governors Island, NY—Ten Thousand Birds

September 18, 2021 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm


Ten Thousand Birds is based on the songs of birds that are native to, or migrate through the American northeast and midwest. It explores the connections between nature and music, a topic that John Luther Adams has pursued over the course of his remarkable career. Most recently in Sila: Breath of the World and Become Ocean (for which he won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize and Grammy) he has portrayed—in big musical gestures—the awe one experiences in response to nature’s grandeur. In Ten Thousand Birds, on the other hand, the source of inspiration is particular birdsongs, captured in minute detail. Adams writes: “In this music, time is not measured. Each page in the score will be its own self-contained world that occupies its own physical space and its own time.”

Ideally suited for pandemic circumstances, Ten Thousand Birds has an open, modular structure: each page of music can be combined in varied ways. Our 70-minute interpretation, designed by Alan Pierson, follows the cycle of a day, starting with bird songs heard in the morning, then afternoon, evening, night, and return to morning. It also uses space by moving the performers around the venue as they play, and encouraging the audience to walk around to experience the music from many perspectives.

Meaning of work for pandemic:

Outdoors in space
Connecting people with nature
Finding peace in the world and bringing us into wide open communal spaces
Alarm Will Sound performs the work in an open-space setting (whether indoors or outdoors) where performers and audience move freely around the space and each other. In that way, the piece is analogous to a walk in which you discover birds and other natural sounds. The connection between nature and music is enhanced by this unconventional, open setting because the experience would be transformative in subtle yet profound ways: as the bird-song sources become music, the open setting becomes an artistic space, blurring the lines between human creativity and natural phenomena.

Alarm Will Sound premiered Ten Thousand Birds to inaugurate the Public Media Commons in St. Louis, where it was recognized by St. Louis Magazine as one of the best events of 2014.

“I don’t make peace with the immensity of the world – I find peace in the immensity of the world. Nothing comforts me more than to feel small, insignificant, vulnerable, evanescent, mortal. That’s close to the heart of religious experience for me,” said John Luther Adams, composer of Ten Thousand Birds. “That may sound weird, but that’s what I want to connect with through music. That’s what I hope, at times, the music does for you as a listener. It just reminds you of those things, invites you to wake up and pay attention.”

We are inseparable from this profoundly sensuous world that we inhabit. In fact, the whole shape of the human mind is formed in response to light and wind and sounds and birdsongs and leaves. I’m enough of an ecologist in that sense, I guess, to believe that really we don’t create anything. We could argue it becomes a game of syntax. Is there such a thing as abstract thought, or not? My point is that just about everything that we imagine, we’re inventing or creating, is really just an echo, just a response to creation itself.

“John’s music is about creating musical communities that connect us to one another other, and to the Earth. This kind of community has never been more deeply needed than it is now,” said Alan Pierson, artistic director of Alarm Will Sound. “And so, bringing his work into the world at this moment — as we ourselves take our first careful steps out of lockdown — is deeply meaningful and joyful for all of us in Alarm Will Sound.”

The reason that music is worthy of a lifetime of devotion is that it’s so much bigger than I am. It’s so much bigger than I can ever expect to understand. It’s my life’s work and I still have no idea what music is.

Note: In the event of poor weather conditions, all concerts will be re-scheduled for the following day, Sunday at 1 and 3PM. Please check our website for this updated information.


September 18, 2021
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Event Category:


Governors Island at Nolan Park
New York, NY 11231 United States + Google Map
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