Commissioned by Kings Place, London. Co-Commissioned by The Cork International Choral Festival/Chamber Choir Ireland with funds from The Arts Council of Ireland/An Chomhairle Ealaion and Carnegie Hall.
Commissioned by and dedicated to the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra for its Centennial Anniversary.
“An ever-changing scheme of superimposed tempos conveys the complexity of geological layering. The harmony, likewise, is governed by mutating stacks of intervals. At the midpoint of each “range” section, the chords assume a snow-capped tonal grandeur. The ‘basins’ are interludes of tremulous repose, with bursts of drumming breaking through shimmery string textures….In a famous passage in ‘My Antonía,’ [Willa] Cather contemplated the unending vistas of the plains and wrote of the joy of being ‘dissolved into something complete and great.’ The sounding immensity of ‘An Atlas of Deep Time’ afforded the same uncanny pleasure.” - Alex Ross, The New Yorker
Houses of the Wind is a shimmering, mesmerizing electro-acoustic piece composed in 2021.
The composer writes:
“Much of my music of the past thirty-some-odd years has grown out of my experiences listening to aeolian harps. Yet, until now, I’ve never incorporated those sounds directly into the music
“In the last two decades of the 20th century, I made field recordings of elemental sounds all over Alaska—fire, ice, thunder, glaciers calving into the sea. Recently, I transferred those aging tapes to more stable media. Listening to the very first segment of a small aeolian harp, recorded in the Arctic in the summer of 1989, I was captivated. The voices of the wind singing through the strings of the harp brought back vividly the clarity of light, the sprawling space, and the sense of possibility I had felt.
“Houses of the Wind (2021–22) is composed entirely from that single ten-and-a-half-minute recording, transposed, layered on itself, and sculpted into five new pieces of the same length. The world has changed since then, in ways we couldn’t have imagined. The winds rising around us now seem darker, more turbulent and threatening. Yet still, if this music is haunted by feelings of loss and longing, I hope it also offers some measure of consolation, even peace.”
Commissioned by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, with co-commissions from the San Diego Symphony and the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.
“While Become Desert doesn’t have the easily graspable transitions of its predecessor [Become Ocean], it is packed with moments of drama in microcosm. Over a nearly 40-minute span, those slight twists combine to create a new route toward a grand impact.[…] A vast expanse of heartbreak was surveyed in mere seconds, from the vantage of a vessel that barely had to hum to switch gears.” - Seth Colter Walls, The New York Times
“Compared to ‘Become Ocean,’ ‘Become Desert’ is a study in stupefying stillness. High string harmonics reminded me of the relentless sun. In real life, Adams is often seen wearing a hat. But in this music, there is no protection from aural ultraviolet light. Rustling sounds are like insects or plucked cactus or shifting sand. After a long while, you begin to lose a sense of reality, the shimmer stimulating aural mirages.” - Mark Swed, The Los Angeles Times
“Mahler may take us to the heavens, for example, but who else in the history of composition has so masterfully set us down in the middle of nature, and then enabled us to discover the divine in every sound?” - Jason Victor Serinus, Classical Voice North America.
Commissioned by MetLiveArts to celebrate the opening of The Met Breuer, Soundwalk 9:09 takes its title from the time it takes to walk between The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Breuer: nine minutes and nine seconds.
To The Listener: A Note from John Luther Adams
It’s a well-worn cliché that the streets of the city are noisy.
But what happens when we decide to listen to the sounds around us not as noise, but as musical voices?
Suddenly, the whole city becomes an enveloping, never-ending piece of music.
As we walk the streets with open ears, we hear far more than an undifferentiated roar. We discover much more detail than we might imagine—innumerable small sounds and unexpected pools of stillness. At times we can almost hear the city breathing.
These two Soundwalks are an invitation to listen more deeply to the music of the city.
All the sounds were recorded in the streets between The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Breuer. In composing these pieces I’ve added nothing more, but simply sculpted and filtered these street sounds to reveal resonances that lie hidden around us all the time.
Listening carefully you may pick out the faint aura of human voices, the ubiquitous chipping of sparrows, echoes from a distant trumpeter, the melodic contours of a jackhammer, or bell tones emanating from the airbrakes of a passing bus.
These pieces are not complete until you are present—listening, walking your own route, and creating your own unique mix with the sounds you encounter.
The ideal listening balance between the “live” and recorded sounds is one in which you aren’t always certain whether a sound you’re hearing is coming from your ear buds, your imagination, or from the streets around you.
“[A] hypnotic and ethereally beautiful invocation of wind, sky and birdsong … Adams’s “Canticles” seems to achieve a new symbiosis, folding natural sounds into mathematically ordered patterns. The resulting music combines the pristine freshness of nature with the sheltering symmetries of Gothic architecture.” - New York Times
For five ensembles, performing individually or together, in any combination: winds (6,4,4,2), brass (4, 6, 4, 2), voices (6,6,2,2), 16 percussion, strings (3, 3, 4, 4, 2).
Commissioned by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Washington Performing Arts,
Ojai Festival, Cal Performances and the La Jolla Symphony.
“Over the plashing sound of the terraced waterfalls, framed by thickets of yellow irises, came the lowering rumble of timpani. Cutting through the hum of voices and street traffic and bird song was the gleam of brass instruments: the bright flare of a trumpet and the curl of a trombone, unfolding at first single notes, then fragments, then shining arpeggios that rose and gilded the edges of the cool evening…giving voice to an environment, gently amplifying what the world might be trying to say… ” - Ann Midgette, The Washington Post
For alto flute, bass clarinet, vibraphone/crotales, piano, violin, ‘cello, and electronic sounds. 11:45
Commissioned by the Seattle Chamber Players and the California EAR Unit.
“Inspired by James Turrell’s ethereal installation art, Adams’ thick and undulating wall-of-sound approach suggests a musical corollary to Turrell’s sublime manipulations of time, space and color.” - Josef Woodard, The Los Angeles Times
“… the standout work of the festival … a shimmering spectrum of massive, merging harmonies … the textures of noise as our contemporary counterpart to the sublime.” - Thomas May, Seattle Weekly
Commissioned by Music Nova for the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra.
“Together, the orchestra and the electronics evoke a vast rolling sea. Waves of Perfect Fifths rise and fall, in tempo relationships of 3, 5 and 7. At the central moment, these waves crest together in a tsunami of sound encompassing all twelve chromatic tones and the full range of the orchestra.” - Mike Dunham, Anchorage Daily News
“It opened with a riveting gesture, in which all the instruments swept upward through their full ranges in huge, lush arpeggios at different tempos, settling at last into a calm chord. That gesture came back again and again and again, initiating each new phrase of the piece. For an hour several rhythmic levels flowed in contradiction to each other, the string quartet launching into a new crescendo while the orchestra was still, the pianos booming into new arpeggios as the string quartet was still, some lines doubled in unison but otherwise hardly any two levels of activity ever at the same speed… At last the rhythmic levels dropped out one by one, and the piece died away with a radiant pp chord in the orchestral violins.” - Kyle Gann, PostClassic
“…a shimmering, minimalist, impressionistic landscape of sound: rolling waves from the piano, gentle whooshes from the percussion, augmented by an occasional loud groan from the computer.” - Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Commissioned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, WNYC and the Subtropics Festival.
“All noise contains pure tone. And the complex sonorities of percussion instruments conceal choirs of inner voices. In The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies my search is to find and reveal those voices.” - John Luther Adams
“…a massive new canvas… a 69-minute, eight-movement series of sonic environments…” - Richard S. Ginell, Los Angeles Times
For celesta, harp (or piano), 2 vibraphones, string quartet. 18:00
Commissioned by the Third Angle New Music Ensemble.
“Adams’ music made the unseen visible, like breath exhaled into frosty air, a bodilessness pulsing with life. His rising and falling themes, traded among the strings, built a prayerful melodic arc that stretched out to infinity yet spoke directly to the individual soul.” - Grant Menzies, The Oregonian (Portland)
For orchestra – (picc, 2 flts, 3 obs, 3 clnts, 2bsns, contrabsn, 4 hns, 2 tpts, 2 tbns, tba, timp, susp cymb, vibr, mar, strings).
“…Adams… likes to explore a single sonic and find the teeming life inside… this 12-minute piece of shifting, crackling timbres had a burning intensity.” - Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times
“…a mesmerizing Transcendentalist tone poem that shimmers with myriad orchestral colors… Adams suspends motion without putting his audience to sleep. Hearing this piece was not unlike pondering a Byzantine icon, focusing on gorgeous details while still appreciating the mystery of the whole.” - Kenneth Herman, San Diego Arts
“John Luther Adams, in his The Light That Fills the World, keeps all the orchestra in play, sections changing chords in nonsynchronous patterns for an always-shifting color formula. Everyone contributes to the group energy, no one counts rests, and every role is more or less equivalent.” - Kyle Gann, The Village Voice
For violin, vibraphone, piano, sustaining keyboard, contrabass instrument. 30:00
<a href="../front/recordings/35">Recorded on Cold Blue Music</a>.
“…an unbroken, slowly shifting, many-hued sound texture… frequently energized by internal ripples and coruscations… the discipline imposed by the work’s own internal structures has the effect of disclosing, within the sound mass, particular dimensions of power, range and beauty…” - Christopher Ballantine, International Record Review
“… the music moves across its vast duration with an untroubled serenity. Shifting clusters in the vibratoless string orchestra form the cushion over which the trio and the quartet solo. The trio plays arpeggiated figures that evoke bells of various sorts. The string quartet has virtually all the melodies in the work, which are inevitably slow moving and somewhat yearningly lovely…” - John Story, Fanfare
“… a highly intellectual and deeply sensual work… The mix of beauty and brutality correctly reflects the northern landscape the work depicts… the aching tension, unease and sense of danger that laces through its sonorities.” - Mike Dunham, Anchorage Daily News
“The Time of Drumming demands that an entire orchestra pound the sound into the back wall of the hall… For inspiration, Adams turned to the Yup’ik drumming he has admired since moving to Alaska twenty years ago, and cross-fertilized it with the brute orchestral force of Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring'”. - Mike Dunham, Anchorage Daily News
“engrossing and irresistible” - Daniel Cariaga, The Los Angeles Times
“Percussion here portrays the ‘terrifying event’...” - John Luther Adams
“Strange and Sacred Noise is a masterpiece, not just for percussion music, but for contemporary classical / experimental / avant-garde / whatever-you-want-to-call-it music.” - Christian Hertzog, Sequenza 21
“…a ruminative tapestry of arresting beauty… a vast space filled with shimmering textures and tintinnabulary outbursts.” - Allan Ulrich, The San Francisco Examiner
“…hypnotic, mesmerizing. You felt as if should you have to move, you’d best do it in slow motion, so as to not break the fragile bubble surrounding you. Shift languidly, as if under water, so that you do not risk disturbing the surface while you listen to eerie clang and muffled beat of water slapping at boats moored… somewhere.” - Carol Furtwangler, Charleston Post and Courier
“…John Luther Adams’ powerful Earth and the Great Weather was less a traditional opera, more an environment in which to contemplate the fragile sounds the composer created and the bleak, beautiful landscapes he evoked… Vocal quartet Synergy gave a restrained but potent performance verging on ritual enactment.” - BBC Music Magazine
“…a powerful amalgam of poetry, philosophy and music…” - Opera Magazine
“…a ravishingly beautiful landscape…” - Alan Ulrich, San Francisco Examiner
“…wondrous soundscapes of place and the imagination. I can’t remember when a new piece of music has been as thought-provoking as The Far Country of Sleep.” - Marilyn Tucker, The San Francisco Chronicle
“I’m working as a fire lookout on Aztec Peak in Arizona. Used to work same job on N. Rim of Grand Canyon. Your musical evocation of the hermit thrush, common to both places, moved me to tears.” - Edward Abbey, Letter, July 1978
“…one of the most sensitive reworkings of birdsong since Messiaen’s.” - Ear Magazine
” …exquisitely gentle evocations of wilderness sounds… songbirdsongs transformed the auditorium into the aural equivalent of some enchanted forest…The effect was musical magic.” - News and Courier/Evening Post (Charleston, S.C.)
“…uncanny… songbirdsongs is a beautiful recording.” - John Schafer, NPR
“…charm and a real feeling for the nature of nature’s music.” - Eric Salzman, Stereo Review
“un monde d’enchantement sonore, vibrant de mystere et de poesie.” - Le Devoir (Montreal)
His music perfectly echoes the landscape he loves: impersonal, relentless, larger than human scale, yet gorgeous, a quiet chaos of colors, suffused with light. It’s not a climate everyone could live in. But for those who want to bathe their ears in an aural aurora borealis while staying warm inside, it’s a spiritual odyssey well worth taking. - Kyle Gann