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John Luther Adams (b.1953)

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Adams, J L: Become Ocean

Adams, J L: Become Ocean


Awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music and described by the New Yorker’s Alex Ross as “...the loveliest apocalypse in musical history”, John Luther Adams’ majestic orchestral work Become Ocean is a thrilling exploration of depth, turbulence, eerie silence and ultimately enveloping calm.

Performed by the Seattle Symphony under the baton of Ludovic Morlot, the music casts an expressive arc that’s by turns intimate and expansive - an ebbing and flowing sonic journey that finds the composer testing the very limits of his imagination.

“The title is stolen from John Cage”, Adams reveals, “from a little mesostic poem that he wrote in honor of Lou Harrison. He compares Lou’s music to a river in delta, with all these different influences and currents, coming together in a big beautiful sweep of music. And in the last line of the poem, Cage writes, ‘Listening to it, we become ocean.’ I’ve always been struck by what a beautiful image that is.”

Become Ocean premiered in Seattle in June 2013, and made its Carnegie Hall debut on May 6, 2014. In recent years, Adams has moved to fold natural processes into his approach to composing - the 'earth' element came through in particular with Cantaloupe Music’s release in 2013 of his open-air percussion piece Inuksuit.

Now with the 'water' element represented in Become Ocean (and with 'wind' being an integral force in his latest piece Sila), Adams continues to accentuate what he sees as the vital importance, especially in this modern age of irony and isolation, of connecting to something larger than ourselves.

Mixed and mastered for stereo and 5.1 surround sound, Become Ocean is a truly immersive experience that is meant to be felt at an emotional level. “What I want for you as a listener”, Adams explains, “is to be right in the middle of the orchestra. Become Ocean lends itself very well to putting you in the middle of this ocean of sound, with these three sections of the orchestra ebbing and flowing, rising and falling, crashing over and swirling around each other. It rumbles the floor and tickles your backbone, and at the same time, you feel the depth of the waves and the spray of the sea. That’s what I’m reaching for.”

“This is not an ersatz programmatic music...Adams's 'sonic geography' is a by-product of what can only be described as a keenly felt musical osmosis. If ever an orchestra sounded like an immense sonic object, slowly floating across a vast area, then this must be it.” Gramophone Magazine, November 2014

“a wondrous and tumultuous single-movement work for large orchestra that affirms music's capacity to shift our very state of being...The work combines great formal simplicity...with an almost unfathomable complexity of timbre and, at times, tonal construction. The Seattle Symphony...give an outstanding account.” BBC Music Magazine, January 2015 *****

BBC Music Magazine

Orchestral Choice - January 2015

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Cantaloupe - CA21101

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Adams, J L: Canticles of the Holy Wind

Adams, J L: Canticles of the Holy Wind


Amy Garapic (percussion)

The Crossing, Donald Nally

Lauded by the New York Times as a “...hypnotic and ethereally beautiful invocation of wind, sky and birdsong,” John Luther Adams’ Canticles of the Holy Wind, performed by the renowned chamber choir The Crossing, is his most technically challenging choral work, and yet the music’s mesmerizing aura of stillness encourages listening at its most elemental. The piece is composed for four choirs of eight singers each, and moves through spaces that are as fantastical (“Sky with Four Suns”) as they are serene (“The Hour of the Doves”), always with a connection to our inner world, as well as the world around us.

“John allows us to interrupt our otherwise endlessly forward-tumbling lives,” notes Donald Nally, The Crossing’s conductor, “and experience these sounds as if we were sitting in the woods for an hour. An hour of wind and of sky and of birds. We are drawn to this music, not just for the beauty of its shimmering harmonies and the overwhelming climactic moments, but also for way it inspires a ‘hearing’ of nature, in real time, as we sing it.”

“The sheer sound of the choir is most impressive. The recording is truthful, atmospheric and handles a wide dynamic range very well.” MusicWeb International, September 2017

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Cantaloupe - CA21131

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Adams, J L: Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing

Adams, J L: Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing


Apollo Chamber Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta

"We must be still and still moving

Into another intensity

For a further union, a deeper communion

Through the dark cold and the empty desolation..."

—T. S. Eliot

Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing is a work of musical contemplation, an attempt to consecrate a small time and space for extraordinary listening. The work is titled after The Cloud of Unknowing, a fourteenth-century mystical Christian text, which has much in common with the teachings of contemplative traditions throughout the world. The essence of the contemplative experience is voluntary surrender, purposeful immersion in the fullness of a presence far larger than ourselves. To find communion, we must lose perspective. What, after all, is perspective but a way of removing ourselves from experience?

In Western music, melody and harmony are equivalents of figure and ground. Together, they constitute a kind of musical perspective, which evolved parallel to that of Renaissance painting. In the musical textures of Clouds, I hoped to lose perspective. Surrendering the idea of self-expression, I placed my faith in the instruments themselves, and in a few elementally simple sonorities and gestures. My aspiration here was not so much to compose a piece of music, as it was to evoke a wholeness of music, a sounding presence somehow equivalent to that of a vast landscape. Still, perhaps unavoidably for me, this music has a certain starkness, reminiscent of the light, atmosphere, and land forms of the Arctic.

—John Luther Adams

Clouds is a chromatic exploration of the tempered scale-a sort of Well-Tempered Clavier for seventeen-piece chamber orchestra. It is, in the main, quiet, reflective, contemplative music of a fierce beauty and spiritual depth that calls to mind Morton Feldman.

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New World - NW80500

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Adams, J L: Earth and the Great Weather

Adams, J L: Earth and the Great Weather

(A Sonic Geography of the Artic)


Amy Knoles (percussion), Robert Black (double bass and percussion), Robin Lorentz (violin and percussion), Michael Finckel (cello and conductor), Ron Lawrence (viola), James Nageak, Doreen Simmonds (Inupiat Eskimo performers), Lincoln Tritt, Adeline Peter Raboff (Gwich’in Indian performers), Dave Hunsaker (Latin voice), John Luther Adams (conductor & percussion)

Earth and the Great Weather is a moving 75-minute musical evocation of Alaskan peoples, wildlife and weather. Adams’s writing is based on the aural mood unique to each place and each moment. Innovatively tuned strings, thunderous percussion interludes and voices are deftly woven with the sounds of loons, cranes, wind, waves, thunder and glacial cracking (all recorded by Adams himself) into a sonic tapestry of epic proportions.<br><br>The voluminous forty-page booklet contains the composer’s text - in English, Alaskan Indian, Alaskan Eskimo, and Latin - in its entirety.

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New World - NW80459

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Adams, J L: For Lou Harrison

Adams, J L: For Lou Harrison


The Callithumpian Consort, Stephen Drury

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New World - NW80669

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Adams, J L: Ilimaq

Adams, J L: Ilimaq


1.Descent (16:44)

2.Under the Ice (11:46)

3.The Sunken Gamelan (3:30)

4.Untune the Sky (12:52)

5.Ascension (3:08)


Glenn Kotche (percussion), John Luther Adams (electronics)

Grammy-winning composer John Luther Adams always speaks with reverence about capturing “the tone within the noise,” and if any of his recent work can be said to take that mission directly to heart, it’s Ilimaq. A true electro-acoustic recording that channels the energy, passion and precision of Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, Ilimaq (which loosely translates from the native Alaskan Inupiaq language as “spirit journeys”) maps a vivid, phantasmagorical progression through liquid cascades of percussion, otherworldly ambient soundscapes, harmonic dissonance, melodic convergence and almost everything that’s musically—and sonically—possible in between.

Of course, as the old adage goes, the “map” is not necessarily the territory—but in the right hands, it can come pretty close. Although they both live and work in different, almost diametrically opposed worlds of music, Adams and Kotche didn’t just choose to collaborate on a whim. Back in 2008, while Wilco was on tour in Alaska, Kotche personally emailed Adams and asked to meet. It soon came to light that he had been following Adams’ work for years; by the same token, Adams’ own background as a rock drummer gave him a uniquely informed glimpse of what Kotche had in mind. (As Adams says in the liner notes to Ilimaq, “...in Glenn Kotche, I’ve found the drummer I always imagined I could be.”)

In a review of Kotche’s Carnegie Hall performance of Ilimaq for the 2014 Ecstatic Music Festival, the New York-based blog Baeble Music described the experience as “...48 minutes of an almost violent but passionate performance. The one-man percussion orchestra was sonically heightened by the digital delays that blasted through the speakers. Though we were underground, Ilimaq seemed to seep into the New York City streets.”

“From fierce rhythmic repetitions on the drum to more free-form, ambient soundscapes, the work is scored for three 'stations' of percussion instruments heard alongside field recordings and digital processing of Kotche's playing. This wonderful work is much enhanced in the DVD audio 5.1 surround sound version.” BBC Music Magazine, March 2016 ****

“on this seductive recording, computer-designed sounds merely create an acoustic aura that envelops the quizzical, ruminating patterns drawn by Mr. Kotche, a rock drummer and composer, on an array of percussion instruments.” New York Times, January 2016

“John Luther Adams composes in, for, and about environments. His pieces draw their cues from geologic forces, often tied to them in acoustic installations: the ebb and flow of tides, the shifting of tectonic plates.” Washington Post, 28th February 2016

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Cantaloupe - CA21112

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Adams, J L: In the White Silence

Adams, J L: In the White Silence


The Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, Tim Weiss

Adams composed In the White Silence in 1998 as a memorial to his mother, who died in the fall of 1996, as he had composed Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing five years earlier following the death of his father. While these two pieces share the same number of instruments and a similar form, they are very different from one another as far as sound and orchestration are concerned. In fact, In the White Silence seems to have grown out of Dream in White and White (1992), a fifteen-minute piece in one movement. In the White Silence was premiered in the year of its completion by the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, conducted by Tim Weiss in the Finney Chapel in Oberlin, Ohio.

Like many of Adams’s previous works, In the White Silence is an example of his concept of “sonic geography,” through which he attempts to realize the notion of music as place and place as music and reveals his obsession with the “treeless, windswept expanses of the Arctic.” The title of the work thus points to Alaskan landscapes in a general sense. And like Dream in White on White, it specifically refers to Adams’s fascination with the color of white, a dominant feature of Arctic landscapes. As Adams explains in his preface to the score: “White is not the absence of color. It is the fullness of light. As the Inuit have known for centuries, and as painters from Malevich to Ryman have shown us more recently, whiteness embraces many hues, textures, and nuances.”

Whiteness is evoked in In the White Silence in various ways. First of all, the instrumentation comprising celesta, harp, orchestra bells, two vibraphones, and strings produces luminous and iridescent sonorities. Further, the work often features durations consisting of whole and half notes (“white notes”) and is based - like Dream in White on White - exclusively on the nonchromatic “white” tones (the “white” keys of the piano). These aspects, including the frequent use of perfect intervals, harmonics, and unstopped string tones, all connote the color white.

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New World - NW80600

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Adams, J L: Inuksuit

Adams, J L: Inuksuit


John Luther Adams (percussion)

Inuksuit Ensemble

two-disc CD/DVD and digital formats.

Some musical events encourage a community to take stock of its surroundings, but very few actually fold so seamlessly into the environment itself that they become part of a community’s memory and imagination. John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit is one of those works. Scored for 9 to 99 percussion players who are meant to be widely dispersed in an outdoor area (although the piece has also been performed indoors), Inuksuit has been described by the New York Times as “the ultimate environmental piece,” while the New Yorker’s Alex Ross hailed it as “one of the most rapturous experiences of my listening life.”

The title refers to the Stonehenge-like markers used by the Inuit and other native peoples to orient themselves in Arctic spaces. Adams structured the rhythmic layers in the score to mimic these stone shapes, but there’s an open- endedness to how the music is performed that reflects the sense of freedom behind it.

“Each performance of Inuksuit is different,” Adams explains, “determined by the size of the ensemble and the specific instruments used, by the topology and vegetation of the site—even by the songs of the local birds. The musicians are dispersed throughout a large area, and the listeners are free to discover their own individual listening points, which actively shapes their experience.”

Inuksuit has been performed numerous times, and in various spaces, since Adams first composed it in 2009. This recording, made in the forest surrounding Guilford Sound in Guilford, Vermont, and produced by percussionist and composer Doug Perkins, marks the first time that the piece is available on CD. Adams also sought to capture the experience of the performance in a surround mix, which unlike most commercially available 5.1 mixes, is full-range in every channel. “We wanted to make this feel as live as possible,” Adams says. “When I originally composed Inuksuit, I wasn’t prepared for the strong sense of community the piece seems to create. I’m glad to be able to give some of that back with this recording.”

“Each performance of the work, composed in 2009, varies depending on location and number of instruments: This version, led by Doug Perkins in the woods in Guilford, Vt., features the natural sounds of that environment, eventually reaching a tumultuous crescendo of percussion.” New York Times, December 2013

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Cantaloupe - CA21096

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Adams, J L: Strange and Sacred Noise

Adams, J L: Strange and Sacred Noise


Percussion Group Cincinnati

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Mode - mode153

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Adams, J L: The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies

Adams, J L: The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies


Steven Schick (percussion)

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Cantaloupe - CA21034

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