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John Luther Adams: The Place We Began

Release Date: 05/12/2009 
Label:  Cold Blue   Catalog #: 32   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  John Luther Adams
Performer:  John Luther Adams
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

J. L. ADAMS _in a room. at the still point. in the rain. the place we began John Luther Adams (tapes) COLD BLUE 32 (38:21)

“Last summer in my studio,” writes Adams in this release’s booklet notes, “I discovered several boxes of reel-to-reel tapes that I’d recorded in the early 1970s. Using those found objects, I sculpted these new soundscapes from fragments of my past.” That’s about all Cold Blue Music’s typically close-lipped booklet notes have to tell us about “the place we began.”

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Fortunately, the label’s press kit is more informative. (Music critics are unimaginative sorts and need to have their hands held!) “With two cheap speakers and a microphone, I used electro-acoustic feedback to explore the resonant frequencies in a room with hardwood floors and lots of windows,” explains Adams about the tape that is the basis of in a room , the first part of this CD, and of the place we began , which is the last. The second, at the still point , uses two tapes Adams recorded in 1974 on his Fender Rhodes electric piano, and a tape of a tam-tam. The third, in the rain , was recorded just so, with the composer setting pots and pans out in the yard, and also capturing the call of blue jays. In each case, Adams has used present-day technology to develop the sounds on the original tapes. For example, in the first and last pieces, Adams has turned the electro-acoustic feedback into a “twelve-part motet.”

Obviously, many listeners will claim that this is not music at all, but I imagine that they have stopped reading this review by now, so we can safely ignore them. If you don’t like calling this “music,” then perhaps “organized sound” works better, and to the extent that sounds can be just as beautiful or interesting as music (which is, of course, just another type of sound), then why not work with them just as one might work with a musical phrase? This, in effect, is what I think that Adams is doing in these four works. Another clue is given in the quotation from T. S. Eliot that appears in the booklet and gives this CD and the fourth piece its name: “. . . to return to the place we began and know it for the first time.” Adams’s rediscovery of more than 30-year-old tapes, and the feelings that this rediscovery awakened in him, apparently was, in itself, an act of artistic (re)creation.

Adams’s use of the word “soundscapes” is wholly appropriate, and suggests how listeners might want to approach this CD. This isn’t music with melodies, rhythms, and harmonies in the traditional sense. (One might argue that they are present in a non-traditional sense, though.) Instead, these are sonic environments in which one can wander, much as one might explore the coastline on a foggy day. In each piece, there is a pervasive mood and color, and one might almost call these works static, except for the fact that they are never at rest. Neither “beautiful” nor “ugly,” they held my attention primarily as explorations of hue and texture. Your mileage may vary. Like everything I’ve heard by John Luther Adams (no relation to John Adams), they both hold and repay my attention.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

In a room by John Luther Adams
Performer:  John Luther Adams (Sound Effects)
Length: 8 Minutes 35 Secs. 
In the Rain by John Luther Adams
Performer:  John Luther Adams (Sound Effects)
Length: 8 Minutes 58 Secs. 
At the still point by John Luther Adams
Performer:  John Luther Adams (Sound Effects)
Length: 12 Minutes 31 Secs. 
The place we began by John Luther Adams
Length: 8 Minutes 15 Secs. 

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