|Red Arc / Blue Veil CB0026|
The four pieces that make up this CD Dark Waves, Among Red Mountains, Qilyuan, and Red Arc/Blue Veil are for various combinations of one or two pianos, percussion, and electronics. Each piece is built from a complex, polyrhythmic layering of voices that combine to form large, multi-arch musical shapes that explore a rich palette of harmonic and timbral colors, lush textures, and clear, simple compositional forms. This is music of broad strokes and ever-changing ebb and flow.
The composer writes about these pieces:
John Luther Adams has created a unique musical world rooted in wilderness landscapes and natural phenomena. His music includes works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, soloists, and electronic media, and is recorded on the Cold Blue, New World, Cantaloupe, Mode, and New Albion labels. His book Winter Music is published by Wesleyan University Press, and his writings about music and nature have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies.
Stephen Drury is well known as a champion of contemporary music. His repertoire extends from Bach, Schubert, and Liszt to the complete piano sonatas of Charles Ives and music by John Cage, Elliott Carter, Frederic Rzewski, John Zorn, Morton Feldman, Gyorgy Ligeti, and Luciano Berio. He has commissioned new works from John Zorn, John Cage, Terry Riley, Lee Hyla and Chinary Ung. Drury has performed throughout the United States, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. He teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music, where he directs the Callithumpian Consort. He has recorded for Mode, Tzadik, Avant, New Albion, Catalyst, MusicMasters, and Neuma.
"Theres a sense of vast, open space in John Luther Adamss music thats without a ready parallel among American composers. Carl Ruggles, from the early 20th century, probably comes closest, but composition has largely been an urban pursuit, and Adams, living in Alaska, breathes different air from the rest of his colleagues.
The four postminimalist works here each play out over 10 to 15 minutes, but sound as if they could go on forever. Among Red Mountains, played by pianist Drury, places loud cluster chords up against each other, and lets the piano ring out. As the repeated chords fade, you start to notice different notes inside, and what looks pretty basic on paper turns out to be deep and rich. Drurys playing sounds as if it could fill the Bering Strait, especially as he bangs out big music in the bass clef.
The same goes for Qilyuan, for four bass drums. The percussionists repeated rhythms create waves of sound, and again, the music cascades out on a grand scale. The throbbing echoes created by all the stickwork add a third layer of activity similar to the resonance of the piano in Among Red Mountains.
Dark Waves opens the disc, with two pianos. Unlike the chords of Among Red Mountains, here the pianists trade motives and fragments, interspersed with electronic sounds. Piano, percussion and electronics come together for the title piece at the end. Deals tinkling vibraphone and crotales (antique cymbals) play off Drurys meditative piano, and the wide vista stretches out in front of you, waiting." Marc Geelhoed, Time Out Chicago
"Adams strives to create musical counterparts to the geography, ecology, and native culture of his home state [Alaska]
by literally anchoring the work in the landscapes that have inspired it. ... Adamss major works have the appearance of being beyond style; they transcend the squabbles of contemporary classical music, the unending arguments over the relative value of Romantic and modernist languages." Alex Ross, The New Yorker
"John Luther Adams has been making an original music in a solitary mode for decades now, drawing his inspiration from his adopted home state of Alaska. If one has not heard his music before, it's important to emphasize that his voice is not 'picturesque,' nor does he indulge in historical tropes of pioneers or Inuit ethnology. Rather, in the tradition of such American mavericks as Harry Partch and Carl Ruggles (and more recently James Tenney and Peter Garland), he writes music that is often extremely complex and abstract in its details, yet gripping and immediately accessible in its large-scale vision. The Alaskan geography is an inspiration to him mostly in its overwhelming expansiveness and its suggestion of vast natural forces beyond human scale, pointing toward infinity. This new collection includes two works for piano duo, one for two bass-drum players, and one for pianist and percussionist. As is characteristic of the composer, the music in each piece tends to project a 'template' of a particular sound and texture that then gradually changes over about 15 minutes. Dark Waves is all rippling arpeggios and tremolos, while Among Red Mountains consists of chunky overlapped chords, which grow and recede like the geography of its title (I find the ecstatic sound of this piece, breaking through its brutal surface, the star of the show). Qilyuan consists of accelerating and decelerating layers of drumbeats, and is the most austere work, while Red Arc/Blue Veil is an arc of shimmering harmonies that rises and falls one time over its registral ambitus (the percussionist's instrumentation of vibraphone and crotales ensures its brilliant color). If anything distinguishes these pieces to my ear from earlier works of Adams, it's the harmonic content There seems to be a stronger engagement with what one might call 'beauty' than I've heard before. I also feel there's some connection with harmonies built out of the overtone series, though that may be coming as an offshoot of the stacked perfect fifths that make up much of the music. Whatever the reason, I found the waves of sound more sensually satisfying than usual; there has always been enormous force and power in Adams's music, but I've experienced more pleasure and delight in this round. a rich an satisfying program, and one that shows continued growth by one of our most committedly adventurous composers." Robert Carl, Fanfare
"Not to be confused with fellow (and slightly older) American minimalist composer John Adams (Nixon in China, etc.), John Luther Adams (b. 1953) is a postminimalist composer who has made his home in Alaska since the late 1970s, receiving far less popular acclaim, but taking much greater artistic risks. In 2007, theres no question as to which of the two composers I prefer. Like Reich and Glass, John Adams seems to be repeating himself more and more in his advancing years, whereas John Luther Adams seems to be striking out in new directions each time I hear a new CD of his. ... Superficially, the four works on this new CD have little in common. The aptly named Dark Waves finds two pianists producing, in the words of the composer, 'waves of perfect fifths, in tempo relationships of 3, 5, and 7, cresting in a tsunami of sound encompassing all twelve chromatic tones and the full range of the pianos.' To use another watery metaphor, the effect is titanic, and although the mood of the work is dark, there is an openness to the harmonies, even a luminosity, that makes it almost pretty. This prettiness is created, in part, by the use of electronic 'auras' created by sampling and processing of the acoustic pianos. ... Among Red Mountains also explores multiple parallel temposfive, as a matter of fact. While Dark Waves is watery (albeit massive), Among Red Mountains seems to be about solids. The former is Adamss 'Moonlight' Sonata, if you will, and the latter is the 'Hammerklavier.' ... Qilyuan is a tour de force of bass drumminga stampede of insistent sound that slims down to isolated beats and quiet rolls in the middle, only to build back up again at the end, only to be suddenly cut off. Fascinatingly, the sound made by the two drums is not unlike that made by the whirling blades of a helicopter . . . although here, the length of the blades is constantly changing! Theres something very ritualistic about this work, and indeed, Qilyuan is an Inuit word for a 'device of power,' or a shamans drum. ... Red Arc/Blue Veil gives this CD its overall title. Again, electronic sampling and processing are used to alter the sounds of the piano, vibraphone, and crotales, and several tempos are layered over one another. Despite the electronic 'aura,' the ear can pick out the hypnotic rise and fall of the piano, and the more complicated decorations of the vibraphone. Like Dark Waves, Red Arc/Blue Veil is pretty, but it is anything but sweet. ... The performances date from 2004-07, and as the CD was co-produced by the composer, one assumes that he got precisely what he wanted out of the performers and the engineers.
Very recommendable for the adventurous." Raymond Tuttle, ClassicalNet
"American composer John Luther Adams roots the provocative pieces comprising Red Arc/Blue Veil in a distinctive universe where pianos and percussion sonically evoke the majesty of natural phenomena. Despite changes in instrumentation (one piece features two pianos, while another two bass drums), each of the four works emphasizes a buildup of multi-layered, polyrhythmic blocks of sound and compositional development that seems to unfold in slow motion. Dark Waves, presented in a 2007 arrangement for two pianos and processed material (an electronic aura derived from the acoustic instruments' sounds), quite literally rises and falls in waves of perfect fifths. The pianos swell into dynamic clusters of crushing forceAdams' own description, "a tsunami of sound," is not inaccurateyet at the same time seem to gracefully bound through the upper stratospheres. Naturally, the title calls to mind La Mer and Dark Waves does share with it an impressionistic quality, but Adams ' piece is more turbulent and plunges deeper. A melodic dimension is, of course, present but the album's four pieces are first and foremost about physicality, and the brute force of percussive sound. Nowhere is that more evident than in the second piece, Among Red Mountains (2001), where piano chords violently rain down like hammer blows. The relentless and incessant assault is so dizzying, it's easy to lose sight of the piece's guiding idea, the realization of five simultaneous yet independent tempo planes by two hands. Obviously the least conventionally melodic of the four pieces, Qilyaun (1998), an Iñupiaq word for the shaman's drum and that, literally translated, means "device of power," is performed by two percussionists playing bass drums. Best appreciated via headphones, the piece opens with urgent, rapid-fire rolls that then gradually decelerate until they're reduced to single blows (though a roll can be heard simmering in the background) before, predictably, accelerating again during the piece's final third. Though obviously the instrumentation is minimal, the subtle shift in emphasis as rolls in one channel overlap with those in the other manages to uphold listening interest. Rich instrumental color provided by vibraphone and crotales enhances the billowing piano streams of Red Arc/Blue Veil (2001), while processed sounds (again derived directly from the acoustic instruments) add a swarm-like overlay, and function as a fourth instrument of sorts. Not only here but in the other three pieces too, Adams' music might be likened to powerful glacial masses whose movements are so slow they're imperceptible. Ron Schepper, Textura
"Although written for differing forces, these four pieces make an intelligible and satisfying programme heard in sequence; the spacing between them rather suggests the composer hears it this way too. Dark Waves draws pianos into a majestic unfolding of arpeggios and washes of resonance that evoke natural phenomena without the need for mystical baggage, while Among Red Mountains unleashes piano chords of varying density with a steadfastness comparable to the Sixth Piano Sonata of Galina Ustvolskayathough her glowering intensity is worlds away from the elemental immediacy evoked here. Qilyuan is even more reductive in the way that its two bass drums decelerate to the point of utter stasis, systematically regaining their initial velocity by the close, then Red Arc/Blue Veil integrates its intricate piano figuration with the pellucid tracery of vibraphone and crotales to sensuous effect. The performances are as attentive to the needs of this music as one might expect, indicating long sessions refining the interpretative concept of each piece, while the spaciousness of the recording is never at the price of its impact. A pity there are not even cursory annotations included (Adams may intend that his music speaks for itself, but a little contextual information would have been welcome), yet it hardly affects the recommendation for a disc that brings this singular and still largely unheralded composer more fully into focus." Richard Whitehouse, Int'l Record Review (UK)
"Intelligent and evocative." Sonic Curiosity
"His music is at one and the same time accessibledown to the most elementary componentand crucially impenetrable when the final result is heard. Whats clear right away is that the fruits of Adams work introduce a spiritual force of imposing magnitude, so that one instantly tends to link it with powerful natural phenomena or some kind of unknown yet alluring ritual. The four pieces That comprise Red Arc/Blue Veil symbolize a journey of sorts many of these works utilize superimpositions of different rhythmic signatures that materialize into something comparable to the shimmering of a river in under the sun. Essentially, this is another gem from the Californian label for which an artistic misstep or a less than satisfactory release would apparently be considered a deadly sin." Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes (Italy)
"Dark Waves moves through time in a series of swelling and receding sounds, lurking in the lower registers of the pianos for most of the piece. The feeling is one of mesmerizing foreboding. Among Red Mountains, played here with ferocious commitment by Stephen Drury, is made from granitic shards of chords, always loud and distributed throughout the pianos range. The piece is marked by the composers characteristic use of cross-rhythms, sometimes very clear on the surface of the music, sometimes buried in the texture. Its an important part of what gives this work its particular power. The bass drum is one of my favorite instruments Qilyuan, which is scored for four of the beasts includes rolling waves of sound (as in Dark Waves) as well as the cross-rhythms mentioned in regard to Among Red Mountains, with the addition of wonderfully conceived and executed stereo effects, as the sound of the drums moves from speaker to speaker. It would be exciting to hear in performance. The final piece on this well-performed and sensitively recorded disc is Red Arc/Blue Veil. Its a lovely 12-minute meditation on sounds that grow into shimmering objects and then recede. John Luther Adams continues to grow as a composer, and this disc should contribute to his growing stature among active composers." Steve Hicken, Sequenza21
"Somewhere in the distance two pianos are playing. Slowly, very slowly, the sound comes towards you, and just as inevitably the sound recedes. This takes twelve and a half minutes. No development, no real movement, but no stasis either. Whats going on? Nothing and everything. Wheres the music going? Nowhere and everywhere. This sound world is our universe. It exists solely for itself. Its electrifying. So begins Dark Waves, the first track on this new John Luther Adams CD. Among Red Mountains, for a solo piano, is a study in clusters and opposing registers. Hard and brutal, unrelenting, yet strangely spellbinding and impossible to ignore. Red Arc/Blue Veil, which gives the CD its title, is, in form, similar to Dark Waves. Starting quietly as a neo-romantic nocturne for piano and vibraphone, it builds in intensity and volume, as the percussionist changes to crotales, and a big climax is built. Then a return to the music of the beginning, piano and vibes, gentle, restrained, beautiful. All in all, a very exciting issue from a composer whos been working quietly and methodically for some time and he should be investigated because his music is haunting and quite unforgettable. Lou Harrison called Adams 'one of the few important young American composers,' and he might just be right." Bob Briggs, MusicWeb Int'l
"Alaskan composer John Luther Adams (no relation to the other composer John Adams) makes his own kind of music, creating expansive and slow-brewing sonic places with echoes of Minimalism and Ambient. Adams has his own side entry into existing 'isms,' evoking the mystery and majesty of nature as much as he dwells in a purely musical realm. On his recent release red arc/blue veil (Cold Blue), four intriguing pieces combine pianists and percussioniststwo eachto swell and recede and encircle harmonic areas. Happy hypnosis is the upshot." Josef Woodard, Santa Barbara Independent
"I got completely absorbed during the listening. John Luther Adams captured my attention from the very first. the center of this music is just inspiration and, like [Raymond] Carvers writings, surplus has been removed from these compositions. At the same time, despite having no frills, this music has not much of the American minimalists influence. Sure, their shadow is there but nothing more than that Red arc/blue veil is simple but vibrant, melodic and intense this cd is far from wallpaper-music, it goes deep." Andrea Ferraris, Chain D.L.K. (Italy)
John Luther Adams' artistic sound world is a compelling place -- one filled with a colorful, curious, cool, and yet passionate series of carefully calibrated and poised sounds produced by everything from acoustic instruments and percussion to electronics. His influences include minimalism, but he primarily has a penchant for huge soundscapes that convey what Alaska's skies, lands, weather, and light have meant to him in the 20 years he's lived near Fairbanks. This album offers four big works in that lineage. Dark Waves, for piano duet, surges from soft to explosive and from low to high and back. I found it evocative of both Debussy's The Sunken Cathedral and the gamelan-inspired works of Colin McPhee, yet with an insistence all its own. Among Red Mountains, performed here by Santa Fe New Music in 2002, is a solo piano tour de force that paints an aural picture of continent-spanning mountain chains with a lot of brilliant banging (and I mean that positively). Qilyuan is a fascinating piece for two bass drums, full of rhythmic intricacies and sonic eruptions that suggest plate tectonics somehow speeded up to a human time scale. The title work, Red Arc/Blue Veil, casts a wide, rainbow-hued spell with its gorgeous mix of piano, vibraphone, and crotales sounds. The performers and engineering are all first-rate. Craig Smith, The Santa Fe New Mexican
"Red Arc/Blue Veil, the latest from acclaimed minimalist composer John Luther Adams, swirls with the majestic highs and lows of a mountain range. the album is a soaring, shimmering exploration of texture and tone. The resplendent mood of the album, which is one of incredible scale, is immediately rendered on Dark Waves Here, Adams introduces a stabbing, scalar piano melody through a fog of piano drone and pulsating feedback. The piano volleys extend in scope, reaching new heights before crashing down in dramatic rivulets of sound. Among Red Mountains is a formal study of chords that clash and crash together. A challenging composition, it lacks some of the visceral force of Dark Waves but offers more texture in return. Qilyuan is a tour de force of tectonic rhythm, halfway between Japanese Koto and classical timpani. Red Arc/Blue Veil closes this highly recommended album on the same vast panoramic scale as it began." Max Ritts, Musicworks (Canada)
|John Luther Adams's website|