LISTEN: Composer's Corner with John Luther Adams

Feb 15, 2017

Credit (Chad Botkin, NYT)

"Francis Vincent Zappa" or legendary rock-star, Frank Zappa, was one of the biggest influences of the music of composer John Luther Adams. As were composers Edgard Varèse and Henry Cowell, who wrote edgy, avante-guarde music that isn't exactly melodic. "I couldn't get enough of it," Adams said thinking about how he dug through records of these independent-minded composers. 

Adams, too, writes non-melodic music, but it is much more inviting than many of the composers he sought out as a young man. And his pieces are often inspired by nature. For instance, his Pulitzer-Prize winning composition, "Become Ocean" was written on the coast of Mexico in the Sonoran Desert. 

Cover photo for the CD "Become Ocean"

This 42-minute piece is a sea of kaleidoscopic sound that entrances the listener from start to finish. As Adams explains in this episode of Composer's Corner, the piece is "all about waves." The shape of the piece is a sine wave made up of sine waves. The sound builds and diminishes in successive peaks and troughs just like a wave. Adams divides the orchestra into 3 choirs -- woodwinds, brass and strings -- and these choirs ebb and flow as parts of a whole, just like the earth's oceans. 

As for the explanation to the title, the composer leaves us with one clue on the inside cover of the score, "Life on this earth first emerged from the sea. As the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans find ourselves facing the prospect that once again we may quite literally become ocean."

Check out the episode here:

Take a listen to the entire piece here: