John Luther Adams

John Luther Adams: In the White Silence

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John Luther Adams has lived in Alaska for the past quarter of a century, and wants you to know it: "I've come to measure everything I do against the overwhelming presence of this place [that] has profoundly influenced the atmosphere and the scale of my work." As such, the 75 minutes (the 19 tracks run continuously; index markers are for convenience only) of In the White Silence are more representative of his aesthetic than other shorter pieces that have appeared elsewhere. Like Arvo Pärt and John Tavener, Adams writes music whose unashamedly beautiful surface cunningly disguises rigorous underlying contrapuntal devices; the fact that the entire composition remains in the same basic mode masks subtle rhythmic relationships between its various strata, and the uniformly slow tempo serves to blur perception of the larger form, cogently analyzed by Sabine Feisst in her accompanying liner notes. "Silence is not the absence of sound," writes the composer. "It is the presence of stillness." But in point of fact the piece contains no silence at all. In the sense that Adams openly aspires "to music that is both rigorous in thought and sensuous in sound," the work, sensitively performed by the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble and beautifully recorded, is a success, but if approached with the slightest hint of irony it could possibly disappoint, and even put you to sleep.

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