John Luther Adams

The CD box-set of John Luther Adams' 'the become trilogy': the box itself and the three CD sleeves for 'become river', 'become ocean; and 'become desert'.

I’d known of the composer John Luther Adams' name long before hearing any of his music. Having read several positive reviews of his work, and having caught a few snippets of his piece Become Ocean on the radio, I thought I should give his music a proper hearing. About this time last year I ordered the 3-CD box set of his Become trilogy. The three works Become Ocean, Become Desert and Become River all get a CD apiece, which wasn’t altogether necessary with the former two works clocking in at around forty minutes' duration, and the third just shy of a quarter of an hour. Become River attempts to represent its subject by gradually moving from high & bright tones to deeper & broader ones. The other two pieces are broadly palindromic, although Become Ocean conveys something of a cyclical sense of oceanic grandeur, while Become Desert feels more akin to a diurnal transition from night to day and back again.

I was enamoured enough with these pieces to aquire another album of JLA’s soon afterwards – Sila: The Breath of the World. This contains a single piece which is intended to give both performers and audience considerable latitude in how the music is created and experienced: “Sila is scored for five ensembles of 16 musicians – woodwinds, brass, percussion, strings, and voices – who may perform the music in any combination, successively or simultaneously, outdoors, or in a large indoor space. The musicians are dispersed widely, surrounding the listeners, who are free to move around and discover their own individual listening points.” Hence any recording of the work can only be a snapshot of a single interpretation of it. Nevertheless, it does make for compelling listening. As it’s presented here, it makes an opposite kind of movement to Become River inasmuch as it starts with low notes and ends with high ones, as though embodying an irresistable ascent over the course of about an hour’s duration.

And, the other day, the post brought me the CD Darkness and Scattered Light where the sole instrument is Robert Black’s double bass, either heard solo or, on the title track, in five overdubbed parts. As I’ve only played it once this far I won’t attempt any kind of review. The cover image is in a similar nebulous vein to the one used for Sila.

CD copies of the albums 'sila: the breath of the world' and 'darkness and scattered light' both featuring music composed by John Luther Adams.