John Luther ADAMS (b. 1953)
Four Thousand Holes [32:51]
… And Bells Remembered … [10:06]
Stephen Drury (piano)
Scott Deal (percussion)
The Callithumpian Consort/Stephen Drury
John Luther Adams, electronic “aura”
rec. Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory of Music, no date provided.
COLD BLUE MUSIC CD 0035 [42:57]
Listening to this disc over and over, I’ve been trying to figure out what I could say about it. I’ve also been trying to decide if I like it. A previous recording by the composer, The Light that Fills the World, left me cold. As for this one, I’m still on the fence.
John Luther Adams - not to be confused with the minimalist composer John Adams - is a “new music” composer who brings varied influences to his works. Initially a drummer in a rock band, he expanded his musical horizons, notably discovering the music of Morton Feldman. While influences of Feldman’s music can be heard here, I find that this disc - at least the work Four Thousand Holes - reminds me more of ambient compositions by Brian Eno and Harold Budd. While Adams’ work is a bit more aggressive - as far as one can call this semi-ambient work aggressive - it nevertheless maintains much of the spirit of long-form ambient compositions of the 1970s and 1980s.
The piano takes centre-stage in Four Thousand Holes, with a number of chords and simple melodies and progressions playing throughout. There is little obvious structure, though key changes are apparent. The “electronic aura” is “electronic sounds created by processing the acoustic instruments’ sonorities”, a sort of odd electronic sound that holds up the work, sounding like chords played backwards, going from decay to attack.
Adams, writing about this work, says the following:
“Four Thousand Holes is my own effort to re-appropriate and reclaim for myself something of my own musical past. For the first time since my days as a rocker, I’ve chosen to restrict myself to major and minor triads — those most basic elements of Western music (both pop and classical). But I’ve tried to assimilate them fully into my own musical world. Approaching these simple chords as found objects, I’ve superimposed them in multiple streams of tempo, to create darker harmonies and lush fields of sound.”
I guess that is as good a description as any. The work is an amalgam of chords, loosely organized, following a limited number of progressions, remaining in one key, which gives an overall coherence. Again, I’m not sure what to think of it; unlike some ambient-influenced works, I’m not convinced that I either do or don’t like this work, but for anyone interested in discovering it, try and find some long sound samples on the Internet; 30-second samples won’t be enough to appreciate it.
The second work on this disc is … And Bells Remembered …, a work that Adams began composing in 1973. “The instrumentation has changed. The notation has changed. The specific details of texture, the sequence of events has changed. But the overall sound, the harmonic colors, the feeling is the same.”
This is just over ten minutes of very slow melodies played on bells. Not much happens. Bells are rung.
Kirk McElhearn
Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just music on his blog Kirkville (
New ambient-influenced music from a composer with much to say. Many may dislike this album, others may love it. Which will you be?