The Solitary Listener

I’ve been posting way too many photos – probably more of you have already seen Yurp than I imagine – but I couldn’t resist this image of John Luther Adams (front) listening to his Veils and Vesper installation at the Muziekgebouw:


It was a fantastic space for it, high-ceilinged and well insulated from other spaces despite its openness, and surrounded on various sides by wood, concrete, metal, and glass – tieing in conceptually, in that respect, to John’s percussion music, which groups instruments via those categories. Walking among the different loudspeakers, you got a strong sense of each veil giving way to the next, like wandering through a series of waterfalls. I wish I could post a soundfile for you, but the music occupies ten full octaves, and contains lots of subtle acoustical stuff – like Phill Niblock’s and Eliane Radigue’s music, it would never survive MP3-ization.

In response to my last post, John offers:

Last year I revisited Emerson’s expansive essay “Nature”. As always, I was amazed at the breadth and depth of Emerson’s mind. And I realized how much I’d missed in my earlier readings. Soon after, I rediscovered Thoreau’s final essay “Walking”. Reading it took my breath away, like listening to the music of the hermit thrush. It felt to me like coming home.

As you say, Emerson and Thoreau couldn’t be closer in spirit. Yet their sensibilities couldn’t be more different….

In my own music, the human presence isn’t represented in the music itself. It’s there in the presence of the solitary listener immersed within the music.

After years composing music inspired by landscape, my recent works – particularly the installations – have literally become places. Now, I’m beginning to invite the human presence of performing musicians to traverse those lonely landscapes. Still, creating place in sound, time and space remains the heart of my work. I feel this is the best gift I can offer to my fellow human animals.

As our species begins to stare our own possible self-induced extinction squarely in the face, I believe that music can serve as a sounding model for human consciousness. Music can help us remember how to listen, and how to know our place within the larger world we inhabit.

All very true. As for me… well, at least I drive a Prius.