Monday, September 21, 2015

Concert Review: John Luther Adams’ “Inuksuit” in the Park, Seattle, 9/19/2015

“Inuksuit” is an Inuit word for the roughly anthropomorphic piles of stones formerly left to direct travelers in that northern part of the world. This work by John Luther Adams was an attempt to make auditory inuksuit, an “evidence of human presence”; a pile of sounds upon an outdoor landscape.

We arrived on time at Seward Park, Seattle, for this outdoor event, and found that it wasn’t really ready yet. There were percussion stations scattered around the lawn behind the amphitheater; some were collections of drums, others racks of cymbals and gongs, still others random assemblages of glockenspiels, Tibetan singing bowls, and bright plastic vuvuzelas. Some were attended by percussionists dressed in black (MIB and WIB), but others seemed to have no one nearby.

We took a seat in the amphitheater, and waited. There were only a few people about, but gradually others gathered. At some point I realized that most of the percussionists had congregated by a small temporary stick sculpture about thirty feet away, and were beginning to blow through “megaphones” made of paper – producing the tiniest whisper of a sound. The piece was actually beginning, though at first it was indistinguishable from the sounds of the breeze.

Gradually they moved to their percussion stations, as the music became louder and more strident – sirens, honks and trombone-like howls began to sound from all directions. The first drum beat happened behind me, signaling a definite change to the next section. As more and more drums permeated the soundspace, we began to walk around and listen from different angles (as many, though not all, of the by now sizeable audience was doing). At one point nature synchronized itself to the music: as a particularly dramatic gong rang, a bald eagle appeared in the sky, seemed to survey the scene, and then (as the next gong rang) soared to elsewhere. The music progressed through thundering gongs and cymbals into delicate ringing reverberations, mostly from the glockenspiels – a myriad of wind-chimes all playing (if you listened closely) the same melodies, but scattered through time. By the quiet end, something of a sonic fade to white, many of the players had gathered again by the stick sculpture.

The effect of hearing this outdoors is one not easily forgotten. As opposed to in the concert hall, where music of this type is usually heard (whether “conventional” classical or “experimental”, like this), the sound was thinner, more scattered, yet more ambient. It seemed to be coming from all directions or perhaps out of the sky or the earth – undoubtedly Mr. Adam’s idea (he has commented that he wanted to make music that would awaken an environmental consciousness). The score consists of blocks of time, with each musician moving at his/her own pace, playing each part, but not necessarily synchronizing with the others. The result is a scattering of tones from all directions, with each part recalling others but recurring as part of an unpredictable continuum and development – rather like listening to sounds of nature.

John Luther Adams is a composer whose music is often inspired by nature in Alaska, where he lived from 1978 to 2014. Another one of his pieces, “Become Ocean”, has a connection with Seattle: commissioned by the Seattle Symphony, it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014. It, however, is intended to be performed indoors in a standard concert hall setting.

*Another contemporary use of the ancient inuksuk sculptures: in Kim Stanley Robinson's sci-fi novel "2312", inuksuit (plural) have become a form of artistic expression on the planet Mercury as it is being colonized by humans – along with "goldsworthies" (from Andy Goldsworthy).

1 comment:

  1. My group of friends enjoys eating and trying lesser known beers, or the amazing cocktails all the time. This is the best place I know with the most perfect environment. It has become my favorite NYC event space over the last year.