Four Thousan Holes CB0035
Four Thousand Holes is a sometimes lush, sometimes fragile, rhythmically complex and technically demanding work for piano and mallet percussion (performed by the extraordinary pianist Stephen Drury and percussionist Scott Deal) and ghostly electronic “auras”—electronic sounds created by processing the acoustic instruments’ sonorities.
Unlike Adams’s other works, the pitch material used in Four Thousand Holes is drawn exclusively from Western music’s most basic elements: major and minor triads. In this case they are superimposed upon one another in multiple tempo streams, creating a beautiful yet continuously fracturing sound world—from splintering glass shards to nearly seismic disturbances.
The other work on this CD, …and bells remembered…, performed by the Callithumpian Consort, is a more introspective piece.
The composer writes about Four Thousand Holes:
“I came of age playing rock and roll. And although I left that musical world long ago, the truth is I’ve never really felt completely at home in the classical music world. I’m especially uncomfortable with much of the so-called ‘crossover’ music of recent years, in which classical musicians attempt to expand that tradition (and demonstrate their street ‘cred’) through appropriation of elements from pop music.
“In spite of this skepticism, 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.
“In recent years I’ve been fortunate to form a close musical partnership with Stephen Drury. Steve’s extraordinary gifts inspired me to explore expansive forms and textures (similar to those of my orchestral music) with only one or two performers.
“In essence, Four Thousand Holes is a concerto. To begin I composed the score for the electronic tracks. Steve recorded all of the individual chords that occur in the score. I took those recordings, time-stretched them, reversed their envelopes, and knit the reversed sounds together with their original decays. The resulting waves of sound I layered into ten independent tracks to create the virtual ‘orchestra.’
“Next I composed the piano part, articulating the peaks of all the electronic tracks simultaneously—a feat of coordination that demands considerable virtuosity from the pianist. Finally I composed another multi-layered part for metallic percussion sounds that I think of as sparks emanating from the piano.
“In Four Thousand Holes, strong musical currents fall and rise, again and again, as points and lines are juxtaposed with heavy, hammered chords. The mix of the ‘live’ and electronic sounds blurs the distinction between musical figure and ground. As in much of my recent music, I conceive of the entire piece as a single complex sonority that evolves slowly. As we settle into the sound, we begin to hear long lines, counterpoint, and maybe even the occasional trace of a tune.”
The composer writes about …and bells remembered…:
“In the midnight dusk of this spring evening I sit at the piano. The studio windows are open. The hermit thrush is singing. The quiet chords I’m playing meld with the song of the bird. The cycles of life and music return me again to the place where I began.
“I’m finishing a new piece…a piece I began in the spring of 1973. I was 20 years old, a student at Cal Arts. I hadn’t begun studying bird songs. I hadn’t yet traveled to Alaska. Still there’s something in this music that all these years later I recognize as my own—as if I’d begun it yesterday.
“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.
“What a strange sense of familiarity and detachment. I’m comforted by this continuity across the years. And I understand that the music now has a life of its own, independent of me.”
John Luther Adams, whom critic Alex Ross has called “one of the most original musical thinkers of the new century,” has created a unique musical world rooted in wilderness landscapes and natural phenomena.
His music, which includes works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, soloists, and electronic media, is recorded on the Cold Blue, New World, Cantaloupe, Mode, and New Albion labels. He has worked with many prominent performers and venues, including the Chicago Symphony, the California EAR Unit, Bang On A Can, Percussion Group Cincinnati, Other Minds, eighth blackbird, the American Composers Orchestra, the Locrian Chamber Players, Steven Schick, Sundance Institute, Almeida Opera, and the Radio Netherlands Philharmonic. Adams’s sound and light environment The Place Where You Go to Listen is a permanent feature of the Museum of the North. Currently, he is working on Ilimaq, for solo percussion and electronics, composed for Glenn Kotche (drummer of the band Wilco), and Become Ocean, a large-scale work for the Seattle Symphony.
In 2010 Adams was recognized “for melding the physical and musical worlds into a unique artistic vision that transcends stylistic boundaries,” receiving the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize from Northwestern University. That same year he received the Distinguished Artist Award from the Rasmuson Foundation. Previously he has received fellowships from United States Artists, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. In 2011 Adams is Fromm Visiting Professor of Composition at Harvard University. Previously, he has taught at the University of Alaska, Bennington College, and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and served as composer in residence with the Fairbanks Symphony, Anchorage Symphony, and Alaska Public Radio.
Adams’s books Winter Music and, most recently, The Place Where You Go to Listen: In Search of an Ecology of Music are published by Wesleyan University Press, and his writings about music and nature have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies. Currently he is writing Not Down in Any Map (An Atlas of Memory). The Farthest Place, a book of essays about Adams’s music is forthcoming (University Press of New England, 2011).
Born in 1953, Adams grew up in the South and in the suburbs of New York City. He studied composition with James Tenney and Leonard Stein at the California Institute of the Arts, where he was in the first graduating class. In the mid 1970s he became active in the campaign for the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and subsequently served as executive director of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center.
“Adams’s major works have the appearance of being beyond style; they transcend the squabbles of contemporary classical music.” —Alex Ross, The New Yorker
“His music is haunting and quite unforgettable.… Lou Harrison called Adams ‘one of the few important young American composers,’ and he might just be right.” —MusicWeb Int’l
“Out of many eligible composers of his generation, John Luther Adams is the greatest proponent of the American experimental tradition, a lineage that includes Ives, Cowell, Varese, Partch, Nancarrow, Cage and Tenney.” —Sequenza 21/Contemporary Classical Music Weekly
“The sound of this music is that of overlapping planes of sound.… [T]his is music from someone who knows who he is and what he wants.” —Robert Carl, Fanfare
“Adams’s music can be superficially described as the intersection of two diverse influences: Feldman and Cowell…. [H]is scores bear the ubiquitous marks of Cowell’s multitempoed rhythmic structures….. The Feldman influence manifests itself as a delight in delicately balanced sonorities used as recurring images.” —Kyle Gann, American Music in the 20th Century
“The music of John Luther Adams is simply beautiful. It has a crystalline quality and a peaceful character that evoke the Arctic life… Adams’ music sounds like it has nothing to accomplish. It simply exists, hanging in mid-air, waiting to be listened to.” —All-Music Guide
“John Luther Adams is a great underappreciated composer who has written music of enormous beauty and sophistication while staying true to his roots as an outsider.” —Sequenza21
Stephen Drury is a pianist, conductor, and new music champion who has performed throughout the world—taking the sounds of contemporary music from Arkansas to Seoul—including appearances at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Alice Tully Hall (as part of the Great Day in New York Festival), Bargemusic, London’s Barbican Centre and Queen Elizabeth Hall, Paris’s Cité de la Musique, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, MusikTriennale Koln, the North American New Music Festival in Buffalo, Bard College’s Summerscape Festival, the International Festival of Contemporary Art in León, Mexico, and Moscow’s International Music Festival, as well as at Roulette, the Knitting Factory, Tonic, and The Stone in New York City. (He gave the first piano recitals ever in Julianehaab, Greenland, and Quetta, Pakistan.)
Drury has performed and/or recorded with the American Composers Orchestra, the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Radio Orchestra, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Boston Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the Springfield (MA) and Portland (ME) Symphony Orchestras, the Seattle Chamber Players, and the Romanian National Symphony, as well as orchestras in San Diego, Cedar Rapids, San Angelo, Spokane, and elsewhere.
Drury’s performances of music written in the last hundred years, ranging from the piano sonatas of Charles Ives to works by György Ligeti, Frederic Rzewski, and John Cage have received the highest critical acclaim, and he has worked closely with many composers, including Cage, Ligeti, Rzewski, Steve Reich, Olivier Messiaen, John Zorn, Luciano Berio, Helmut Lachenmann, Christian Wolff, Jonathan Harvey, Michael Finnissy, Lee Hyla, and John Luther Adams.
In 1988–1989 he organized a year-long festival of the music of John Cage, which led to a request from the composer to perform the solo piano part in Cage’s 1O1, premiered with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1999 choreographer Merce Cunningham invited Drury to perform onstage with Cunningham and Mikhail Barishnikov as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. In 2008 he premiered Rzewski’s Natural Things with the Opus 21 Ensemble as part of the composer’s 70th birthday celebration. That same year Drury performed at Cité de la Musique’s week-long celebration of John Zorn’s music. He has performed with Zorn in Paris, Vienna, London, Brussels, and New York, and conducted Zorn’s music in Bologna, Boston, Chicago, the UK, and Costa Rica.
Drury has commissioned new works for solo piano from Cage, Zorn, John Luther Adams, Terry Riley, and Chinary Ung; and he has recorded music of Cage, Elliott Carter, Ives, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Colin McPhee, Zorn, John Luther Adams, and Rzewski, as well as works of Liszt and Beethoven, for Cold Blue, New Albion, Tzadik, New World, Mode, Catalyst, Avant, MusicMasters, and Neuma.
Drury teaches at the New England Conservatory, where he has directed festivals of the music of Cage, Reich, and Christian Wolff. He also has given masterclasses throughout the world, including the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, Mannes Beethoven Institute, and the Oberlin Conservatory. His own teachers have included Claudio Arrau, Patricia Zander, William Masselos, Margaret Ott, and Theodore Lettvin.
“Drury is a true original whose supremely disciplined fingers are at the service of a rigorous, questing, imaginative mind.” —The Boston Globe
Scott Deal is an active new-music percussionist who has performed at theaters, galleries, universities, and festivals throughout North America and Europe. An artist who presents a “riveting performance” (Sequenza 21), and “displays phenomenal virtuosity” (Arts Fuse), Deal has premiered numerous solo, chamber, and mixed media works, and can be heard on the Cold Blue, Albany, Centaur, and SCI record labels. His previous recording of music by John Luther Adams (Red Arc/Blue Veil, Cold Blue CB0026) has been described as “a soaring, shimmering exploration of texture and tone…an album of resplendent mood and incredible scale” (Musicworks).
As founder of the Telematic Collective, an Internet performance group of artists and computer specialists, Deal has performed at Supercomputing Global, SIGGRAPH, Chicago Calling, Ingenuity Festival, Internet2, and Ear to the Earth, and with groups that include ART GRID, Another Language, Digital Worlds Institute, and the Helsinki Computer Orchestra.
Deal is a Professor of Music and the Director of the Donald Tavel Arts Technology Research Center at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. He also serves as artist-faculty on the Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice at the New England Conservatory. From 1995 through 2007 he was a Professor of Music at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (1995-2007), where he founded and developed the school’s percussion and music technology programs. Prior to that, he was Timpanist/Principal Percussionist of the Miami Symphony, and on the faculty of the New World School of the Arts. He has also served as Principal Percussionist of the Fairbanks Symphony, Timpanist of the Arctic Chamber Orchestra, and as artist faculty for the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Miami and a Master of Music degree from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. A writer, lecturer, and clinician on music technology and percussion, Dr. Deal is a Yamaha and Black Swamp Percussion artist. (
The Callithumpian Consort, founded by pianist and conductor Stephen Drury, is an ensemble that produces high-level concerts of contemporary music. Flexible in size and makeup, enabling the group to tackle unusual repertoire in both non-standard and large chamber ensemble configurations, the Consort consists of a long-standing band, the Thump soloists, in the company of a large pool of strong instrumentalists. Its repertoire encompasses a broad stylistic spectrum, from the classics of the last 50 years to today’s ink-still-wet avant-garde and experimental works. Actively commissioning and recording new works, the ensemble has worked with composers John Cage, Lee Hyla, John Zorn, Michael Finnissy, Franco Donatoni, Lukas Foss, Steve Reich, Helmut Lachenmann, John Luther Adams, Frederic Rzewski, Christian Wolff, and many others, and recorded for the Tzadik, New World, and Mode record labels.
“Four Thousand Holes.… Adams describes how ‘I limited myself to the most basic elements of Western music—major and minor triads and four-bar phrases—sculpting these found objects into lush harmonies and rhythmically complex fields of sound.’ The music duly unfolds as a sequence of piano chords over which vibraphone and bells elaborate a glistening timbral interplay which is given a sense of evolution through the presence of an electronic ‘aura’ that opens out the dynamic peaks and troughs for a constantly intensifying process of fading in and out of focus. The outcome, for all the simplicity of its components, is an enticing instance of how complexity in sound can be allowed to happen rather than being calculated down to the last detail: hardly a revelatory concept by any means, though one which has seldom been realized with the poise and creative self-effacement shown here. … It is a piece, moreover, to which …and bells remembered… (2005) provides the perfect epitaph.… Sonically this is appreciably more austere, even hieratic, than the later work—much more, in fact, a commemoration of sound passing than a celebration of its becoming and, as such, the ideal complement on disc. The performances are as dedicated and as attentive as one could wish, captured in sound of undoubted spatial presence and physical impact. There is no annotation other than that already referred to (check the Cold Blue website for background information, as well as the composer’s own website for greater context), but this is hardly necessary for appreciating such music. Make no mistake, John Luther Adams is a major figure and this disc—small but perfectly formed—is a notable addition to his discography.” —Richard Whitehouse, International Record Review
“I know many of John Luther Adams’ works, and love them all. But this album has become my hands-down favorite among them. Adams tends to write very evocative music, often quiet, and also often metrically complex. While I don’t have the scores of these works, there are parts that do sound as if there are various rhythmic ratios played against one another.
“But none of that matters. Both works on this album are intensely beautiful and with repeated listening additional details seem to become apparent. So each time one listens to these works, there is something new about them.
“Four Thousand Holes is a work for piano, vibraphone/bells and electronics (in this recording, the electronics are provided by JLA himself). It is a very rhythmic piece and has some great chordal structures that all emanate from very basic elements. …and bells remembered… involves an array of tuned percussion and is also something to which I enjoyed listening very much.
“There is really not much more to say than that. This is a very worthwhile album, extremely well performed by all the musicians involved, and has postminimalist and totalist elements that I really like.” —David Toub, Sequenza21
“The two works recorded here depart from the sound usually associated with the music of John Luther Adams, best known for his vast sonic landscapes, frequently alluding to or incorporating sounds of the natural world. Four Thousand Holes, whose title refers to a John Lennon quote: ‘And though the holes were very small, They had to count them all,’ from ‘A Day in the Life.’ Scored for piano, vibraphone, and orchestral bells, plus an electronic ‘aura’ provided by the composer, the piece has an uncharacteristically bright, sparkling, occasionally brittle sound. Adams uses only major and minor thirds as the harmonic building blocks for the piece, although they are heard in a variety of keys. There are areas whose dreamy, cloudlike unfoldings make the piece recognizable as Adams’, but some of its blockier, more exuberant sections disconcertingly call to mind the vivid brashness of the other John Adams’s Grand Pianola Music and The Chairman Dances. …and bells remembered… for a percussion ensemble made up of vibraphones and other metal instruments, is, as its title implies, all about ringing, chiming brightness. It’s not that different in its harmonic vocabulary from Four Thousand Holes, but it’s an altogether lovely and mysterious work, subtler, more organically developed, more evocative, and more timbrally appealing. Pianist Stephen Drury and the Callithumpian Consort of the New England Conservatory, led by percussionist Scott Deal, play with consummate attention to the nuances of the scores and to the atmospheric nature of the music. The clarity of Cold Blue Music’s crystalline sound is ideal for these pieces. The album may not be the ideal introduction to Adams for listeners new to his works, but it’s a valuable addition to his discography and should interest his fans open to exploring some less familiar sides of his creative personality.” — Stephen Eddins, All-Music Guide
“I’m a fan of John Luther Adams. I would even go as far as saying that he is my favourite so-called contemporary music composer. Four Thousand Holes features two new works. The 33-minute title track consists in a soundworld of grandiloquent piano chords, percussion and electronics—the trite, the mundane, transformed through duration into a Zen state of change in stability. …and bells remembered… (10 minutes) is one of Adams’s most beautiful pieces: a delicate canvas of bells and vibraphones arranged in embedded cycles. Intelligent, sensitive, simple, appeasing. Bravo. His best Cold Blue record since The Light That Fills the World.” —François Couture, Monsieur Délire’s Listening Diary
“Ah, what’s Adams got to do with ‘Four Thousand Holes in Blackburn Lancashire?’ I wondered. A day in the life of Adams? A fab four tribute? Oops, there is indeed a quote from one my most beloved Beatles songs on the cover. It says also that Adams ‘limits himself to the most basic elements of Western music—major and minor triads and four-bar phrases—sculpting these sound objects into lush harmonies and rhythmically complex fields of sound.’ Adams is a classical composer from the school of gentle minimalists, as I like to call those who work with the Cold Blue Music label. Two pieces are to be found here. One is for piano, vibraphone, and orchestra bells, while Adams himself provides the ‘electronic aura’ and the second is for chimes, vibraphone, orchestra bells, bowed vibraphone, and bowed crotales. I am not too well-informed how it works with major and minor triads or four bar phrases, but the music has a great elegant quality. It sounds like two pieces for a small ensemble, but there seems also be some kind of electronic processing going on—perhaps the ‘electronic aura’ put in the exactly the right amount to make this wander off beyond pieces for a small ensemble, and instead creates wonderful sweet minimalist music. Slowly moving, with real instruments bouncing off and on with the electronics, merging fully together into a unified whole. Two excellent pieces of wonderful music.” —Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly (Netherlands)
“John Luther Adams’ engaging new composition Four Thousand Holes is a long, unbroken, but ever-changing sound field scored for piano, tuned percussion and electronic processing. It finds the composer limiting himself to some materials that are unusual for him: major and minor triads. Adams has assembled and shaped his chosen melodic and harmonic materials into a layered and interwoven construct of occasionally rumbling, but mostly ringing and shimmering sound. Ever-shifting juxtapositions of various tempi, of seemingly simultaneous resolution and modulation in steady, unhurried motion, lead here to 33 minutes of spell-binding music; to a sense of events unfolding, at times, like a process of nature.
“This music, as performed by pianist Stephen Drury, percussionist Scott Deal, and the composer himself on electronic ‘aura,’ is clear and sharply delineated. Even the electronics have a well-defined structure and chroma: spectral, but not at all hazy. (This is all well served by the clean recording and vividly spatial mix.)
“A shorter piece, performed by the Callithumpian Consort, closes the album. As the title suggests, …and bells remembered… is composed of ringing tones and varied relationships. Like the longer piece, it brings with it the suggestion of being music that just happens, even while it sounds carefully thought and wrought. I’m not sure if anybody can summon this sense quite as well as John Luther Adams does. And it seems that he just keeps getting better at it.” —Kevin Macneil Brown, Dusted
“On the one hand, John Luther Adams’s newest album offers more of the composer’s signature style: Large-scale works that harmonically hint at the isolated vastness of Adams’s adoptive state, Alaska. Yet, just as no two snowflakes are alike, Adams has been able to simultaneously mine the tundra soundscapes and produce works of startling singularity, and Four Thousand Holes sits chief among them.… Four Thousand Holes may simply be Adams’s best work to-date.… So far, 2011 has had its lion’s share of exquisite recordings, but this disc stands out as required listening.… Album of the Week.” —WQXR/Q2 (NYC)
“The reputation of John Luther Adams has been building in recent years, as the lush, meditative music of this Alaska-based composer has begun traveling far from the western wilderness landscapes from which it draws its prime inspiration.… His recent piece, Four Thousand Holes, was in fact commissioned by the Boston-based pianist Stephen Drury, who will give its first performance on June 23 in Jordan Hall as part of this year’s Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice—better known by its nickname, ‘Sick Puppy.’ In advance of that premiere the work has found its way onto a compelling new disc on the Cold Blue label, with Drury and percussionist Scott Deal. (Drury’s Callithumpian Consort takes on the disc’s second work …and bells remembered… from 2005.) Despite a rather majestic climax, Four Thousand Holes unfolds at a measured pace, like a kind of contemplative walk in the woods in which the landscape changes slowly but dramatically over time. There is a spontaneous feel that belies the careful craftsmanship. Drury’s piano part is made up exclusively of chords based on major and minor triads, with Deal’s vibraphone and orchestra bells adding an extra sonic glitter. On top of it all, Adams generates a processed electronic ‘aura,’ derived from the piano lines, and it spreads out like a canopy of sound: dense, rich, and enveloping. —Josh Shea, Boston Globe
“In works written over the past two decades, Adams has absorbed, reimagined, and transformed the rough, solitary nature of the Alaskan landscape and infused it into his works in often deeply inventive ways. As he told The New Yorker’s Alex Ross in 2008, ‘My music is going inexorably from being about place to becoming place.’… One of Adams’s newest works, Four Thousand Holes…is in some ways a more personal piece than those for which Adams has become well known—not clearly tied to the specifics of his environment, or even to the idea of place itself.… And yet, as Adams says of his surroundings during a lengthy phone conversation from his studio near Fairbanks, ‘I can’t get away from it. Even when I think my music is completely abstract, someone will hear or point out some northern or Alaskan qualities.’… It took Adams some time to arrive at his compositional maturity. First came works that made use of bird songs, then a series of instrumental pieces that ‘tried to evoke specific places, usually wild places, in tones.’ Yet it wasn’t until the early 1990s that ‘I stumbled onto this idea that I called sonic geography, which I envisioned as this imaginary territory somewhere between human imagination and the world around us.’” — David Weininger, Boston Globe
“From the label, based in Venice, California, that has recently produced such classics as Christopher Roberts’s Trios for Deep Voices and Peter Garland’s Second String Quartet, come two pieces from the workshop of John Luther Adams.… One piece is large, one is small, and both celebrate the spatial dimensions of nature, their meditative rhythms laced with the gratuitous flowering sensuality of 21st-century minimalism and impelled by a fascination with found chordal objects.… This is also, to an unusual extent, music not only without bar-lines but perhaps without bars themselves. In Four Thousand Holes, it’s all about major and minor triads. In …and bells remembered…, it’s about bells…. Extensive web-based documentation details an extraordinary attention to detail on the part of Adams, who describes the intuition-inspired process and art of his compositional activity with the gleeful wizardry of an entomologist bringing a precarious subject back to life. It is impressive to imagine anyone actually following such conceptual virtuosity, much less creating the seamless, seemingly organic layers of sound Adams lays out over his structurally precise and infinitely flexible power grids.” —Laurence Vittes, Gramophone
“In Four Thousand Holes…John Luther Adams explores an extended progression of radiant, overlapping triads glowing with a resigned majesty until they support a slowly ascending line leading to an ecstatic climax that caps off its 32-minute journey. The effect is meditative and spiritual, absorbing, and probably in its essence more overwhelming than its modest scoring allows.” —American Record Guide
“In being awarded the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize from Northwestern University in 2010, celebrated American composer John Luther Adams was recognized ‘for melding the physical and musical worlds into a unique artistic vision that transcends stylistic boundaries.’ A few details about his music convey its breadth and the openmindedness be brings to it. He’s composed works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, soloists, and electronic media for forward-thinking labels such as Cold Blue, New World, Cantaloupe, and New Albion; he’s worked with ensembles ranging from the California EAR Unit and Bang On A Can to the Chicago Symphony and American Composers Orchestra, and is currently working on Ilimaq, for solo percussion and electronics (for Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche), among other projects. Adams’s latest release for Cold Blue, Four Thousand Holes, features two pieces, the 2010 title work and 2005’s …and bells remembered…, each of which captivates on its own terms.
“At thirty-three minutes, the CD’s primary work, Four Thousand Holes, realized by pianist Stephen Drury, Scott Deal on vibraphone and orchestra bells, and Adams, who’s credited with electronic ‘aura,’ alternates in its opening moments between a restrained flow of high-pitched piano chords and tinkles, after which the piece suddenly blossoms into aggressive flourishes before, just as suddenly, pulling back to form a gentler current with the intricate weave of its instruments generating a soothing sparkle. Consistent with the ‘aura’ designation, electronics are integrated subtly into the piece as they’re used more to generate surging phasing effects that form an icy backdrop against which the other instruments comfortably intone (Adams produced the electronic sounds by processing the acoustic instruments’ sonorities). One of the most pleasing aspects of the piece is the tempi change that occurs almost imperceptibly, with Adams arresting and then re-animating the music’s flow throughout the piece. The changes in density are also striking, with Adams stripping the material down to a minimal number of sounds at certain moments but then loading it up elsewhere with more aggressive chordal bursts. Consequently, while there are no demarcations that separate the piece into contrasting movements, there are subtle shifts in mood and density that emerge. One clearly hears, for example, the music ascend towards a climax in its closing minutes before exiting in an outpouring of aggressive piano chords.
“Despite the involvement of two musicians, the piece sounds like the work of a mini-ensemble, one that would seemingly necessitate the involvement of two pianists and two percussionists for its realization. Not surprisingly, then, the production process makes for a fascinating story unto itself: in the composer’s own words, ‘Steve recorded all of the individual chords that occur in the score. I took those recordings, time-stretched them, reversed their envelopes, and knit the reversed sounds together with their original decays. The resulting waves of sound I layered into ten independent tracks to create the virtual “orchestra.” Next I composed the piano part, articulating the peaks of all the electronic tracks simultaneously—a feat of coordination that demands considerable virtuosity from the pianist. Finally I composed another multi-layered part for metallic percussion sounds that I think of as sparks emanating from the piano.’ Melodic lines of a kind come into partial focus as the piece unfolds, though such themes are more alluded to by the melodic arc of the piano chords than rendered directly. The effect is akin to standing back from a connect-the-dots image and seeing the resultant shape coming into partial focus before it’s begun. The different elements don’t resound in accordance with a specific rhythmic design but more appear in a constant yet randomly dispersed fashion, more like snowflakes striking the ground in a heavy snowfall.
“In the other work, …and bells remembered…, which is performed by the Callithumpian Consort (with Drury as artistic director and conductor), bell strikes introduce the piece, at first generously separated so that their reverberant residue bleeds into the pregnant spaces separating them and then closer together so that the tones and their after-images meld together as overlays. Percussion of varying timbral character appears, with sounds generated by chimes, vibraphone, orchestra bells, bowed vibraphone, and bowed crotales. The piece exudes a sense of meditative calm, with the tones forming a restful fabric of crystalline character that gradually expires as peacefully as it began. While hardly capable of encapsulating his artistic vision in a single recording, Four Thousand Holes does provide a representative portrait of Adams’s highly personalized compositional style, with its two works, like much in Adams’s œuvre, defying straightforward genre categorizations such as classical and electronic. Instead, his music carves out a unique space that of its own natural accord transcends such simple pigeonholing.” —Textura
“In his very personal style, fluctuating among ambient, minimalism, and the trips to secret regions of experimental sound, John Luther Adams has composed two pieces of a hypnotic character.” —Amazing Sounds (Spain)
“The tintinnabulation of percussionist Scott Deal’s vibraphone and chimes, [Stephen] Drury’s piano (which plays major and minor chords throughout), and a haloing electronic aura courtesy of the composer mimic the shifts in light and many crags found in a wilderness’ varied terrain. Within the [Four Thousand Holes‘ ] half-hour duration, Adams never allows this limited palette to grow stale; he continually refreshes the sound world with shifts of tonality and varied interactions between percussion and piano. Its companion piece, …and bells remembered…, takes the tintinnabulation still further. Alongside Drury, five percussionists use both mallets and bows to craft a slowly evolving tolling of bell sounds both high and low. Is it meant as a memento mori or as a secularized ritual or meditation? We aren’t told in the booklet’s aphoristic notes, but we are left with an incandescent sonic shimmering that again indicates a sweeping vista to the mind’s eye.” —Christian Carey, Sequenza21
“[Four Thousand Holes] is a lovely, haunting piece.” —New Music Connoisseur
“Velocity. For our purposes it involves the speed and concurrence of tones. They articulate together in ratios, rhythms. In a typical march piece the concurrences group in twos and threes in a pretty elemental fashion, in ratios where mathematically the addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are rather straightforward. Classical music, jazz, African and Indian classical music can have much more sophisticated ratio velocities. Then of course as students of nature and the industrial worlds we hear other concurrent velocities, some really quite complex. The sound of rain dripping off the roof combined with the pulsating whirs and sometimes anarchic clunks of a room air conditioner, coupled with the confluence of bird calls and an idling truck motor outside our window, for example, can create a complex velocity grid that ever shifts as the sounds beat over and across one another, sometimes coming together in a synchronous moment, most other times not. Some modern avant composers after Cage especially have become creators of analogous sound worlds.
“And so in many ways in that vein we have composer John Luther Adams and his Four Thousand Holes, a long, fascinating piece for piano and mallet percussion and electronically created ‘auras,’ manipulated sound envelopes of the instruments sounding tones–almost like the swell you get from playing for example a piano chord backwards, but minus the backwards initial tone and extended.… And in the end this is a series of piano-mallet chords and tones in a diatonic universe along with their sound envelope sustains. The various overlapping ratio congruences and dispersals sometimes sound like a multi-bell pealing you hear historically in cathedrals on special occasions, each bell with a separate velocity and the interaction of them continually fanning out and contracting in processual groupings. The rhythmic ratios are complex and fascinating. And the musical tones interact like a recurring carpet weave pattern that ultimately changes over time, both in terms of velocities and tone recurrences. It is beautiful, open-ended music that has natural processual aspects which occur in such a natural way it feels less like the dancey beated minimal pieces and more like falling to sleep under a pine tree during a rainstorm.
“…and the bells remembered… is a far more contemplative, less busy, open-spaced work for struck percussion instruments—bells, chimes, vibes, etc. It too has synchronous and non-synchronous soundings, but with longer, less space-intense periodicities. It too has diatonic weight and an expansiveness that makes you hear the consonances anew.
“John Luther Adams has come through with music that gradually gets you into its world and, after repeated listens, rivets you there. Like a favorite spot you seek while repeating a particular hike again and again, the getting there fills you with pleasurable anticipations and the trip toward and back are an equal part of the entire experience. This is music that has that kind of rejuvenating quality. Another excellent example of the worthy kind of ‘post-‘ music of the past decades and how we have come open to new ideas of form as part of the legacy of some of the sound awareness aspects of the classic avant garde years. Beautiful! A sound hammock for your musical backyard!” — Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review
“I can’t stop listening to John Luther Adams’s Four Thousand Holes.” —Alex Ross, Twitter