Everything That Rises   CB0051

The music

Everything That Risescommissioned by SFJAZZ and the JACK Quartet, is an ever-in-motion virtuosic just-intonation work built of a series of 16 ascending musical “clouds.” Its pitches are derived from the harmonics of the piece’s subsonic fundamental tone (C0).

The composer writes: “Everything That Rises, my fourth string quartet, grew out of Sila: The Breath of the World—a concert-length choral/orchestral work I composed on a rising series of 16 harmonic clouds. This music traverses that same territory, but in a much more melodic way. Each musician is a soloist, playing throughout. Time floats and the lines spin out, always rising, in acoustically perfect intervals that grow progressively smaller as they spiral upward…until the music dissolves into the soft noise of the bows, sighing.”

“Everything That Rises is art without artifice, and its beauty transports the listener into a timeless place outside of everyday experience, surely one of music’s most exalted goals.” —New York Classical Review

Everything That Rises finds Mr. Adams exploring dissonance and just-intonation tuning, in the gentlest of ways…. [It] is dominated by variations on an ascending figure that ends in a trill. In staggered fashion over the course of an hour, the members of the JACK brought this motif into successively higher partials of different fundamental notes. As one string instrument lagged behind or shot ahead of the others, the effect was pleasingly druggy: dissonant, but not in an overpowering way…. When the players briefly aligned in the same harmonious cloud, there was a sense of release.…” —The New York Times

“Nature and spirit inform every magical page of Adams’s music, and the premiere performance of Everything That Rises last Friday showed the powerful effect of all his formative influences. For an hour, the rapt audience was immersed in strands of sound rising at intervals growing progressively smaller. It could be the sound of paint drying to a detractor, but composers like John Cage and Morton Feldman also knew the almost painful beauty of slow musical evolution and the silence between the notes. Adams brings to mind, with transcendent concentration, the atmosphere of Feldman’s own Rothko Chapel and even the dying strands of Mahler’s Ninth. Everything That Rises takes us to a very still place within. Mere words cannot describe it, but music can conjure it. Something tells me John Luther Adams’s ‘sounds in the air’ may well be an answer to a famous koan.” —Bay Area Reporter

The composer

John Luther Adams, winner of a Pulitzer Prize in Music (2014) and a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition (2015), was for many years based in Alaska, where his work derived much of its unique character from the landscape and weather of the Great North. A few years ago he moved from Alaska, and now splits his time between New York City and Mexico’s Baja California, although his works still take wide-open natural spaces as a primary inspiration.

Described by The New Yorker’s Alex Ross as “one of the most original musical thinkers of the new century,” Adams composes for orchestra, chamber ensembles, and electronic media and has worked with many prominent performers and venues, including the Seattle Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the International Contemporary Ensemble, eighth blackbird, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Alarm Will Sound, the California EAR Unit, Bang on a Can, Percussion Group Cincinnati, Other Minds, the Sundance Institute, Almeida Opera, SFJazz, and the Radio Netherlands Philharmonic.

Adams has written two books, Winter Music and The Place You Go to Listen (both published by Wesleyan University Press). A book of essays about his music, The Farthest Place, was issued by University Press of New England. He has taught at Harvard, Oberlin, Bennington College, and the University of Alaska; been composer in residence with numerous ensembles and festivals; and served as president of the American Music Center. He has received numerous awards and grants, including the Heinz Award for his contributions to raising environmental awareness. His music has been released by a number of record labels, including Cold Blue, which has six CDs devoted to his work, including The Light that Fills the World (CB0010), Red Arc/Blue Veil (CB0026), the place we began (CB0032), Four Thousand Holes (CB0035), and The Wind in High Places (CB0041), as well as two of his shorter works on the anthologies Adams/Cox/Fink/Fox (CB0009) and Cold Blue Two (CB0036).

“Adams’s major works have the appearance of being beyond style; they transcend the squabbles of contemporary classical music.”—Alex Ross, The New Yorker

“The music of John Luther Adams is simply beautiful. It…sounds like it has nothing to accomplish. It simply exists, hanging in mid-air, waiting to be listened to.”—AllMusic Guide

“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, Varèse, Partch, Nancarrow, Cage and Tenney.”—Sequenza 21/Contemporary Classical Music Weekly

“[T]he sense of space is an Adams thumbprint—as is the spiritual aura that comes as a consequence.”—Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

“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.”— Gramophone magazine

The performers

JACK Quartet (violinists Christopher Otto and Austin Wulliman, violist John Pickford Richards, and cellist Jay Campbell) has been deemed “superheroes of the new music world” (Boston Globe), “the go-to quartet for contemporary music, tying impeccable musicianship to intellectual ferocity and a take-no-prisoners sense of commitment.” (The Washington Post), and “a musical vehicle of choice to the next great composers who walk among us” (Toronto Star). The group is focused on the commissioning and performance of new works, leading it to work closely with composers John Luther Adams, Derek Bermel, Chaya Czernowin, James Dillon, Brian Ferneyhough, Beat Furrer, Georg Friedrich Haas, Vijay Iyer, György Kurtág, Helmut Lachenmann, Steve Mackey, Matthias Pintscher, Steve Reich, Roger Reynolds, Wolfgang Rihm, Salvatore Sciarrino, John Zorn, and many others. 

The JACK Quartet electrifies audiences with its “explosive virtuosity” (Boston Globe) and “viscerally exciting performances” (The New York Times). David Patrick Stearns (Philadelphia Inquirer) proclaimed a JACK performance as “among the most stimulating new-music concerts of my experience.”

Recipient of Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award, New Music USA’s Trailblazer Award, and the CMA/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, JACK has performed to critical acclaim at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Wigmore Hall (UK), Suntory Hall (Japan), Salle Pleyel (France), Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ (Netherlands), La Biennale di Venezia (Italy), the Lucerne Festival (Switzerland), Bali Arts Festival (Indonesia), Reykjavik Arts Festival (Iceland), Festival Internacional Cervatino (Mexico), Kölner Philharmonie (Germany), Donaueschinger Musiktage (Germany), and the Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik (Germany).

“The string quartet may be a 250-year-old contraption, but young, brilliant groups like the JACK Quartet are keeping it thrillingly vital.”—The Washington Post 


“Everything That Rises…is the latest music, a string quartet, by John Luther Adams. The remarkable JACK Quartet does the honors.

“The music is perhaps more processual than minimalist. There are long foundational notes in the cello and a series of rising scalar motifs in the rest of the strings, in delicate untempered intonation. The artful articulation of sequences helps via gloriously rich attacks to give the upper notes transparency and vertical flight as they also create overlapping harmonic sequences with distinct timbral colors that stand out as special.

“The movement of notes gives us another possibility in the Radical Tonality camp. It rises in melodo-continuity, not so much in contumacy against the orthodox but as another alternate lawful structure if you will. It has a real cosmic endlessness that feels as if it reaches ever higher….

“The sequence of soundings, as one ever expects from John Luther Adams, is most artful. And the performance and audio quality are world-class ,as one expects ever from Cold Blue Music releases.

“It has a kind of organic-melodic arc that is very pleasing to hear repeatedly if one is willing to suspend judgmental expectations. The sound colors are quite beautiful to behold. For these reasons and for the way the music ever expands one’s horizons I do not hesitate to recommend it heartily. Its value to me is as plain as the nose on my face. Enough said.” —Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

“Describing John Luther Adams’ new string quartet, Everything That Rises, in words is simple enough, but it misses the entire experiential point of the piece. This roughly hour-long work, which had its U.S. premiere in San Francisco last summer during the festival devoted to Adams’ work by SFJazz, consists of an extended series of ascending melodic figures. They proceed at different rates in the four instruments, and the resulting rhythmic dislocations, combined with the harmonic implications of the instruments’ being tuned in just intonation, create an unpredictable flood of overlaps—sometimes compellingly dissonant, sometimes shimmering and serene. The processes at work seem simple enough, but you have to sit and listen for the music to unveil its full splendor across time. The Jack Quartet, for whom Everything That Rises was composed, gives it a wise and eloquent performance. “— Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

“Adams here has a string quartet, his fourth one, which grew out of an earlier work, a ‘rising series of 16 harmonic clouds.’ This new work works in the same way but is more melodic, says Adams, and each musician of the JACK Quartet is a soloist, playing all the time, rising and rising until the sound is entirely dissolved. So, over the course of fifty-five minutes the music becomes higher but also softer in volume…. There is something orchestral about this music. Orchestral, yet also minimal…as this piece moves slowly, and eerily, to its vanishing point. It’s like a whirlpool, but in slow motion. It is a majestic piece, not in any way heavy but gentle and peaceful, yet moving with a slow, majestic pace. Lovely stuff! ” —Vital Weekly (Netherlands)

“I have been collecting and enjoying whatever John Luther Adams does for many years and look forward to each and every release. Everything That Rises is Mr. Adams’ fourth string quartet and it is played here by the JACK Quartet. There is always something organic, spiritual or magical in Adams’ music. A swaying motion, breathing slowly in and out, in and out… Drifting on a raft on the ocean, the strings seems to moves in waves, each string a different wave, yet all of them connected to an inner current. Each string is shimmering, resonating in slightly different ways. I am reminded of ghosts or spirits slowly dancing or swaying together in a ritualistic circle. The spirits are rising higher and higher into the heavens. The clouds are drifting by more quickly than is usual. The combined strings sometimes sound like a wheezing accordion, expanding and contracting, breathing slowly. The higher the strings rise, the more the air gets thinner, throwing off our balance a bit yet still keeping us slightly off balance and drifting together. Is that the sunshine slowly creeping through the clouds? I certainly hope so since the winter was long and hard. I found this music to be most uplifting, time to drink a glass of wine and fade into some snooze land.“ —Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter

“Adams shared [Lou] Harrison’s interest in just intonation, founded on the premise that intervals should be based on integer ratios, in contrast to the proportions based in irrational numbers required for equal-tempered tuning. Everything That Rises is Adams’ latest effort to explore to sonorous possibilities behind those integer ratios; and the result may well be described as a lyric poem in honor of the natural harmonic series.

“Since there are an infinite number of natural harmonics (the “’numerable infinity’ of the natural numbers, for those with enough mathematics to know that there is more than one kind of infinity), Adams clearly could not take in the entire series. However, by choosing a fundamental pitch that is below the range of audibility (C0), he allows himself enough scope to take in a generous sector, which extends so high that the intervals between the upper harmonics are almost no longer distinguishable. Furthermore, the listener appreciates the onset of this condition, because the entire composition is based on pitch sequences that rise through the harmonic series.

“These ascents take the form of what Adams calls ‘clouds.’ They are realized by score pages that lack both time signatures and bar lines. All that is indicated is the ascent through the harmonic series; and that ascent emerges as a (cloudy) cluster in which each of the four instruments rises at roughly (but not exactly) the same pace. The overall structure consists of sixteen of these rising clusters, which unfold over that roughly hour-long duration. As the final cluster rises to its ultimate height, the very sense of pitch ‘evaporates into the cloud’ through bowing that no longer yields a pitched vibrating string but, instead, a sigh-like sound of ‘pre-vibration.’

“My guess is that, at this point, there will be skeptical readers, who already know most of my thoughts about recording technology, wondering whether any recording can do justice to such a prodigious theoretical vision…. With that as a disclaimer, I think it is important to credit the full spectrum of production values assumed by Cold Blue in creating this release. The attentive and sympathetic listener should have no trouble apprehending what Adams’ wished to achieve; and this is due to not only capture and reproduction but also the keen sensitivity to natural harmonics cultivated by all four of the JACK players. Perception might not take in every last detail of the physical signal that Adams aspired to generate; but there is definitely enough there to ‘get the message.’

“What about the duration? By all rights sitting still for an hour should be no big deal. Most feature-length movies require at least that much attention, not to mention individual acts in an opera by Richard Wagner or a full symphony by Gustav Mahler. When it comes to ‘extreme listening, Everything That Rises is a walk in the park when compared with Morton Feldman’s second string quartet, whose performance requires a little over six hours! However, as Philip Campbell observed in reporting on the JACK premiere performance of Everything That Rises for The Bay Area Reporter, Feldman may provide the appropriate mindset for listening to this Adams composition. Campbell cited ‘the almost painful beauty of slow musical evolution and the silence between the notes’ in Feldman’s scores; and, while I do not find Adams’ music painful, I would credit it with a poignancy, which I suspect arises from the sense the listener gets of how small (s)he is in the presence of the composer’s attempt to evoke a vision of cosmic proportions.” —Stephen Smoliar, The Rehearsal Studio

“Cold Blue Music has recently released Everything That Rises…the latest in a series of string quartets from the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer…. With a single track running to some 56 minutes, Everything That Rises is an extended exploration of the harmonies derived from a subsonic fundamental tone, through a rising series of 16 ‘harmonic clouds.’…

Everything That Rises opens with a long, deep cello tone followed by a light trill. The other strings join in their lower registers, creating a broadly primal feeling. The cello continues to provide a foundation, and this develops a surging character, like waves on an incoming tide. Now tones and trills in the middle violin registers create some nice harmonies against lower notes in the cello. This has a calming effect, even when the harmonies are somewhat unconventional. The chords pile up, continuously ebbing and flowing, but always moving higher.

“The structure of Everything That Rises is similar in form to an earlier J.L. Adams work, Sila: The Breath of the World, which I first heard at the 2015 Ojai Festival. That work includes strings, woodwinds, brass, voices and percussion, and has the same upward progression of pitches, but its sense is fluid and airy. The overall impression that comes from Everything That Rises is more like climbing than floating—there is a sense of effort and progress, like scaling a high mountain. At the finish, the light scratching sounds from the bows allow the music to seemingly evaporate into thin air.

“The playing of the JACK Quartet is disciplined and orderly throughout, and this contributes greatly to the coherence in the realization of an extraordinary musical architecture. The stamina and consistency of the players is remarkable. Their intonation is masterfully precise, even at the extreme edge of each instrument’s range. Everything That Rises extends the composer’s ongoing and thoughtful examination of the possibilities inherent in the harmonic series and adds to his already significant body of work.” —Paul Muller, Sequenza21

Everything that Rises…is the fourth string quartet by John Luther Adams, one of the most cited and sought-after composers on the contemporary scene. The composition, lasting almost an hour, develops on a main melodic line which, through repetition, is constantly renewed in a continuous and almost hypnotic flow. It is a deep and complex work in which the music is born from a dark whisper and grows in a slow, calm, and almost unreal way, from the strings’ lowest to highest registers. The harmonic metamorphoses are dictated by the contrapuntal overlapping of the lines independently played by the four instruments. From an initial whisper, the strings very quietly ascend, as in an infinite spiral, to the highest harmonics, dissolving into a light buzz that leaves us suspended in the infinity of silence. The great JACK Quartet, interprets and performs the work excellently, offering great proof of their technique and interpretation.”— Luciano Feliciani, Kathodik (Italy)