The Light That Fills the World   CB0010

The music

These three works exist amid an undeniable esthetic spirit of the times—the embracing of pre-compositional principles and structural processes in the service of a highly personal artistic statement. However, John Luther Adams’s recent work tends to transcend his compositional devices—it is simply potent, compelling music that is timeless in its sublimity. This is quietly expressive music in which process never intrudes on the music’s “sounding,” but churns away in the background, while the foreground shimmers with a simple yet great joy in the very making of sounds. It is a music that may be readily appreciated on both intellectual and sensual levels.

Glancing quickly at the inner-workings beneath the music’s kaleidoscopically changing surface-textures:

The Light That Fills the World (1998/2001), which was commissioned by the Paul Dresher Ensemble, develops via ever-expanding musical intervals in each of its instrumental parts, forming something of an arch, pivoting around the tritone, and at the same time a continuous ramp—the smaller intervals steadily giving way to the larger. The rhythmic subdivisions of the bars reflect the tessitura of each part’s pitches in a broad harmonic spectrum (a la some of Henry Cowell’s theories)—with higher notes moving with smaller subdivisions of the bar—providing a natural polyrhythmic motion.

The Farthest Place (2001) develops in a way that is consistent with the architecture of The Light That Fills the World, but here the harmonic world is pentatonic rather than diatonic.

The Immeasurable Space of Tones (1999/2001), the largest and most complex of the three pieces, might be considered five joined-at-the-hip movements, each of which has an interval expansion and contraction life of its own, yet also falls within a larger overall scheme of interval growth.

The composer has written about his recent music:

“The ideal of the sublime landscape has long been an obsessive metaphor for my work. But my recent musical landscapes are more introverted, a little less obviously connected with the external world. If in the past, the melodic elements of the music have somehow spoken of my own subjective presence in the landscape, in this newer music there are no lines left—only slowly changing light on a timeless field. All the edges are blurred. All the sounds meld into one unbroken aural horizon. Harmony and color become one with space and time.

“In a sense, the colors of this music are independent of instrumental timbre. The notes themselves—the combinations of intervals, their registers, the duration of the sounds and the density of the textures—create a kind of additive synthesis that evokes the colors.

“These seemingly static fields of sound embrace constant change. But rather than moving on a ‘journey’ through a musical landscape, the experience of listening is more like sitting in the same place as the wind and weather, the light and shadows slowly change. The longer we stay in one place, the more we notice change.

“If the works on this recording constitute a breakthrough in my music, it was a long time coming. From the earliest works in my catalog I now hear an inevitable evolution to this new sound world. Over the course of 25 years, line and figuration gradually disappear. What began as background has emerged to become a musical world composed entirely of floating color fields.

“With this new music came new media—I moved from the orchestra to smaller mixed ensembles of electronic and acoustic instruments. These ensembles allow me to create expansive orchestral textures in a more practical and accessible medium.

“Initially I imagined this as a kind of monophonic (or monolithic) music—an entire piece as one rich and complex sound. Then I came to hear it as homophonic or heterophonic. And now, after composing four works in this world that I thought was completely free of lines, I’ve come to hear it as a sort of polyphony of harmonic clouds.”

The composer

John Luther Adams, a clearly identifiable voice in the American musical landscape, has made his home for the past 25 years in the boreal forest near Fairbanks, Alaska, where he has created music (including works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, radio, film, television, and theater) grounded in the elemental landscapes and indigenous cultures of Alaska and the Great North.

Recent performances of his music have included productions at the Almeida Opera Festival (London) and Arena Stage (Washington, DC) and new works commissioned by The Paul Dresher Ensemble (San Francisco), the Third Angle New Music Ensemble (Portland, OR), and The Monophony Consort (Yokohama, Japan). He has worked with many prominent performers and presenters—including Bang on A Can, the California E.A.R. Unit, Ensemble Sirius, Sarah Cahill, Steven Schick, New Music America, the Sundance Institute, Perseverance Theater, The Children’s Theater Company, and Present Music.

Adams has received awards and fellowships from Meet the Composer, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lila Wallace Arts Partners Program, the Rockefeller Foundation, Opera America, and the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts. He has served as president of the American Music Center and composer in residence with the Anchorage Symphony, the Fairbanks Symphony, the Arctic Chamber Orchestra, the Anchorage Opera, and the Alaska Public Radio Network. He has taught at the University of Alaska, Bennington College, and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

Articles about John Luther Adams and his music appear in The New Grove Dictionary of Music, Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Music and Musicians, American Music in the 20th Century (G. Schirmer), Music in the United States (Prentice Hall), The Avant Music Guide (Japan), and numerous music periodicals.

His music is recorded on the Cold Blue, New Albion, New World, Mode, Opus One, Owl, and Centaur labels.

“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…. The variety of dreamy textures Adams achieves with a few simple materials is lovely.” —Kyle Gann, American Music in the 20th Century

The performers

Marty Walker is a clarinetist who specializes in the performance new music. (He has premiered more than 90 works written especially for him.) Among the labels for which he has recorded are Cold Blue, CRI, O.O.Discs, Tzadik, Grenadilla, Echograph, New World, and Rastacan. Walker has toured and recorded with various new-music ensembles, including the Robin Cox Ensemble, the California E.A.R. Unit (the in-residence ensemble at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art), Some Over History, eXindigo, Viklarbo, and Ghost Duo. As a soloist, he has presented live radio concerts on NPR, Pacifica, and other radio venues and has performed at numerous new music festivals, including New Music America (Miami and Houston), the International Festival of New Music (Los Angeles), and New Music International (Mexico City), and noted new music venues, including Real Art Ways, FaultLines, the Monday Evening Concerts, and Wires. The Los Angeles Times called Walker’s playing “masterfully expressive;” El Nacional (Mexico City) wrote that his playing “took the audience to another musical dimension;” and Option magazine called him “one of the finest new-music clarinetists in the country.” In 2002, Cold Blue released Walker’s CD Adams/Cox/Fink/Fox, about which Fanfare magazine wrote, “The performances are about as ego-free as one can find, and they seem indivisible from the compositions themselves.” In 2001, Cold Blue released his CD Dancing on Water, about which 21st Century Music magazine wrote: “If people are best known by the company they keep, then clarinetist Marty Walker is blessed indeed. He keeps wonderful company with an excellent series of composers…. [B]oth the playing and the recording quality are sparkling.”

Amy Knoles is a percussionist and composer who has performed with the California E.A.R. Unit, the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, Basso Bongo, John Cage, Frank Zappa, Morton Subotnick, Steve Reich, Tod Machover, Flea, The Paul Dresher Ensemble, Quincy Jones, Ensemble Modern, The Bang On A Can All Stars, and many others ensembles. She has performed at concerts and festivals throughout the world, including the Helsinki Festival, the Spoleto Festival, the Sommer Theater Festival (Hamburg), the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, the Cyber Arts Festival, the Aspen Dance Festival, and the Ojai Festival. She has recorded for Sony Classics, Barking Pumpkin, Voyager CD-ROM, New Albion, Nonesuch, New World, O.O. Discs, CBS, RCA, Relativity, Echograph, and Crystal Records. She may also be heard on Marty Walker’s Cold Blue CDs Dancing on Water and Adams/Cox/Fink/Fox

Bryan Pezzone is a Los Angeles pianist who specializes in contemporary music and film and television soundtracks. He has worked with many noted conductors—Pierre Boulez, Oliver Knussen, John Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Kent Nagano—and performed as a soloist with major orchestras. From 1991 through 1999, he was principal pianist with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. He performs regularly at the Monday Evening Concerts, the Green Umbrella Series, the Southwest Chamber Music Series, and the Ojai Festival and has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, the Joffrey Ballet (soloist in Stravinsky’s Les Noces), and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Pezzone has been the pianist on virtually all of the cartoons released by Warner Brothers and Disney over the past six years. He is also responsible for recording much of Yamaha’s Disklavier Piano Series. He is a consulting editor for the publication Piano and Keyboard. His recent recordings include works by Steve Reich, John Harbison, Mel Powell, John Briggs, and John Cage. He may also be heard on a number of Cold Blue CDs, performing music by Daniel Lentz, Jim Fox, John Luther Adams, and Michael Jon Fink.

Nathaniel Reichman is a sound designer and assistant producer for composers Philip Glass, Michael Small, and John Luther Adams. He has also collaborated with Ahrin Mishan and Marshall Grupp on numerous television commercials. As an associate director of the Electronic Music Foundation, he contributed to the development of the Engine 27 performance space. Mr. Reichman studied with Joel Chadabe and Bill Dixon, and is an alumnus of Fabrica, an experimental school in Italy. In 1998, he was an assistant teacher at Les Ateliers UPIC in Paris, where he studied with Curtis Roads. As a composer, his music has been performed at many international festivals. Nathaniel Reichman is currently working in New York City on Godfrey Reggio’s upcoming film Naqoyqatsi, scheduled for release in 2002. 

Robin Lorentz has been a featured performer on tour with composers Terry Riley and John Luther Adams and a member of the noted new music ensemble California E.A.R. Unit since 1984. She is a featured performer in the Santa Fe Pro Musica and has served as concertmaster on the LA Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella series and at the Ojai Festival. She gave the world premiere of John Adams’s Road Movies at the Kennedy Center and the premiere of Virko Baley’s Kolimayaka, a Dance for solo violin at Carnegie Hall. An accomplished arranger and composer as well as a versatile instrumentalist, Robin’s solo violin playing has been featured in such motion pictures as Other People’s Money and Back To The Future III and the television series Northern Exposure. She has recorded for New Albion, New World, O.O.Discs, Sony, MCA, Columbia, Echograph, and Glenfinnian Records. She has served on the faculty at the California Institute of the Arts. 

Barry Newton has performed with many orchestras, including the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, New Symphony West, and the New York Philharmonic. He has worked under the baton of such eminent conductors as Leonard Bernstein, John Mauceri, John Williams, and Boris Brott. On the popular music scene, he has accompanied Yes, Chicago, The Moody Blues, Elton John, Brian Wilson, The Three Tenors, and Andrea Bocelli. Barry’s dedication to contemporary music has included regular performances with the CalArts New Century Players (directed by David Rosenboom). Also a proficient jazz bassist, he has performed with Peter Erskine, Anthony Braxton, and Buddy Childers. An interest in non-Western music has led him to perform regularly with the Indonesian gamelan group Bali and Beyond. .


“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.” —François Couture, All-Music Guide

“Darkness and light are defining realities for the people, plants and animals who live in far northern climes and the abrupt and possibly deadly boundaries that separate these two extremes lie at the heart of Adams austure music. Brillant, crystalline waves of sound conjure a deceptively beautiful landscape in which light is life and darkness can quickly lead to extinction. Adams’ music is never less than spellbinding.” —Sequenza21/Contemporary Classical Music Weekly

“Time hangs still with this music. A mesmerising vibraphone sings minimally, harmonically over a droning keyboard and bass clarinet, a double bass adds even more depth, along with a piano, violin and marimba…. The music appears as being both simple and complex, when one looks at the overall movement, the arch of the pieces, or of the three pieces taken together, one sees Adams painting in broad strokes, in slow, evolving gestures of expression. The instrumental shifts in the foreground become almost consumed by the deep ambience from the keyboard and other bass intonations, like a sea of cold creeping up from the background. The movements are natural, graceful…. this music, casting an enchanting spell on my intellect and imagination.” —Richard di Santo, Incursion Music Review

“Landscape pieces, long, sustained harmonies with puffs of arctic winds blowing the sound one way or another…. [A]s much snow-strewn color as sound (but pleasurable in either guise)…beautifully played. —Alan Rich, LA Weekly

“Amazingly beautiful, peaceful, and reflective—shimmering like the unusual landscape in which this composer resides.”Chamber Music magazine

“An unbroken, slowly shifting, many-hued sound texture. Frequently energized by internal ripples and coruscations…major sevenths, ninths and higher combinations sounding as massive harmonic suspensions and conveying, metaphorically, a sense of enormous, uninhabited open space in which the only event is the slow and constant play of changing light upon an immense sky and a glacial landscape.” —Int’l Record Review

“The sound of this music is that of overlapping planes of sound, almost as though upper and lower overtones of some immense background fundamental pitch (or pitches) were whistling by…. [I]t gives the listener a sense of amplitude and space that is heartening. It both relaxes and invigorates…. [T]his is music from someone who knows who he is and what he wants…. I appreciate Adams’s devotion to his art and generosity of spirit. The musicians (most of them from the elite California EAR Unit) perform with similar devotion. —Robert Carl, Fanfare magazine

“The three pieces on this CD…are each very similar, perhaps like three views of the same icy landscape…. Time seems frozen…. In this long walk in the snow, each boot step takes more time, and sound itself is suspended in the cold air. The sound and performance on this CD is exquisite.” —Richard Friedman, Shuffle Boil

“This is blindingly beautiful, a fullness that sustains the spirit in peace and quiet energy…sumptuously performed…. The overall atmosphere is hushed and expectant…. But there is danger, grandeur, mystery, and power, too: a searing Great White sensuality that cannot be ignored.” —Mark Alburger, 21st-Century Music magazine

“The icy cover gives some indication of the shimmering crystal music inside. How six musicians make such a dense, hovering, magical sound is beyond me. This is ‘contemporary classical’ if you need somewhere to file it, but it has clear links to minimalism, drone, electronics, ragas, and whole lot more…. This is careful, mesmerising music. —Rupert Loydell, Tangents (U.K.)

“The record is a gem.”SONOMU: Sound Noise Music website

“Three clouds, three impalpable puffs of vapor…. The music is beautiful, the title is beautiful…. We are faced with the latest miracle of new music…the magic incense of delightful sonority, picking up the lights coming from a world invisible to the other senses…weaving a complex fabric…from those blessed regions that feed the soul and the brain so well.” —Deep Listenings (Italy)

“This album explores the hidden regions between Ambient and minimalism…an atmospheric texture…dominated by harmonies with a certain heavenly air.”Amazing Sounds

“The world is signified here by an ethereal quality, literally teeming with shimmering polyrhythms.”I Heard a Noise webzine (Romania)

“It’s dreamy music that has a great sense of landscapes.”Vital Weekly (The Netherlands)

“An enormous geography of sound.”ei magazine

“Three compositions by Adams that confirm his marvelous, chilly sense of northern space. The Farthest Place is a lush, brightly elegant, somewhat Steve Reichian piece that puts the listener firmly in the arctic, the keyboardists and Knoles providing a luminous bed of rhythms. A bright discovery. The title work is less sumptuous than this because it’s mysterious and withholds something. But it’s just as enjoyable and near-zero. The Immeasurable Space of Tones is somewhere between the first and second pieces, again filling the listener with a sense of great space, cold and wonder. In fact all three tracks seem like parts of a larger piece. Their titles don’t exaggerate, and they would, like many Cold Blue releases, appeal to fans of holy minimalism, even though I haven’t seen any info that specifically indicates that any of the label’s composers are mystics. —Richard Grooms, The Improvisor

“I’ve been running around town grabbing every copy I can find to send as gifts to friends in the Lower 48…. [Adams] has come a long way toward evoking the feel of Alaska in sound as well or better than most wilderness writers or photographers do in print or on film. His recent work defies categorization…. This is music of healing, best heard alone with plenty of time and no distractions. It lacks the cloying, sugary mindlessness of much that’s marketed as new age or meditative music. It’s more brainy and secure than that, though the sense of being outside one’s body, an unconscious observer, pervades each alluring configuration. Above all, it shimmers and sparkles like sun on diamond snow on a subzero day, which is why I’m shipping the CD to friends. ‘This is what it’s like to be here,’ I tell them. By which I don’t mean mosquitoes or rush-hour traffic in the dark or black ice after a williwaw, but being deep in the Chugach alone on a clear, windless day, or watching endless flakes fall outside your kitchen window on a morning when you have nothing important to pull you away from enjoying the view.” — Anchorage Daily News

“Rapturous piano…a lush wash…a multi-level sound bed…an ambient art fixture and a pretty one.”Exposé

The Farthest Place opens the disk with a pleasantly percolating 11-minute long wisp of sound comprised of piano, electric piano, vibes, marimba, violin and doublebass over a comfy bed of bass clarinet. The title track ebbs for a couple of minutes longer and comes complete with a generous portion of low-end electronic hums. The third and final track, The Immeasurable Space of Tones, stretches out to nearly a half hour, and really expands upon and drives home the sonic properties contained in the first two. The influence of the landscape of Adams’s Alaska home—from the subterranean rumbling of its volcanic magma to the highest crags of its soaring peaks—transfers into a most lovely, blasting mist of flowing, human sound.” —Arcane Candy

“This [The Light That Fills the World] is from 2002, but I discovered it this year [2009] and I listen to it constantly. It’s immensely, transcendently beautiful. Also really fascinatingly and subtly structured so that it has the effect of being a sprawling, drifty ambient record yet with this thorough sense of movement and purpose. —