Darkness and Scattered Light   CB0067

The music

Three High Places (for solo double bass) (2007)

   1.  Above Sunset Pass 

   2.  The Wind at Maclaren Summit 

   3.  Looking Toward Hope

Darkness and Scattered Light (for five double basses) (2023)

Three Nocturnes (for solo double bass) (2022)

   1.  Moonrise

   2.  Night Wind

   3.   Moonset


Adams writes about the music:

Three High Places contains no normal stopped tones (created by pressing a string against the fingerboard of the instrument). Instead, all the sounds are natural harmonics or open strings. So, the musician’s fingers never touch the fingerboard. If I could’ve found a way to make this music without touching the instrument at all, I would have. Originally composed for solo violin, the piece is also frequently performed by violists and cellists. But Robert Black is the first to play it on double bass, which requires retuning the strings of Simone, his beloved instrument, to perfect fifths (C/G/D/A).

“My electronic sound environments The Place Where You Go to Listen and The Wind Garden sound the rhythms of day and night across the seasons in, respectively, Fairbanks, Alaska, and La Jolla, California. The voices of daylight are grounded in the “major-sounding” intervals of the harmonic series, while those of night derive from the “minor-sounding” intervals of the subharmonic series. Written for five double basses (on this recording all parts are played by Robert Black), Darkness and Scattered Light traces long melodic lines across harmonic arcs from midnight to noon and back to midnight, on the winter solstice in an imaginary place.

“Commissioned by the Moab Music Festival, Three Nocturnes is dedicated to my longtime friend Robert Black, who gave the premier performance outdoors, amid red rock canyons. The dark twin of Three High Places, it is scored only for double bass, in the standard tuning of perfect fourths (E/A/D/G). While Three High Places is composed entirely on the harmonic series, Three Nocturnes is grounded entirely in the subharmonic series.””

The composer

John Luther Adams, winner of a Pulitzer Prize in music (2014) and a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition (2015), and a 2022 inductee into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 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. About a half-dozen years ago, he moved from Alaska, living in various desert and mountain areas in South and Central America—places that also inspired and found expression in his music. He currently resides in rural New Mexico.

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 New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony, the International Contemporary Ensemble, eighth blackbird, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Alarm Will Sound, the California E.A.R. Unit, Bang on a Can, Percussion Group Cincinnati, Other Minds, the Sundance Institute, Almeida Opera, SFJazz, and the Radio Netherlands Philharmonic.

Adams has written three books, including Silences So Deep: Music, Solitude, Alaska (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020) and Winter Music: Composing the North (Wesleyan University Press). 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 nine CDs devoted to his work, including Houses of the Wind (CB0063), Arctic Dreams (CB0060), Lines Made by Walking (CB0058), Everything That Rises (CB0051), The Wind in High Places (CB0041), The Light that Fills the World (CB0010), Red Arc/Blue Veil (CB0026), the place we began (CB0032), and Four Thousand Holes (CB0035), as well as two of his shorter works on the anthologies Adams/Cox/Fink/Fox (CB0009) and Cold Blue Two (CB0036). 

“His music becomes more than a metaphor for natural forces: it is an elemental experience in its own right.”—Tom Service, The Guardian

“His music has repeatedly conjured up visions of limitless expanse.”—The Wire

“Adams’ manner is that of Thoreau—to be in a place, incorporate it into his memory and values, and recreate that through music. . . . Adams is changed by nature and his music is a catalogue of the places that changed him. . . . Adams [is] an important and necessary musician for our time.”—New York Classical Review

“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

“[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 . . . creating the seamless, seemingly organic layers of sound Adams lays out over his structurally precise and infinitely flexible power grids.”—Gramophone

The performer

Robert Black (1956–2023) toured the world, creating music for the double bass and collaborating with adventurous composers, musicians, dancers, actors, and other artists. He was a founding member of the acclaimed Bang on a Can All-Stars, and his recent collaborations had been with Philip Glass, John Luther Adams, Eve Beglarian, Joan Tower, Phil Niblock, and others. His final concert, before his death from cancer, was in April 2023 (Darkness and Scattered Light was recorded in March 2023), when he played in a Philadelphia performance of Eve Beglarian’s A Murmur in the Trees, a piece for 24 basses. Black taught at the Hartt School for 29 years, and for the past half-dozen years his Robert Black Foundation has been supporting many and varied contemporary music activities. His previous solo albums have been released by the Cantaloupe, Orange Mountain, Mode, and New World labels.

“Spectacular bassist Robert Black pairs up with John Luther Adams, one of the most important composers of our time. Black’s visionary commissioning and his realization of and advocacy for the music of our time is unmatched.”—Julia Wolfe

 “I very much appreciate Robert Black for his amazing double bass technique and his real sensitivity and musicianship. I like him a lot, there are only a few such musicians.”—Iannis Xenakis

“Black uncovers unexplored virtuosity on the double bass  and performs . . . with eloquence.”—Bass World: The Journal of the International Society of Bassists

“[Black] is an acclaimed practitioner of the double bass . . . one of the growing number of virtuosic double bassists who is passionate about expanding the repertoire and the public profile of the great, but underrated instrument.” —Josef Woodard, Santa Barbara News-Press 

“Robert Black’s . . .  playing is rhythmically incisive, energetic, clean, and powerful.”—Bass World: The Journal of the International Society of Bassists

“Robert Black, a virtuoso bassist who collaborated with prominent composers, including Philip Glass and John Cage. . . . As a soloist and a chamber musician, Mr. Black championed contemporary music and commissioned work from dozens of composers.”—The New York Times


“Among the many strong releases arriving this week, nothing compares with Darkness and Scattered Light in terms of sheer unadulterated beauty. The album, the latest in a series of discs from composer John Luther Adams on the Cold Blue label, is devoted to compositions for double bass: two unaccompanied solo pieces, and one quintet, all played by longtime close collaborator Robert Black.

“These patient reveries and airy dances, suffused with luminescence and shadow, could only have been created by Adams. The music is ethereal and visceral at once, and Black is responsive to every challenge and nuance.

“What results is sublime: a tribute to the composer’s sustained vision, and a resonant, reverent homage to Black, a pillar of the new-music community, who we lost in June.” —Steve Smith, Night After Night