ADAMS Become Ocean
Awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music, Become Ocean is set to finally extricate John Luther Adams from the shadow of his near-namesake. In fact the two lie at polar ends of the post-minimal spectrum. JLA composes slowly evolving, monumental sound creations that seem somehow to emerge from the essence of the earth. His lifelong engagement with elemental forces and the power of nature stems from years living in the Alaskan wilderness, where he has evolved a ‘music of place’ grounded in its physical, cultural and spiritual attributes.
Surprising, therefore, that Adams’s recent composition is inspired by the sea rather than the earth. Become Ocean takes the sense of scale and space that captured the composer’s imagination when he first visited Alaska in the 1970s and applies it to the deep, dark and hidden depths of the oceans surrounding the Pacific Northwest.
This is not ersatz programmatic music, however. Adams’s ‘sonic geography’ is a by-product of what can only be described as a keenly felt musical osmosis. If ever an orchestra sounded like an immense sonic object, slowly floating across a vast area, then this must be it. Become Ocean is divided into six seven-minute segments, with each one forming a kind of slow-motion wave. Some of these waves swell up into enormous, thunderous crashes, as heard around the 21' and 35' marks, causing changes in the music’s environment – like shifting glaciers in a frozen sea. As if to demonstrate the connection, there’s also a DVD consisting of six oceanic images looped in sequence to the music.
Of course, a strong cautionary message lies behind Become Ocean. To quote the composer himself: ‘As the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans find ourselves facing the prospect that once again we may quite literally become ocean.’