** 2021 Stock ** John Luther Adams is an Alaskan composer. For Adams, Alaska is not a catalogue of ideas and sounds, instead, Alaska is a provocation. For all of its enormity, Alaska leans inward towards essential qualities and purified forces, and in Adams’ music we find this same sense of space and the same tendency inward towards the purified. His is an intimate and focused music that reverberates in a large place. Strange and Sacred Noise is a monumental work for percussion quartet in 9 movements. The spatially separated percussionists make this an ideal work for surround-sound, as waves of percussion criss-cross around the room often to a hallucinatory effect. Its dynamics range from the threshold of audibility to the threshold of pain.
It embraces unsettling timbres and virtually the entire audible spectrum of sound. Much of this music is loud. It buzzes the eardrums, rattles the rib cage, and immerses the listener in an overwhelming physical presence of sound. Some of that presence arises spontaneously in the air, through the dynamic interplay of complex, high-energy sounds – thundering drums, roaring tam-tams, hammered bells, wailing sirens – the acoustics of the performance space, and the psycho-acoustics of our own hearing.
The instrumentation is at once unique and spare. Each movement is dedicated to the sonic exploration of a quartet of similar instruments – two snare drums and two field drums provide plaintive melodies in …dust into dust… as well as …and dust rising…, and the thundering velocities crossing in phase-space is scored for multiple tom-toms and bass drums. Other movements are scored for sets of tam-tams, mallets, and unique explorations of quartets of triangles and devastating air-raid sirens. Expert performances by Percussion Group Cincinnati, who commissioned and premiered the piece. Liner notes by Steve Schick and the composer.
The DVD includes bonus 60-minute video interview with the composer in conversation with Allen Otte, director of Percussion Group Cincinnati; Composer supervised first recording. 24-bit surround sound in Dolby Digital and DTS; English, French, German and Spanish subtitles. Note: the performance of Strange and Sacred Noise is not accompanied by video.