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Present Music kicks off its 2013-2014 season with bangs, clatters, whistles and more as ninety nine percussionists descend on Milwaukee to perform John Luther Adams' 'Inuksuit' in an amazing garden landscape of sculptures. The audience meanders among an aural adventure of tomtoms, whirly tubes, sirens, megaphones, conch shells, cymbals, temple gongs, wind machines, and bells.
Since the nineteen-seventies, the composer John Luther Adams has been living in the area of Fairbanks, Alaska, generating fiercely original music from the vast, sparsely populated environment around him. Last year, I traveled north to write a Profile of Adams for the magazine, noting that the composer seemed more determined than ever to merge his music with the landscape.
He made good on his promise earlier this summer, when, as part of a residency at the Banff Centre, in Alberta, Canada, he presented “Inuksuit,” a work for percussion ensemble that is designed to be played outdoors. The title refers to a type of stone marker that the Inuit and other native peoples use to orient themselves in Arctic spaces. The arrangement of rhythmic layers in the score mimics the shape of these lonely sentinels, which sometimes resemble the monolithic shapes of Stonehenge.
In a program note, the composer writes, “This work is haunted by the vision of the melting of the polar ice, the rising of the seas, and what may remain of humanity’s presence after the waters recede.”
More practically, he advises that “rehearsal and performance may require topographic maps, GPS units, two-way radios, cellular telephones, backpacks, tents and camping gear, off-road vehicles and other such tools.” Evan Hurd, who photographed Adams for my Profile, traveled to Banff in June to observe the making of “Inuksuit” and produced this short documentary for newyorker.com.