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Composers in their own words, pt. 4: John Luther Adams

I was hiking above Sonora Pass in the Sierra Nevadas last weekend listening to John Luther Adams' In the White Silence and, man, what a great experience.  Not to be confused with John Coolidge Adams, Alaskan JLA is considered one of America's great experimental composers.


For much of the year, the world in which I live is a vast, white canvas. In the deep stillness of the solstice, I’m profoundly moved by the exquisite colours of the subarctic winter light on snow. Reading art critic John Gage’s essay “Color As Subject,” I’m struck by a parallel between the view out my window and Mark Rothko’s use of white underneath the colours in his paintings. Like Rothko’s translucent fields, the colours on the snow suggest to me broad diatonic washes suffused with gradually changing chromatic

harmonies. Slowly, faintly, I begin to hear it: music stripped to its most essential elements—harmony and colour floating in space, suspended in what Morton Feldman called “time undisturbed.”


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Composers in their own words, pt. 3: William Bolcom

Aptly described by Leonard Slatkin thus: "If Gershwin, Stravinsky, Bartok, Irving Berlin, Eubie Blake and Aaron Copland had all been one person, you'd get a sense of who Bill Bolcom is as a composer," here is William Bolcom, one of our great eclectics and prolific geniuses, in interviews:

From Minnesota Public Radio, a short audio program about the 2007 Illuminating Bolcom festival.

A short video interview connected with that festival.

Audio interview from Minnesota Public Radio.

A conversation on MPR about what makes Bolcom a unique composer.

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Keeping time tied to higher intelligence

A Scientific American 60-second podcast says:

Mozart was a genius. Duke Ellington, genius. Ringo Starr? Well, Ringo may be smarter than you think. Because a new study from Stockholm shows that people who can keep a beat score the highest on intelligence tests. The researchers asked 34 men to listen to a recording and then tap out the beat using a single drumstick. When the music stopped, the guys kept drumming, and they were scored by how closely they were able to maintain the original rhythm.

After their drum solos, the subjects traded their sticks for pencils and took a standardized intelligence test. The guys who had the steadiest rhythm also nailed the written exam.

What that means is hard to say. All of our actions, whether we’re making music or solving equations, are governed by the rhythmic activity of nerve cells in the brain. So the scientists think that a keen sense of timing and a penchant for problem solving might come from having well coordinated brain cell activity. While sloppy drumming and sloppy thinking come from brain cells that are slightly out of synch.