John Luther Adams
John Luther Adams on Become Ocean:
If you stop and think about the oceanic dimension of music, there’s this implication of immersion. We came from the ocean, and we’re going back to the ocean, right? We’re made up mostly of water, and life on earth first emerged from the seas. And with the melting of the polar ice caps and the rising sea levels, we may become ocean sooner than we imagine.
Eventually we begin to realize that we’re part of something much larger than ourselves. Become Ocean embraces this idea, but gets its title from something much more personal for me. Back in the late ’70s, John Cage wrote a mesostic poem called “Many Happy Returns,” in honor of his dear friend—also my mentor and friend—Lou Harrison. He compares Lou’s music to a river in delta, with all these different influences and currents, coming together in a big beautiful sweep of music. And in the last line of the poem, Cage writes, “Listening to it, we become ocean.” I’ve always been struck by what a beautiful image that is.
So now, a little history: some time ago, I was commissioned to compose a piece for the Seattle Chamber Players. Then a few years later, the Seattle Symphony and their music director Ludovic Morlot approached me, and asked if I would be interested in composing something for the Symphony. Part of Ludo’s vision for the orchestra is to bring it into the 21st century, and to put a special emphasis on new music, so of course I was thrilled at the possibilities.
One idea that I suggested was to build on the sound world of an earlier piece I’d composed called Dark Waves, which is a 12-minute piece for large orchestra and electronic sounds. To my surprise and delight, Ludo was very interested. I was calling it “Dark Waves on steroids,” and I knew early on that I wanted to take that oceanic sound and expand it into a much larger timeframe. So the result was Become Ocean.