Taking Cues From Alex Ross: Brief Notes on “Inuksuit”

Posted by Tobias Carroll

Earlier today*, I went to the Park Avenue Armory to see the indoor premiere of John Luther Adams’s Inuksuit. This was part of the Tune-In Festival; I’d also seen Friday’s powerLESS, and have resolved to listen much more to the work of eighth blackbird from now on. I became intrigued by Adams’s music after reading this Alex Ross profile; this evening’s performance was the first time I’d seen any of his works live.

The setup involved over seventy percussionists. It began with them gathered in the center of the Armory (which, as you might gather from the photo above, is not exactly a small room). They slowly made their way to their stations, and the piece evolved over time, from hazy and swirling to harsh and monolithic to, ultimately, subdued and almost wistful. The immersive quality of the piece — you could wander through the room throughout, or remain in one space — and the spatial quality of the sound were both impressive; there was also a moment when I realized that the seemingly-arbitrary 4 p.m. start time had, in fact, been chosen so that the sun would set over the course of the performance.

In the end, what was perhaps the simplest and yet most striking element of the piece was its use of volume. At its peak, the sound was almost deafening: a few of the percussionists were, in fact, striking large sheets of metal. But by the conclusion, the audience stood, listening intently for the last few dwindling notes, played in an ever-quieter tone. The notes dwindled, shrank, slowly faded; and as one, the crowd realized the piece had ended, and the applause began.

*-note: this post was composed on Sunday, February 21st, several hours after leaving the concert.