John Luther Adams & Zeitgeist — Images via johnlutheradams.com & zeitgeistnewmusic.org

John Luther Adams’s Inuksuit

Zeitgeist at Caponi Art Park

John Luther Adams’s environmental percussion piece Inuksuit is meant to be performed outdoors, rain or shine. So on Sunday evening at Caponi Art Park in Eagan, when the forecast was rain, and plenty of it, the new music ensemble Zeitgeist chose to soldier on and complete their planned Minnesota premiere of Adams’s piece. As it turned out, the rain wasn’t nearly as bad as predicted, but between the dark clouds, the many umbrellas in audience members’ hands, the tarps covering whichever instruments weren’t being used at the moment (and some that were), and the hastened pace, the storm that never came definitely left its mark on the performance.

It is, of course, part of the point of a piece like Inuksuit to focus the musicians’ and audience members’ attention on the interplay between those things under and those things outside their control, and Sunday’s performance offered plenty of opportunities for this type of attention. Merely raising or lowering one’s umbrella could completely change the sound picture, and the rising and falling anticipation of a torrential downpour undoubtedly had an influence on the musicians’ approaches to the score.

Inuksuit is scored for nine to 99 percussionists, and Zeitgeist’s rendition was performed by about 20, including members of the ensemble, other professionals, and students. The piece consists of a series of episodes that generally progress from agitated chaos to order and serenity, at the same time arching from quiet to loud to quiet. In addition to traditional percussion instruments such as snare drums, cymbals, triangles, gongs, and glockenspiels, Inuksuit incorporates plastic noisemakers such as vuvuzelas, singing tubes, and hand-cranked sirens, all played from different locations within the performance space. The result is a sometimes cacophonous, sometimes ethereal blend of very different sounds. A hippie drum circle it is not.

Zeitgeist did Adams’s piece justice with a committed performance. The arrangement of the players across a bare hillside and a lightly tree-covered area beneath created a varied array of vantage points for listening to different blends of sounds. Musically, particular high points included the subtle transition from clamorous noise to a more regular pounding motif around the middle of the piece and the slow unfolding of chiming sounds toward the end. One hopes that this will not be the last Twin Cities performance of Inuksuit — as each performance undoubtedly brings out very different aspects of the piece — but it was certainly a memorable one.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.

3 thoughts on “John Luther Adams’s Inuksuit”

  1. It was an amazing piece to experience and we at Capone Art Park were very fortunate to play host to the event. One of our season favorites!

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