A transcendent album that presents two of Adams’s recent string quartets—”Lines Made by Walking” (2019) and “untouched” (2016)—performed by the widely celebrated JACK Quartet, longtime interpreters of the composer’s vivid, virtuosic quartet music.
“Lines Made by Walking” is an intimate yet powerful three-movement piece, and perhaps Adams’s most personal work of the past few years. It is music that is ever in motion, ever ambling across the landscape, ever altering its perspective before the listener.
I. Up the Mountain
II. Along the Ridges
III. Down the Mountain
Adams writes about “Lines”:
“I’ve always been a walker. For much of my life I walked the mountains and tundra of Alaska. More recently it’s been the Mexican desert, the altiplano, quebradas, and mountain ridges of Chile, and the hills and canyons of Montana. Making my way across these landscapes at three miles an hour, I began to imagine music coming directly out of the contours of the land.
“I began work on my fifth string quartet, ‘Lines Made by Walkin,’ by composing three expansive harmonic fields made up of tempo canons with five, six, and seven independent layers. (This is a technique I’ve used for years, in which a single melodic line is superimposed on itself at different speeds.) Once I’d composed these fields, I traced pathways across them. As I did this, each instrument of the quartet acquired a unique profile, transforming the strict imitative counterpoint of the tempo canons into intricately varied textures.
“In the mornings, in my studio, I would search for the most fluid and beautiful routes across my musical landscapes. In the afternoons, on my walks, I’d follow the contours of the land, along old tracks and animal trails or watersheds and ridgelines. In the process I discovered something approaching a true multi-voice polyphony—not so much through my fingers on the piano keyboard as through my feet, walking across open ground.”
“untouched,” in three movements, is delicate, entrancing string music that contains no normal stopped tones—all of its sounds are produced either as natural harmonics or on open strings.
The composer writes about “untouched”:
“I stood on the tundra, holding a small Aeolian harp on top of my head, dancing with the wind, turning like a weathervane. Music seemed to flow out of the sky—across the strings, down through my body, and into the earth. From that beginning, I’ve discovered a broad harmonic and melodic palette derived from superimposing the harmonic series on itself at different intervals.
“I composed my first piece for string quartet, ‘The Wind in High Places’ (2011), when I was fifty-eight. As I wrote it, I imagined the quartet as a single sixteen-string Aeolian harp, with the music’s rising and falling lines and gusting arpeggios coming entirely from natural harmonics and open strings. My second string quartet, ‘untouched,’ was a further exploration of this sound world, with the fingers of the musicians still not touching their fingerboards.”
released September 20, 2020
JACK Quartet (violinists Christopher Otto and Austin Wulliman, violist John Pickford Richards, and cellist Jay Campbell)
Lines Made by Walking commissioned by Tippet Rise Art Center
Produced by John Luther Adams and Nathaniel Reichman
Executive producer: Jim Fox
Recorded February 8–13, 2020, Tippet Rise Art Center
Recording engineers: Monte Nickles and Jim Ruberto
Mixing and mastering engineer: Nathaniel Reichman
Design by Jim Fox
Cover photograph by Joshua Cripps
Interior photograph by Erik Petersen