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New Sounds Live: Veils and Vesper

10/16-10/24
Winter Garden

Experience an immersive sound installation within the Winter Garden palm trees as part of Brookfield Place‘s annual music series, New Sounds Live, curated by John Schaefer of WNYC.

The installation titled, Veils and Vesper, is a composition of synthetic sounds by John Luther Adams that is formed by the interactions of a mathematical algorithm and prime numbers to create a sensuous, ever-changing soundscape.

The installation will be accompanied by live music performances:

Vesper | October 21 at 7:30 PM

Ekmeles

Charlotte Mundy, soprano

Elisa Sutherland, alto

Steve Bradshaw, tenor

Jeffrey Gavett, bass

Veils | October 22 at 7:30 PM

JACK Quartet

Christopher Otto, violin

Austin Wulliman, violin

John Pickford Richards, violin

Jay Campbell, cello

Robert Black, double bass

Statement by John Luther Adams

Veils and Vesper is my most rigorously mathematical work. It’s also one of the most unabashedly sensuous. Over the past fifteen years it’s been installed all over the world — in museums and galleries, concert halls, atriums, churches, and a monastery. But this installation in the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place is the most complete and extended realization of the work.

This is also the premiere of the performance version. From the beginning, I imagined musicians winding their way through this sonic labyrinth, playing and singing in tune with the acoustically-perfect intervals of the electronic sounds.

There are three Veils and one Vesper. All are exactly 6 hours in length, and are designed to be heard either successively or concurrently in any combination. The installation in the Winter Garden will run 18 hours a day, for 9 days in a cycle that allows a listener who is present at the same time on successive days to have a completely different experience.

On Thursday evening a quartet of singers will perform within Vesper. And on Friday evening, the JACK Quartet and bassist Robert Black will perform within Veils.

Veils and Vesper is woven from long strands of pink noise, rising, falling, and passing through “harmonic prisms” of filters tuned to prime number harmonics 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29 and 31— at speeds related to one another by the same numbers as the tunings.

The resulting fields of sound fill the air with many tones sounding at any moment. It’s often difficult to distinguish one tone from another because they tend to meld together into rich, ambiguous sonorities in which the higher tones sound like harmonics of the lower tones. The timbres are clear and slightly breathy, like human voices mixed with bowed glass or metal.

The Veils encompass a 10-octave range and a total of 90 polyphonic voices. (Falling Veil contains 35 voices, Crossing Veil contains 30 voices, and Rising Veil contains 25 voices.) Vesper encompasses a 4-octave range and 18 polyphonic voices.

You, the listener, are invited to create your own individual “mix” of this piece. You may choose to move around the installation. Or you may decide to root yourself in a fixed listening point in the Winter Garden, basking in the coloration of a single sonic field.

As you listen, you might ask yourself: Can I distinguish the sonic field of one Veil from the others? How many distinct voices can I hear at once? You might try to follow a single voice, one long melodic thread, from the top to the bottom, or the bottom to the top of its trajectory. Or you could just surrender and lose yourself in the sea of sound.

About John Luther Adams

For John Luther Adams, music is a lifelong search for home—an invitation to slow down, pay attention, and remember our place within the larger community of life on earth. Living for almost 40 years in northern Alaska, JLA discovered a unique musical world grounded in space, stillness, and elemental forces.

In the 1970’s and into the ’80s, he worked full time as environmental activist. But the time came when he felt compelled to dedicate himself entirely to music. He made this choice with the belief that, ultimately, music can do more than politics to change the world.

Since that time, he has become one of the most widely admired composers in the world, receiving the Pulitzer Prize, a Grammy Award, and many other honors. In works such as Become Ocean, In the White Silence, and Canticles of the Holy Wind, Adams brings the sense of wonder that we feel outdoors into the concert hall. And in outdoor works such as Inuksuit and Sila: The Breath of the World, he employs music as a way to reclaim our connections with place, wherever we may be.

A deep concern for the state of the earth and the future of humanity drives Adams to continue composing. As he puts it: “If we can imagine a culture and a society in which we each feel more deeply responsible for our own place in the world, then we just may be able to bring that culture and that society into being. This will largely be the work of people who will be here on this earth when I am gone. I place my faith in them.”

Since leaving Alaska, JLA and his wife Cynthia have made their home in the deserts of Mexico, Chile, and the southwestern United States.

Statement by John Schaefer, WNYC

For over twenty years, WNYC together with Arts Brookfield have presented New Sounds Live concert events in the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place. There have been many memorable performances; but perhaps the most successful ones were those that utilized and activated the space itself. The Winter Garden, after all, is not a concert hall. All that glass, steel and marble make for a very reflective and reverberant sound; the space is almost a quarter mile long from the stage area on the west wall to the top of the ceiling over the staircase (I know this because the MASS Ensemble built a long string instrument in the space for us about 15 years ago); and then of course there are the sixteen live palm trees growing out of the floor. It is a most improbable venue for live music.

But those same features make it a splendid place for sound installations, especially installations that aren’t static, and move through the space – or, as in John Luther Adams’ Veils and Vesper, allow you to move through the sound. Once the work is installed and begins to run, the atrium of the Winter Garden is transformed into something almost like a cathedral. The installation allows space for the listener to think, or perhaps to clear their head of thoughts. But it also allows space for potential live performances, which is what I suggested to John Luther Adams for this New Sounds Live event. And since John has never met a harebrained scheme he didn’t like, he duly created new music – being heard for the first time here – that is meant to exist within the world of Veils and Vesper, and rounded up some of his closest musical friends to play it.

We are all excited about presenting this new version of Veils and Vesper at Brookfield Place– especially since it required us to organize everything twice: once for last year’s planned premiere (cancelled, of course, for the obvious reason), and then again, one year later.

About John Schaefer

John Schaefer is the host and producer of WNYC’s long-running new music show New Sounds (“The #1 radio show for the Global Village” – Billboard), founded in 1982, and its innovative Soundcheck podcast, which has featured live performances and interviews with a variety of guests since 2002. He created the New Sounds Live concert series in1986, which features new works, commissioned pieces, and a special series devoted to live music for silent films. Done largely at Brookfield Place and Merkin Concert Hall in NY, the series continues to this day.

Schaefer has written extensively about music, including the book New Sounds: A Listener’s Guide to New Music (Harper & Row, NY, 1987; Virgin Books, London, 1990); the Cambridge Companion to Singing: World Music (Cambridge University Press, U.K., 2000); and the TV program Bravo Profile: Bobby McFerrin (Bravo Television, 2003). He has also written about horse racing (Bloodlines: A Horse Racing Anthology, Vintage, NY 2006), hosted panels for the World Science Festival, and has been a regular panelist on the BBC’s soccer-based program Sports World.

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