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John Luther Adams's Inuksuit Gets Chicago Premiere Sunday

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 25, 2012 7:00PM

2012_8_25_adams.jpg For over three decades Alaskan composer John Luther Adams has written fiercely original compositions inspired by mankind’s interaction with nature. Prior to the 2009 debut of his composition “Inuksuit,” all of Adams’s music was been performed indoors.

“Inksuit,” which takes its name from the stone golems the Inuit and other native people build to help orient them to the Arctic, means “to act in the capacity of the human.” It’s a composition for percussion and conch shells that Adams says is “haunted by the vision of the melting of the polar ice, the rising of the seas, and what may remain of humanity’s presence after the waters recede.”

The one-hour work can employ anywhere from 9 to 99 musicians, spread across the performance space to create a musical canvas of slowly developing textures. Unlike the actual inuksuits built by the Intuit, musicians who complete their parts in Adams’s composition leave the performance space. In his performance notes Adams writes, “there should be no physical trace that it ever took place.”

The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross, in a 2009 profile of “Inuksuit”’s debut in Calgary, wrote “rehearsal and performance may require topographic maps, GPS units, two-way radios, cellular telephones, backpacks, tents and camping gear, off-road vehicles and other such tools.” Ross’s 2011 review of the composition in New York City read:

I spent some time in the outer hallways, where at one point I was caught unawares by a Chinese opera gong resounding deafeningly down a stairwell. Toward the end of the first hour, a decrescendo began, with the roar of drums and gongs giving way to gentler timbres of triangles, temple bells, and low cymbal washes. The sun was beginning to set, and the Drill Hall darkened. In the coda, piccolos and orchestra bells took up an array of bird songs that Adams had meticulously notated. For a few long minutes, it seemed as though Manhattan had been replaced by an endless tundra.

A map of Millennium Park is what performers and listeners may need when “Inuksuit” makes its Chicago debut on August 26 at 5 p.m. Spearheaded by eighth blackbird percussionist Doug Perkins, the composition will spread from the Great Lawn of Pritzker Pavilion to the Lurie Garden and beyond. In planning the performance, Perkins and organizers have had to meet with the city’s horticulturalist and unwittingly inserted themselves in a dispute with the Art Institute of Chicago and the city over the use of the pedestrian bridge that leads to the Art Institute’s Modern Wing.
As of post time, Perkins has enlisted the near maximum number of musicians for “Inuksuit,” including Chicagoist’s Alex Hough. The performance is part of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events’ Loops and Variations series and shouldn’t be missed.