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John Luther Adams

Friday, October 03, 2014 - 04:27 PM

(Photo Credit: Paul Chesley)

What's the soundtrack for the end of the world? We go looking for an answer.

When Jad started to compose music for our live show Apocalyptical, he immediately thought of John Luther Adams. Adams' symphony “Become Ocean,” rooted in the sounds of nature, is elemental, tectonic, and unstoppable. It seemed a natural fit for our consideration of the (spoiler alert) extinction of the dinosaurs.

In this piece, Jad introduces Robert to a special on Adams from a podcast called Meet the Composer. Through interviews and snippets of his music, it captures all the forces at play in Adam's work and reveals the dark majesty of Adams' take on the apocalypse.


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Comments [43]

Daniel Richards from Italy

Sublime music - no idea how he’d passed me by. Thanks for the intro!

Jan. 11 2018 11:03 AM
Joe from around Chicago from around Chicago

Was there a place on your site to download a new piece of John Luther Adam's music?

Feb. 06 2017 02:09 PM
Ben Hamilton

That sounds quite a bit like Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother Suite

Jul. 24 2015 12:43 AM
Agatha Y. Coleridge

I found the podcast interesting especially how he could find inspiration from nature and connect it to music. It was riveting how he had so much variation with his styles of music, such as the high piping sound of the songbird piece to the compelling and lively symphony of ”Become Ocean.” When you listen to the piece, you can feel the emotions that he felt and imagine the waves of the ocean, serene at first until it slowly evolves into an almost chaotic conflict with itself. I also found it impressive how he would imagine the orchestra playing the music in his mind before producing these master pieces.

Jan. 12 2015 08:29 PM
Ayn K. Melville

I think everyone can connect to music. All genres convey some sort of message even if it's just instrumental. The sounds and tones and beats produce such strong emotions that can be felt so deeply. Music tells a story. It's so interesting to learn how composers find inspiration for their music and how they create it. It's a long process which requires so much passion. The passion and emotion poured into music by the composer is palpable.

Nov. 10 2014 09:07 PM
Toni L. Gatsby from NY

This podcast is truly interesting. The way John Luther Adams transformed his music taste is incredible, and the theory of being able to understand certain music types by learning how to listen the music. He was very inspiring when he used the birds to base a few songs off of. I also agree with the idea of how music can describe certain actions and help you comprehend them.

Nov. 10 2014 06:12 PM
Dylan Berry from Oviedo

It was very interesting to get the insight of a composer who delivers messages and morals through music. He uses music to discuss issues whether about global warming or just past experiences. This is one of the most interesting podcasts I have heard.

Nov. 03 2014 09:27 PM
Oscar Rosseau

It was very interesting to hear the perspective of a composer and gain an insight into the way one of them thinks. The music in this podcast is very interesting and different. While not music I would in general listen to, it was very unique and portrayed the sounds he intended very well. It is amazing to hear what incredible sounds people can create with instruments.

Nov. 03 2014 08:06 PM
Sherlock T. Dickinson from United States

I am really into music and I must agree that it is difficult to build a bridge with music. Also, I Agree that, if you understand the music, it can turn you into a fan even if you previously didn't like it. I enjoy getting inside the head of a composer, it is a wild place that shows true creativity. His diversity is outstanding.

Nov. 03 2014 05:00 PM
Anna B. Silverstien

Diving into any unfamiliar piece of music can be so confusing, so easy to get lost in, that you can only really find a clear path or connection through it by listening or playing it over and over. I found his ideas on that concept relatable and a good idea when confronting new pieces. Having been to Alaska, his comments were completely accurate in the vastness, and his music did a wonderful job of expressing it. I feel that music is a language that can express anything or any idea to anyone, and John Luther Adams seems to have mastered that language wonderfully.

Nov. 02 2014 11:51 AM
Alice Z.Lovecraft from Florida

This really interested me because I got to hear another podcast that was very similar to the usual show. The way they talked about the subject and presented information was very similar so I might have to check them out. On another note, that music was like nothing I've heard before. It really was relaxing, while I listened I was imagining all the beautiful places I've been and the places I want to go. It was so different from what was played at the beginning of the show (the headache provoking noises that somehow is classified as music). I loved how the composer they interviewed listened to more to learn form it. It's something I would like to try doing when I learn about various things.

Oct. 28 2014 04:56 PM
Virginia T Ripley from Florida

I have a deep passion and love for music, it has always been a part of my life. Since I was young I have practiced multiple different instruments so I find this podcast very interesting. Everybody has their own personal taste in music, and it is interestning to hear diiferent people's opinions on music. Orchestra has been i big part of my life because i use to play the violin in an orchastra for years. People passion and "muse" for writing music has always interested me greatly.

Oct. 27 2014 09:14 PM
Elie S. Totsky from Oviedo, FL

I do believe that the perspective shown by Adams is one someone may be able to relate to. As a listener of more popular music, I thought this music was different, but a good different. I think that if I were to listen to more modern composers with a similar style, I'd listen to it more. I think this style of music is music that one would have deep thoughts too, like as if one is pondering on an idea or problem. It creates an almost calmness to everything around one in my opinion.

Oct. 27 2014 05:17 PM
Lorelei M. Coleridge

I'm a music lover, but don't know much about modern composers/ modern non-pop music. I absolutely agree that the best response to music that one doesn't especially like is to listen to more of it, because otherwise there's no way to expand one's tastes or gain an appreciation, at least, of something new. This podcast was really interesting to me because it included examples of the music being discussed as well as being biographical, as contrasted with some strictly biographical podcasts I've listened to. It was also interesting to hear about the process of creating music inspired by other sounds, something I've long been curious about. The composer's description of his experiences in nature were very inspiring.

Oct. 26 2014 08:23 PM
Hanna from DMV

Oct. 22 2014 02:09 PM
Mel from Castlemaine, Australia

I agree with some of the other commenters that this ep seemed "lazy" compared to the rich fare you guys normally serve up. HOWEVER, I am now completely smitten with MtC and would never have known about the show were it not for this podcast. So thanks, Jad.

Oct. 22 2014 06:51 AM
Gertrude N. Poe from Oviedo

I have a great passion for music, all types of music. I never really gave much thought about orchestra music until now. The way they talk about music, especially John Luther Adams, has opened my eyes to whole new world. It was very inspirational the way Adams talked about how his life and experiences led him to compose these beautiful songs. I love the way he talks about incorporating particularly his experiences in Alaska, how he got lost in the nature and they way he put it into music. I now have a deeper understanding of what it means to put your life in music and how every day occurrences can become an inspiration for something wonderful.

Oct. 20 2014 05:53 PM
Huxley Wilder from FL

I love music, and I've always had a respect for composed music but I've never really seen it the way it is here. Music is something to loose yourself in, and it is most definitely a way to convey life at is. John Luther Adams has a wonderful way of seeing music as what it is, and what it isn't. After being immersed into music my whole life, listening to dissonance and radical sounds that don't exactly mesh makes me uncomfortable. But, Adams learns from these quirks and he learns to appreciate them. I have a whole new respect for composed music after listening through his ears.

Oct. 20 2014 05:10 PM
Asimov M. Gandalf from Orlando

John Luther Adams raised an idea about music that never occurred to me before. I'm not a huge fan of music in general. When I'm driving the radio is often turned off. But the way he sees music was quite new to me. He sees it as a story, each note telling the listener something new. I don't think I will ever be truly into composition music but this podcast has given me a new respect for it.

Oct. 19 2014 09:13 PM
Sherlock D. Whiler from Oviedo

Very interesting Podcast. This is a very interesting viewpoint on this type on music. For some, music is very important, it is a way to express ones view or perspective on something. This composer seems to capture this "peculiar" nature of music. John Luther Adams seems to take in his perspective and produce something spectacular. It seems as if he takes in nature, and produces something just as natural, smooth, and flowing.

Oct. 19 2014 04:36 PM
Gandolf W. Wright from Oviedo

Clearly many people will find this type of podcast weird, not original or hard to understand, but this is something that only those who understands his/her surroundings and can interpretate it into music can comprehend.

Earth has become humanities slave and is suffering due to how aggressive we are and violent. Music helps this planet speak and try to at least give an SOS, just like natures sounds and noises. Amazing podcast, it truly is a beautiful way of composing.

Oct. 19 2014 01:33 PM
tedmich from PDX

Semi-interesting self-exploration by a pompous self absorbed contemporary artist done by radio show Q2, and re-digested with about 10 minutes of added audio as an original RadioLab. Seriously MacArthur Foundation should have held off a few years.

Oct. 19 2014 11:19 AM

Thank you thank you thank you for this episode and for introducing me to the "Meet The Composer" podcast, I love it!

Oct. 18 2014 03:24 PM
timbabwe from Minnesota

"John [Luther Adams] was one of many people who used Frank Zappa as kind of a gateway drug to the wild frontiers of modern classical music." ------ Nadia Sirota, Meet the Composer, Q2

I waded through the Other Minds/Speaking of Music
ten years ago. Thank you Charles Amirkhanian for
introducing me to so much 20th Century music.

And now, much thanks to Jad and Nadia for opening up
the 21st century. I'm pretty much a middlebrow and
I need reindeer meat or alligator fillets to be cut into
small pieces, masked with chili and presented to me by
someone I trust.

Oct. 17 2014 11:56 PM
Mitchell Cokewell from United States

I agree with the opinions provided by some above. This one left me feeling deprived.

Oct. 14 2014 03:02 PM
jonra from portland, oregon

Radio Lab is getting too lazy for me there are many great podcasts that are just flying by Radiolab. Get off your seat and do some actual work.

Oct. 13 2014 08:09 AM
leif from Napa, Calif

Calling this a "Radiolab" episode seems like a stretch--it's like being a professor who publishes their own student's work. I was and am still a little annoyed at the blatant appropriation of someone else's podcast.

And yet, AND YET, I totally forgive you because I discovered not only a fantastic new podcast out of this (Meet the Composer!) but a fantastic new composer as well. Who knew. Turns out I still can't stand the music of John Adams, but am smitten by the music of John LUTHER Adams!

Oct. 10 2014 02:26 PM
Kenton Scott from United States

At first I though it was a bit of cheat to be lifting a show from another broadcast. But, I'm so glad that you did. I otherwise wouldn't have discovered the exploration of composers on Q2. I'm looking forward to that series as well as Radiolab! Thanks

Oct. 10 2014 09:29 AM
Dana from United States

I love radiolab, but I have to admit, this one was a little annoying and boring compared to everything else I've heard from them. At certain points, the hosts sounded high (as in the basement circle smoking pot on "That 70s Show" lol)! That said, I did appreciate some of the music towards the end.

Oct. 08 2014 01:08 PM
Anders Gjöres from Sweden

I´m sorry to say: this is not Radiolab anymore. I´ve listened from the beginning and been flabbergasted most of the time. Now Radiolab doesn´t sound so unique anymore. Good, crafted and listenable but not as it used to be. I stick to This American Life instead. More conventional but more interesting stories. A little bit disappointed as you can read. Well, you were good some years ago and I reckon that it´s almost impossible to continue to renew the medium every month. Radiolab sounds a bit tired now. Good - but tired.

Oct. 08 2014 11:22 AM

Thanks, radiolabbers :)

Meanwhile I've listened to the piece on
It's truly magnificent !

Thanks for waking my awareness of this composer.

Oct. 08 2014 06:27 AM
Alieun Baye from The Gambia

Thank you Radiolab. I enjoyed the Podcast

Oct. 07 2014 11:54 AM
Harry from Paoli, Pa.

It took a long time for me to get over the annoying fast-cut back and forth between Jad and Robert in the narration, but I did, and came to like Radio Lab. Which is why this story is terribly disappointing.

Adams's "amazing", and implied to be creative and novel, bird-song composition(s) were presented without any mention of Olivier Messiaen ( Messiaen originated the extensive use of bird song in 20th-Century music, and his is the first name that comes to mind, if the researcher bothers to take more than 30 seconds to do his/her homework. Disgracefully sloppy work, Jad.

Oct. 06 2014 11:28 PM
K. from Ohio

Can people stop incessantly thanking radiolab and start thanking the people who actually made this podcast, Meet the Composer at Q2? Jeez...

Oct. 06 2014 04:12 PM
Mya Thompson from Ithaca, New York

Thanks Radiolab. Amazing as usual. If your ears perked up when John Luther Adams described his bird song tutors, you might enjoy watching jazz composer Maria Schneider and vocalist Theo Bleckmann experiment with bird voices here: You'll never think of a sparrow or a toilet plunger in the same way again.

Oct. 06 2014 09:53 AM
barry from Colorado

I love Radiolab. This broadcast brought to mind the following:

The Contemporary Classical Composer's Bullsh**t Generator

Oct. 05 2014 10:38 PM
Rama from USA

This is amazing music and I would not have had any idea about it without this podcast. Thank you so much RadioLab.

Oct. 05 2014 09:43 AM
Jessica hunt from Detroit, michigan

This was brilliant. His music is so meditative and powerful. One of my favorite podcasts ever thank you!

Oct. 05 2014 05:07 AM
Carl from Long Beach, CA

I have much the same experience with Gustav Holst and Dmitri Shostakovich on the classical end and with Robert Fripp (King Crimson) & Brian Eno on the progressive rock end. I can't listen to them when I'm alone at night because they scare the heck out of me with all the swirling dissonance punctuated by dynamic...uh...punctuation. Then, I love it because I get lost in all the changes but when I finally find the subtle little rhythms, I find myself in a place of sonic wonder never to be experienced anywhere else. While I can understand and empathize with those who disliked the auditory assault of this podcast, I connected with it the way I connect with a 6 foot wave that breaks way to fast for my novice surfing skills, tumbling and rolling but always feeling more alive than I when I first got in.

Oct. 05 2014 01:06 AM
James from Texas

I enjoyed the podcast, but jeeze the audio from the music was WAY too loud. I spent the whole podcast having to turn the volume down lest my eardrums be ruptured, and then back up to hear the dialogue.

Oct. 04 2014 08:12 PM
Dave from San Francisco

Awesome show guys. Well done.
I'm a huge music fan ask my life and listen to do many different styles.
There have always been some crazy compositions that I just couldn't listen to. Ever.
Either the tempo or dissonant tones made me uncomfortable.
After listening to this podcast, I've decided to try give them another listen.
Thanks Robert, Jad and John.

Oct. 04 2014 03:03 PM
indira from salt lake city, ut

Loved this episode, it was an exploration in an auditory landscape. Thanks RL

Oct. 04 2014 10:31 AM
Paul from Leeds, England

I love Radiolab and I never comment on ANYTHING on the internet, I am not a troll and I think whatever someone is into is fine.

But I truly cannot understand this type of (I cannot bring myself to call it music) noise. Hey if you like it - good, and if you want to listen to it - great and if you want to bring it to the attention of others - fine.

I will still listen to Radiolab even after this assault because one or two of these a year is worth it and I can always stop listening to it (as I did after a few seconds - then skipped listened and then stopped.

Oct. 04 2014 06:05 AM

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