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Some musical events encourage a community to take stock of its surroundings, but very few actually fold so seamlessly into the environment itself that they become part of a community’s memory and imagination. John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit is one of those works. Scored for 9 to 99 percussion players who are meant to be widely dispersed in an outdoor area (although the piece has also been performed indoors), Inuksuit has been described by the New York Times as “the ultimate environmental piece,” while the New Yorker’s Alex Ross hailed it as “one of the most rapturous experiences of my listening life.”
The title refers to the Stonehenge-like markers used by the Inuit and other native peoples to orient themselves in Arctic spaces. Adams structured the rhythmic layers in the score to mimic these stone shapes, but there’s an open-endedness to how the music is performed that reflects the sense of freedom behind it.
“Each performance of Inuksuit is different,” Adams explains, “determined by the size of the ensemble and the specific instruments used, by the topology and vegetation of the site—even by the songs of the local birds. The musicians are dispersed throughout a large area, and the listeners are free to discover their own individual listening points, which actively shapes their experience.”
Inuksuit has been performed numerous times, and in various spaces, since Adams first composed it in 2009. This recording, made in the forest surrounding Guilford Sound in Guilford, Vermont, and produced by percussionist and composer Doug Perkins, marks the first time that the piece is available on CD. Adams also sought to capture the experience of the performance in a surround mix, which unlike most commercially available 5.1 mixes, is full-range in every channel. “We wanted to make this feel as live as possible,” Adams says. “When I originally composed Inuksuit, I wasn’t prepared for the strong sense of community the piece seems to create. I’m glad to be able to give some of that back with this recording.”