Adams: On the Transmigration of Souls
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This is the first recording of Adams's On the Transmigration of Souls (which won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in music), by the orchestra and conductor that commissioned and premiered it. Adams grips from the start, with a slow buildup of taped mundane city sounds, the obsessively repeated word "missing" superimposed on them. The taped texts are drawn from fragments found on missing person posters, newspaper memorials, and the names of victims of the 9/11 attack. Sometimes the taped voices dominate; at others, the chorus intones the texts; the orchestra an ever-present commentator, its impressionistic harmonies fulfilling Adams description of creating a "memory space" where each listener can find a personal response to the events. The orchestra erupts in an overwhelming climax after the words "I wanted to dig him out," managing, in a brief passage, to encompass anger, deep grief, and the enormity of the tragedy. Then it subsides into a long, slow decrescendo overlaid by the quiet recitation of names, as if the souls of the title hover over us. Adams has created music for his time and place that fulfills music's ability to move us. --Dan Davis
The first and still finest work to emerge from the horrors of 9/11, John Adams' 25-minute ''memory space'' interweaves music, choral waves, ambient New York street sounds and the words of victims and family members into a hypnotic, heart-breaking yet transcendent meditation on loss. -- Miami Herald, Lawrence Johnson, July 1st, 2007
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My question is why? Why is this man considered so brilliant? His music lacks any sense of musicality, rhythm, timing, melody, and is utterly devoid of emotion.
A more honest and accurate description of his compositions would be "a mishmash of disparate noises".
His Violin concerto was akin to listening to a power drill for 45 minutes, despite a valiant effort by the astonishingly talented Midori Ito.
"On the Transmigration of Souls". The ONLY reason this symphony won the Pulitzer Prize for Music was the subject matter. Adams simply happened to be the ONLY composer who submitted a musical tribute to the fallen. He had no competition because the NSO commissioned him to do the piece. The NSO knew that the guilt people feel over this horrific event would prevent anyone from honestly appraising his work. He knew he had a golden opportunity to elevate his own myth and it worked.
Which is exactly the point ... Adams is an opportunist and he used the tragedy of 9-11 as a context to create a piece of noisy 'musical' garbage that would fall outside the realm of honest criticism.
In other words, it won simply because NOONE had the courage to stand up and say "this really s***s" ... because criticizing "Transmigration" would be akin to criticizing the victims of 9-11.
Transmigration is simply awful. Pandering to the lowest common impulse to evoke emotion ... by having children read the names of people who died, a choir belting out some of the most insipid and uninspiring lyrics that HAPPENED to be phrases taken from signs around the site and topping it off with sound effects of ambulance sirens? Come on. This is not cathartic, it's pandering to people's guilt and emotion.
That said, there was nothing even remotely emotional or stirring about this piece. It was, for me, a man who nearly lost three friends that day, an absolute affront to people I care for.
A final point: If Adams' music is so difficult to play that the composer has to be present to orchestrate the work ... the work isn't very well written.
Adams music will never stand the test of time and our greatest living American composer will be regarded as the untalented hack he is. "New Music" isn't new or musical, but rather an excuse for people to praise a genre for not living up to the excellence of symphonic predecessors.
Let me be the first to say that simply because a symphony was written to honor the dead of 9-11 does not make it worthy of the souls who died, nor does using a fancy title to describe what he should have simply named "9-11".
The music is a long list of names repeated in the most neutral way, and then some utterances from people who witnessed the event or survived it starting with that "missing" repeated so many times you cannot count them any more, and the names one at a time and yet several times each one, and then more small utterances in still very neutral voices and tones, boys, girls, men, women, the whole humanity at one with the event, the drama, the tragedy. And in your deep meditation, in your self-hypnosis by the event, by the music now, by the voices that start chanting, shouting, yelling some dirge that loses the quality of words or names and only become sounds, raucous sounds, suffering sounds that hurt the throat of the speakers, you feel that pain and some percussion, some drum can then bang in your vision and trouble it, change it, make it fuzzy till you manage to refocus it on the music that can become soft, small, and a woman's voice says a few words, reads some names, and the whole video starts all over again.
And the voices come from all around, all distinct and isolated. They surround you, they make your turn your ears in the proper direction but you never know where the voices are going to come from, and some come from so far behind your head, from the deepest caves of your brain and the music flows long notes sustained and modulated without ever stopping, just turning into another one without any transition. You are in the rubbles, you are coming down, pouring down, falling down to the ground zero that will be after the attack and you imagine that fall, slow, slow, slower than slow, you are that fall, you imagine the mind behind it. The minds of the victims for sure who are falling down along with you, all those minds that cry and shout, shocked and unbelieving that the end is near, the end is at the tip of their mental fingers. Some think of God, some think of the apocalypse, some think of the beast and the dragon, of the pregnant woman running away, of Babylon rutilant in its black gold of their oily desertic vomit.
And I concentrate on this man there who was my brother, so he says, so he goes to sleep, so he slips away, and I feel his empathy caressing me, I feel his love forever brought to an end, handed to me in the urn of his soul, and I receive this soul and I love the entrusting gesture of a vanishing being, vanishing by the decision of some crude cruddy mind somewhere in some oil-producing desert to protest against the existence of the fortune they are making on that oil by selling it to people who refuse to believe like them, to behave like them, to be part of their homogenized mental world. They take their money, the oil kings, princes and terrorists, but they want more, they want their customers on their knees, they want them begging for pity and solace in front of the sacrifice of thousands of them who refuse to change, or who are just there on the trajectory of the twisted minds of those who sent the planes against the towers.
"What about the music?" a bell rings in my ears. Yes, what about the music? The music is the echoing reverberation of the event and you cannot listen to it in any particular way because there cannot be one way of receiving it. You have to let that music hypnotize you and you then hear the music the way you can see the event in your mind's eye. There cannot be two people receiving it the same way and that's why it is so powerful. This music is building a subliminal mesmerized tale in each one of us, and that tale comes from our deepest fears and impulses, from our darkest empathy and fright. "Eye Color Hazel Hair Brown" and you see one person, maybe two. They have names in your memory and you see them in the towers, you see them in the rubbles on the ground and you can feel them coming down from the top floor in the sky to the ground into that pile. The music then can yell, screech, scream, you cannot get out of your self-subliminal-hypnosis. You have become a Post-Traumatic-Stressed inward-oriented self-losing phantom of a being that cannot even imagine this circular reverberation will ever come to an end.
And there cannot be a conclusion, because there is no end. Just get that music and listen to it over and over again to maybe bring into existence a world where all the ISIS of the universe will just dissolve out of existence. Oh! How much we all wish it, and we all know it is not possible. We will have to get rid of one ISIS and tomorrow another of the same type will emerge again from the depth of the human ocean. Leviathan will always survive and give birth to another of her monstrous children. And do not think these children cannot emerge in the midst of your won communities. One boy, one girl, one man, one woman, one teenager, one adult, one grown up, one child, one old pensioner, one day, rises with the desire, the urge to kill and they will kill, they will kill, they will kill because they do not see anything else but that urge and they believe they will be liberated from it only when they accomplish it like a miracle drug, a miraculous prayer, and liberated they will be for sure because one legal bullet will come and kill them. But how many cadavers, how many bodies, how many corpses will be lying around the fallen beast? And how many more beasts will sooner or later emerge from this waste land?
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU