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Friday, March 18, 2022

Samuel Adams, Lyra, The Living Earth Show


As I put a can of soup out for lunch just now I noticed the label had on it "New!" Perhaps it is all quite obvious but the exclamation point implies that the newness is a happy thing. One reacts to new things in a myriad if ways of course. But for whatever reason New Music does not often have the idea of an exclamation point attached to it. Partly that is because since the beginning of the 20th century newly composed music often sought (perhaps like never before) to break ground in what music could be, harmonically, melodically, rhythmically and in terms of timbre. And that kind of newness can at first turn off the average music listener in some recent periods of musical history, for it takes a kind of reorientation to listening that requires effort. New soup does not ordinarily ask for much from us. We open the can and off we go--and the manufacturer generally does not try to break ground, to pioneer, for it is supposed generally to be something we expect--chunks of chicken maybe, some noodles and vegetables, nothing radically different. And that is not such a bad idea when it comes to everyday food! We mostly do not thrive on a diet of mink, skunk, grasshoppers and whatever else one might put in one's mouth that is unusual. Eating and art can be two very different things.

New Music on the other hand of course has been dedicated over the years to be something that one way or another was not in our ears or our heads before, or so it can certainly be. So those without a sense of musical adventure might sometimes be wary, for this in its own way can be real work and that is something to scare off some, surely. Yet there are nevertheless a growing number of amenable followers of such newness. They might not be the old lady in the audience that expects Beethoven or something else she already knows. Instead the newbie followers ideally come to the music with an open mind of sorts.

But of course once a certain stylistic kind of newness becomes an accepted or even expected thing in the Modern present-day of whenever it is that you are sitting there in a concert hall, then one's mind is not quite as open as it might be. So for example in the Postmodern Minimalist category or niche there might be a number of paradigmatic possibilities--the sort of NeoRomantic repetition of later Phillip Glass, or the mesmeric post Africanist rhythmic excitement of Steve Reich, or for that matter the pronounced ambient beauty of a John Luther Adams.

As we know these days we should not automatically expect anything that follows a rote procedural unravelling, if we ever quite could. Take for example the young-ish (b. 1985) Samuel Adams, most specifically in the new release of his first full-length album of his work Lyra (Earthy Records EAR-CD-0002). 

Lyra (2018-21) was written for the chamber ensemble The Living Earth Show, which features Travis Andrews on guitar, Andy Meyerson on percussion, and the composer on contrabass, piano, moog and electronics. The work itself is meant to be performed live with a specially made film and parts for dancers. The music is put together via something he calls "ambisonic sound design," which I believe involves signal processing in real-time. It is not a radical thing--the instruments themselves sing out with an acoustic authenticity but also an ambient presence.

And of course we realize that good Minimalism, like good anything, is bravely contentual. It does not fear to present itself as itself. And that is exactly what in time becomes clear as you listen. This does not come out of artifice or imitation. This music says itself, completes itself, sings of itself. The nineteen sections all work together and if you are patient, communicate itself to you in ways you understand as not some other, but a musical sister or brother, if you will pardon the florid reaction. Like waiting for spring on a somewhat dull winter's end, you get a shoot, an awakening root, a musical existence that recommends itself to you, then indeed, it delivers.

I say all of this after many hearings. It seemed right to play this one a great deal and now I feel close to it. It is not repetition in some artificial sense, it grows out of itself and is not afraid to change, or then to be the same and change again. There is a very nicely turned trio chamber concept here and you feel as you listen ever closer to its expression.

So I recommend this one heartily. It shows you that a composer of talent can revive and rejuvenate things that we may have begun to take for granted. This is new. In the best sense. Hear it a bunch of times and you will I think get where I am right now with it. Bravo! This is not your ordinary music. It is special! Hear it if you can.


  1. Fantastic album! Just ordered a CD off his site. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Great album. Thanks again for sharing.