About this work
John Adams, who once described himself as "a minimalist bored with minimalism," wrote Phrygian Gates (1977) in an effort to "convolute and enrich" the style. One of the composer's earliest forays into the minimalist aesthetic, Phrygian Gates is centered around a shift from the Lydian mode to the Phrygian, with its contiguous sections divided according to tonal center. The first section, in A, is predominantly in the Lydian mode; following a fleeting dip into the Phrygian mode, the work moves to a new tonal center, D. In this section the Lydian is used for a slightly shorter time, and the Phrygian gradually gains dominance. This pattern is followed through fully half of the cycle of tonal centers until, by the end, the Phrygian mode has established complete dominance. This process is indeed the motivation behind the "gate" of the title; the "gate" that denotes a precise moment of change in electronic music here applies to the motion from one mode to another. Phrygian Gates has a generally shimmering, wave-like texture, but, as in conventional tonal music, every tonal center has its own effect: some sections are heavy and crass, others lilting and peaceful.