John's Book of Alleged Dances

John Adams

John's Book of Alleged Dances

About this work

These dances, says Adams, are "alleged" because "the steps for them have yet to be invented." They were written for the Kronos Quartet. Adams "prepared" a piano in the fashion of John Cage: he attached screws, bolts, rubber erasers, weather stripping, and other material to the strings of the piano. The key playing that string would then produce a given percussive sound rather than a note. Then Adams sampled the prepared piano sounds, organized them into loops, and set them up as short rhythm tracks. The idea was that, as called for in six of the dances, a member of the quartet would trigger these loops to perform them "live." This idea proved to be too complicated, so Adams just recorded them. In those six numbers the quartet plays with the pre-recorded prepared piano loops. The order of movements is that used in a recording of the work supervised by the composer. However, essentially there is no fixed order. The exuberance, one could even call it rowdiness, of these dances, makes for a score that is technically extremely demanding. Interestingly, the composer supplies highly entertaining notes to explain all the titles, also mentioning the musical contents of some of the pieces. "Judah to Ocean," for example, is the route of streetcar that Adams could from hear his window. "Toot Nipple" (the name is from the novel Postcards by E. Annie Proulx), features "furious chainsaw triads on the cello." "Dogjam" is a demon fiddle piece, "in twisted hillbilly chromatics." Other movements include a tender song for a young teenager, a scat-like song, a portrait of an aging Cuban dictator, a portrait of two housing contractors hired by the composer, a sluggish escalator in a local Macy's, and a serenade in unclear rhythms. The overall effect is humorous, attractive, and sometimes quite wild.

Done