John Luther Adams – Sila / Houses Of The Wind



All of John Luther Adams music is closely connected to natural environments. Just check his previous releases: Arctic Dreams, Lines Made By Walking, and the massive trilogy Become River, Become Ocean, Become Desert. This is not in the sense that it merely ‘celebrates’ or ‘describes’ nature: it’s more like the music evokes the natural processes in sound. Which means the compositions can be long, seemingly timeless.
Sila: The Breath Of The World continues this tradition. Originally premiered in 2014, it is only now captured and presented as a CD (/download), as well as in immersive Dolby Atmos on selected streaming platforms.

Recording Sila clearly was not an easy task, given the multiple ensembles and the compositional choices involved:
Sila is scored for five ensembles of 16 musicians —woodwinds, brass, percussion, strings, and voices— who may perform the music in any combination, successively or simultaneously, outdoors, or in a large indoor space. The musicians are dispersed widely, surrounding the listeners, who are free to move around and discover their own individual listening points”.
Besides that ‘there is no conductor. Each musician is a soloist, who plays or sings a unique part at her or his own pace. The sequence of musical events is composed, but the length of each event is flexible. The music breathes.’

Sila, in the Inuit tradition, is ‘the spirit that animates all things, the breath of the world. Sila is the wind and the weather, the forces of nature. But it’s also something more. Sila is intelligence. It’s consciousness. It’s our awareness of the world around us, and the world’s awareness of us’.
In this time of increasingly fierce climate crises, Sila is ‘an invitation to listen more deeply’.

The composition, just short of one hour, opens with a deep rumbling. A movement from the bowels of the earth from which all further activity grows. Sila comes out of the earth and rises to the sky, floating upward through sixteen harmonic clouds, grounded on the first sixteen harmonics of a low B-flat. All the other tones in the music fall “between the cracks” of the piano keyboard—off the grid of twelve-tone equal temperament.’

Throughout the composition, the deep sub-level rumble recedes in favor of the higher frequencies. The music gradually dissolves ‘back into the breath of the world’. Is the world simply going to rest, or is a fundamental part of it slowly dying?

Being a surround nerd (but not yet involved in Dolby Atmos setups), I’m a bit disappointed that the release does not include a traditional (5.1) surround sound recording next to the stereo version (like the previous releases did). I would love to hear a full surround session to be able to hear Sila as it was intended. With an orchestration like this, there will probably be only a very few live performances.
But enough of that. Most people are not too much into surround anyway. This stereo release is a brilliant recording, and definitely immersive enough to experience John Luther Adams original intentions.
Just listen deeply.

Houses Of The Wind


Houses Of The Wind, which was released earlier this year, is equally environmentally-related but with a completely different instrumentation. No large-scale symphonic acoustic ensembles here, but electro-acoustic interpretations of an original recording made in 1989 from the wind playing through (or with) a small aeolian harp.

All (five) pieces here have the same length as the original recording, but each of them demonstrates a different kind of wind: Mountain Wind, Tundra Wind, Canyon Wind, Catabatic Wind (a wind that carries high-density air from a higher elevation down a slope under the force of gravity), and Anabatic Wind (a warm wind which blows up a steep slope or mountain side, driven by heating of the slope).

The sound of the original aeolian harp is ‘transposed, layered on itself and sculpted’ to reflect these different kinds of winds. Interestingly, the album has the same effect on the listener as Sila (and most of the other John Luther Adams projects): it is an open invitation to ‘listen deeply’, resulting in nothing but respect and awe for all kinds of natural processes.

Houses Of The Wind is released on Cold Blue Music and is available on CD as well as a digital download.

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  1. Dear Peter,

    Thank you so much for sharing this (and all the other hidden gems in your channel).
    I do share the passion of surround sound with you and there will be a first atmos setup in my home-studio soon.
    Do you, by any chance know where to find the atmos version of Sila?

    All the best
    Rainer Lilischkis

    1. I’ve asked, and this is the answer I got: “The Atmos mix is available via streaming services (Apple, Amazon and Tidal, I believe)”.
      So the Atmos versions cannot be bought, only streamed. I have no further information since I don’t use any of these three services. Good luck!