It’s our awareness of the world around us, and the world’s awareness of us.

 “Sila: The Breath of the World” by 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner John Luther Adams premiered at Lincoln Center July 25, 2014.

“Sila” is an Inupiaq word similar to Yup’ik “Cella” or “Ella,” meaning the universe expressed as a conscious personality.

Anastasia Tsioulcas describes ‘the quiet, deeply contemplative nature of Adams’ elegantly wrought and mesmerizing work’ in the following report. 

“Sila is a piece intended to be played by 16 to 80 or more musicians grouped into five separate ensemble choirs of woodwinds, brass, percussion, strings and voices, who may perform the work in any combination, either simultaneously or successively. There is no conductor, and each musician chooses his or her own pacing through the score, as long as each sustained tone or rising phrase “lasts the length of one full exhalation,” according to Adams’ notes.

The piece is set within 16 “harmonic clouds” grounded on the first sixteen overtones of a low B-flat… The music shimmers and shifts in magical and beautiful ways. And Sila is as much performance piece as sonic work. The long, luxurious phrases were underscored by choreographer Mark DeChiazza, who had the performers make slow, sweeping tai chi-like gestures that seemed to halt time.

The composer translates the Inuit title of the piece this way: “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.” Even with the buzz of Manhattan so close, Adams and his musicians created a work of music, and of theater, that encouraged listeners to look both deeply inward and out into an imaginary expanse far beyond Hearst Plaza.

Sila ends with performers blowing through megaphones — no notes sounding, just long exhalations of breath you had to lean in closely to hear. Just as Saturday’s performance was drawing to its close, a breeze visited, creating new waves of ripples in the pool.”


3 responses

  1. I’ll listen to this later, but just wanted to say that the choice of keys is interesting. Bb, or an almost Bb, is the key of much folk music including Scottish bagpipes and a lot of bluegrass. There’s something primal or natural about that key. For vocals especially, it seems to be the key between female and male vocal ranges.


    September 28, 2014 at 2:36 am

    • Wow I didn’t know that Debra! I got immersed today in music, alternative tunes if you will…ran across an interview with Ornette Coleman where he mentions music as a better language than words to convey feeling. It reminded me of you and your continued interest in non-verbal modes of communication. This work really got to me especially toward the end. It is best listened to as a meditation. The feeling of a world soul came through for me especially in the quiet toward the end.


      September 28, 2014 at 3:06 am

      • Now I am even more excited to give it a listen! I will look for some quiet time and let it roll.



        September 28, 2014 at 3:12 am

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