John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit: Q&A with Melanie Voytovich

by Melanie Voytovich


A very special performance of John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit is taking place on Saturday, September 19, 2pm at Seward Park Amphitheater. It is FREE and open to the public! Melanie Voytovich organized the performance and we wanted to turn the blog over to her for a little background on the piece and what to expect! 


What is Inuksuit?
163Inuksuit is a 79-minute masterpiece written for 9 to 99 percussionists composed by John Luther Adams. The title refers to a type of stone landmark used by native peoples of the Arctic region; listeners discover their individual listening points as they, too, move freely during the performance. This work is designed to heighten our awareness of the sights and sounds that surround us every day, and deeply influenced by the composer’s belief that “music can contribute to the awakening of our ecological understanding. By deepening our awareness of our connections to the earth, music can provide a sounding model for the renewal of human consciousness and culture.” Adams has notated in Inuksuit that the piece should only be performed outdoors. The piece uses a mix of standard and less common instruments, including glockenspiel, toms, cymbals, conch shells, whirly tubes, vuvuzelas, and sirens.


What can people expect?
Inuksuit_Shawn_Brackbill_BPeople can expect a really unique listening experience. Often when we attend concerts we’re asked to sit in a single location and tune out any extraneous sounds to enjoy the performance. Inuksuit is completely different: There is no designated area for the audience, and attendees are encouraged to walk around and discover the varied aural experiences. Additionally, the sounds of bird chirping, raindrops falling, and branches breaking below your feet are now part of the piece and not something to be disregarded. Everyone should feel encouraged to listen differently.


What inspired you to lead this production?

tumblr_ln7fsy1Fzp1qka8qbo1_500My biggest inspiration for producing this piece was my experience at the Chosen Vale Percussion Seminar in the summer of 2014. Doug Perkins and Amy Garaphic are the organizers of this seminar, and also very involved with JLA and have produced a number of performances of Inuksuit. That summer, Adams was invited to be a composer-in-residence for the program and we had the privilege of playing through the percussion parts of his piece Sila: The Breath of the World before the premier performance at Lincoln Center. Sila is written for large ensemble and voices, so we only represented a fraction of the final product, and the experience was really moving for us all. I was able to learn about his experiences and inspirations first hand, and developed a deep interest in learning more and performing this major work for percussion.

Seattle is so fast-paced that many of us rarely, if ever, take a moment to take in the sounds around us. As many of my friends and coworkers could tell you, I often notice and appreciate (often by mimicking) the sounds around me – the accidental clink of a glass, interesting rhythms created by birds or builders, and anything else that sounds interesting in my environment. You could say perhaps I’m living in an eternal state of 4’33”, and I’m often curious how others don’t take the time to hear the beauty or intrigue in any of these sounds. Inuksuit requires that the listener engage the sounds of their environment. It’s a really exciting to me to invite people to listen this way, in a “shape-your-own experience” environment.

I’d also like to throw thanks out to the organizations that helped make this presentation possible. The Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra, Washington State Percussive Arts Society, and the Seattle Symphony.