The Trees are the Instruments

“I’m profoundly influenced by the natural world and a strong sense of place…I hope to explore the territory of sonic geography–that region between place and culture…between environment and imagination.”
– John Luther Adams

John Luther Adams has been hailed by the New Yorker as “one of the most original musical thinkers of the new century.” After studying at the California Institute of the Arts, Adams embarked on a prolific career encompassing a variety of genres and media, including television, film, children’s theater, voice, acoustic instruments, orchestra, and electronics. His Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award-winning orchestral composition, Become Ocean, has become one of the most popular concert pieces in the modern repertoire.

Much of John Luther Adams’ work as a composer and, increasingly, a conceptual artist is rooted in his love of nature combined with what he calls the “resonances” of a particular environment. For the Wind Garden, his installation commissioned by the Stuart Collection at UC San Diego, that environment is a eucalyptus grove located in the campus Theater District. Based on a carefully determined site plot, 32 accelerometers were attached to the highest branches, measuring the movements of the trees in the wind. As the velocity of the wind changes so, too, does the amplitude of the sound. Tonal variations and harmonic colors are provided by two virtual “choirs,” a Day Choir tuned to the natural harmonic series, and a Night Choir tuned to the sub-harmonic series. The results are broadcast by 32 small loudspeakers hidden among the trees. Both volume and pitch change in real time throughout the day and with the sun’s movement over the course of the seasons.

Because the composition is driven entirely by wind and the sun’s light, it never repeats itself. The listener is surrounded by sounds that vaguely recall bells, voices, strings, and other acoustic instruments, but it’s impossible to describe them in just those familiar terms or to know their exact source. Like some of Adams’ other recent pieces, the Wind Garden has been described as “indeterminate,” but the composer argues that it’s more accurate to call it “self-determining,” not reliant on musicians or conventional instruments. Rather, Adams notes that “the trees are the instruments” while acknowledging the sophisticated technology employed to “give voice” to the trees.

Adams hopes that each unique encounter with the Wind Garden and its rich, ever-shifting harmonic palette will encourage both “deep listening” and an enhanced appreciation of the natural environment.

Watch The Wind Garden by John Luther Adams – Stuart Collection at UC San Diego

The Filmmaking Process

8232New programs from the Carsey-Wolf Center at UC Santa Barbara go behind the scenes with filmmakers, directors, screenwriters and others involved in the film industry. From blockbuster, oscar-nominated films to independent foreign gems, enjoy fascinating stories and insights into the filmmaking process.

82327 Islands & a Metro with Director Madhusree Dutta
Director Madhusree Dutta and UCSB Department of Film and Media Studies Professor Bhaskar Sarkar discuss the film 7 Islands and a Metro, a fascinating documentary on Bom Bahia / Bombay / Mumbai.

8232Arrival with Screenwriter Eric Heisserer
Arrival screenwriter and executive producer Eric Heisserer talks about adapting the the award-winning short story by Ted Chiang to the big screen.

8232Hidden Figures with Theodore Melfi and Kevin Costner
Writer/producer/director Theodore Melfi, actor Kevin Costner and president of Fox 2000 Pictures, Elizabeth Gabler discuss the Oscar-nominated film based on the true story about three brilliant African-American women working on John Glenn’s launch into orbit at NASA.

8232The Last Aristocrats with Kenneth Pai and Michael Berry
The Last Aristocrats is a film based on a short story by Kenneth Pai, UCSB Professor Emeritus. It follows four young Chinese women from elite Shanghai families who become stranded in the US when the communists take over Shanghai in 1948.

Browse more Carsey-Wolf programs

Oliver Stone on Conversations with History

8232Years ago (I won’t say how many) I was sitting on the steps of a Cinemobile truck parked near a film set (I won’t say which one), practicing “hurry up and wait.” I was chatting with a grip, a veteran of countless productions with decades in the business. At one point he sighed, looked off in the distance, and said, “Just once I’d like to work on a picture that’s about something real.” Even at that tender age I understood that desire; it’s what compelled me to become a documentarian, while my fellow film students aspired to be Spielberg or De Palma.

I recently recalled that encounter while watching an episode of Conversations with History featuring filmmaker Oliver Stone, and realized that my enthusiasm for factual filmmaking also informed my interest in Stone’s work. Beginning with his sophomore film, “Salvador,” and throughout his career, Stone has incorporated elements of documentary style in heightened narratives that are often based on real people and historical events. In his pursuit of what he’s termed “emotional truth,” as opposed to literal truth, Stone has never shied away from controversy. Stone’s detractors – and they are legion – accuse him of being “undisciplined’ and “reckless” in dealing with facts, labeling him as a “propagandist” and an “amateurish would-be historian.” In fairness Stone has never claimed to be either objective or an historian in the academic sense (though his films are heavily researched); rather, he has stated that his goal is not to provide definitive accounts but to spark debate while hopefully entertaining his audience. In this he has often succeeded, and even those self-same detractors can’t deny his prowess as a filmmaker.

Stone’s work in documentary and docudrama is just one of the many topics discussed in a wide-ranging interview with “Conversations” host Harry Kreisler. Of particular interest is Stone’s discourse on the changes that have overtaken him since his last appearance on the program some twenty years earlier. He’s an older artist who’s fallen out of favor in Hollywood, and his once-prodigious output has slowed as a consequence, but Stone remains committed to his beliefs and fearless in expressing his viewpoint.

One of the consistent themes in Oliver Stone’s work is a determination to explore the complexities of character, and in this interview Stone himself emerges as a complicated figure – by turns insightful, dogmatic, worldly, parochial, passionate, and analytical; at times exasperating, but, like his films, never dull.

Browse this program and others on Conversations with History.