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John Adams

Publisher: AMP

Shaker Loops (1978)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Sub Category
String Orchestra
Year Composed
arr. for string orchestra 1983
26 Minutes
Alternate Orchestration
3vn, va, 2vc, db
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Programme Note
John Adams Shaker Loops (1978)
Galili Dance video clip on YouTube
Composer Note:

Shaker Loops began as a string quartet with the title Wavemaker. At the time, like many a young composer, I was essentially unaware of the nature of those musical materials I had chosen for my tools. Having experienced a few of the seminal pieces of American Minimalism during the early 1970's, I thought their combination of stripped-down harmonic and rhythmic discourse might be just the ticket for my own unformed yearnings. I gradually developed a scheme for composing that was partly indebted to the repetitive procedures of Minimalism and partly an outgrowth of my interest in waveforms. The "waves" of Wavemaker were to be long sequences of oscillating melodic cells that created a rippling, shimmering complex of patterns like the surface of a slightly agitated pond or lake. But my technique lagged behind my inspiration, and this rippling pond very quickly went dry. Wavemaker crashed and burned at its first performance. The need for a larger, thicker ensemble and for a more flexible, less theory-bound means of composing became very apparent.

Fortunately I had in my students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music an ensemble willing to tryout new ideas, and with the original Wavemaker scrapped I worked over the next four months to pick up the pieces and start over. I held on to the idea of the oscillating patterns and made an overall structure that could embrace much more variety and emotional range. Most importantly the quartet became a septet, thereby adding a sonic mass and the potential for more acoustical power. The "loops" idea was a technique from the era of tape music where small lengths of prerecorded tape attached end to end could repeat melodic or rhythmic figures ad infinitum. (Steve Reich's It's Gonna Rain is the paradigm of this technique.) The Shakers got into the act partly as a pun on the musical term "to shake", meaning either to make a tremolo with the bow across the string or else to trill rapidly from one note to another. The flip side of the pun was suggested by my own childhood memories of growing up not far from a defunct Shaker colony near Canterbury, New Hampshire. Although, as has since been pointed out to me, the term "Shaker" itself is derogatory, it nevertheless summons up the vision of these otherwise pious and industrious souls caught up in the ecstatic frenzy of a dance that culminated in an epiphany of physical and spiritual transcendence. This dynamic, almost electrically charged element, so out of place in the orderly mechanistic universe of Minimalism, gave the music its raison d'etre and ultimately led to the full realization of the piece. Shaker Loops continues to be one of my most performed pieces. There are partisans who favor the clarity and individualism of the solo septet version, and there are those who prefer the orchestral version for its added density and power. The piece has several times been choreographed and even enjoyed a moment of cult status in the movie Barfly, an autobiographical account of the poet Charles Bukowsky's down and out days on LA's Skid Row. In a famous scene Bukowsky (Mickey Rourke), having been battered and bloodied by his drunken girlfriend (Faye Dunaway) holes up in a flophouse room, writing poems in a fit of inspiration to the accompaniment of the insistent buzz of "Shaking and Trembling".

— John Adams

  • 02 SEP 2016
    Genf, Switzerland
    Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
    John Adams, conductor
  • 04 MAY 2016
    L´Auditori, Barcelona
    Orquesta Sinfonica de Barcelona
    Francesc Prat, conductor

    Other Dates:
    5 May - L´Auditori, Barcelona
  • 04 MAY 2016
    Orquesta Sinfonica de Barcelona
    Mr. Frances Prat, conductor

    Other Dates:
    5 May - Spain
  • 17 APR 2016
    Omaha, NE
    Omaha Symphony
    Ernest Richardson, conductor
  • 27 FEB 2016
    Byre Theatre, St Andrews
    Lou Major Ensemble
    Ian Munro, conductor
  • 10 DEC 2015
    Oberlin, OH
    Oberlin Conservatory of Music
    Tim Weiss, conductor
  • 28 NOV 2015
    Cromer, UK
    London Mozart Players
    Nathan Waring, conductor
  • 27 NOV 2015
    Minimalism Unwrapped
    Kings Place, London
    Aurora Orchestra
    Leonard Eischenbroich; Nicholas Collon, conductor
  • 27 NOV 2015
    Visions - Tavener, Pärt and Adams
    King's Place, London
    Aurora Orchestra
    Leonard Elschenbroich, cello; Nicholas Collon, conductor
  • 02 SEP 2015
    Berlin, Germany
    Ensemble Modern
    Brad Lubman, conductor
  • 17 AUG 2015
    Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
    Edinburgh Festival Ensemble
  • 01 AUG 2015
    Hitzacker, Germany
    Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop
  • 03 JUL 2015
    Penzance String Youth Orchestra
  • 30 APR 2015
    Nürnberg, Germany
    Staatsphilharmonie Nürnberg
    Peter Tilling, conductor
  • 25 APR 2015
    Rio de Janiero, Brazil
    Scottish Ensemble
  • 21 APR 2015
    Stratford ArtHouse, Stratford
    Orchestra of the Swan
    David Curtis, conductor

    Other Dates:
    22 April - Town Hall, Birmingham
  • 23 JAN 2015
    Los Angeles, CA
    Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
    Karina Canellakis, conductor

    Other Dates:
    24,25 January - Los Angeles, CA
  • 09 JAN 2015
    St Paul, MN
    Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
    Steven Copes, conductor

    Other Dates:
    10,11 January - St Paul, MN
  • 07 DEC 2014
    Chamber Series
    Chicago, IL
    Chicago Symphony Orchestra
    Matthew Aucoin, conductor
  • 22 NOV 2014
    Hannover, Germany
    Niedersächsisches Staatsorchester Hannover
    Benjamin Reiners, conductor

    Other Dates:
    28 November; 5,10,20,30 December; 8,16 January 2015; 26 April 2015; 16,24 May 2015 - Hannover, Germany
  • 14 OCT 2014
    Old Fire Station Oxford
    Project Instrumental
  • 10 OCT 2014
    Dudelange, Luxembourg
    Orchestre de Chambre du Luxembourg
  • 29 SEP 2014
    Barbican 2014-15 Classical Series
    Milton Court Concert Hall, London
    Britten Sinfonia
    Nicholas Daniel (oboe)

    Other Dates:
    3 October - West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge
    5 October - Norwich Theatre Royal, Norwich
  • 12 SEP 2014
    Glasgow, Scotland
    Scottish Ensemble

    Other Dates:
    13 September - Glasgow, Scotland
  • 11 JUL 2014
    City of London Festival
    St Andrew Holborn, London
    Red Note Ensemble
  • 11 JUL 2014
    JAM, London
    John Armitage Memorial Trust

    Other Dates:
    12 July - JAM, London
  • 10 JUN 2014
    Budapest, Hungary
    Mahler Chamber Orchestra
    Pekka Kuusisto; Pekka Kuusisto, conductor

    Other Dates:
    15 June - Reykjavik, Iceland
    12 June - Berlin, Germany
  • 05 JUN 2014
    East London
    Project Instrumental
  • 26 MAY 2014
    Innsbruck, Austria
    Orchester des Tiroler Landeskonservatoriums
    Ivana Pristasova, conductor
  • 04 MAY 2014
    Rostock, Germany

    Other Dates:
    16,23 May - Rostock, Germany

[John Adams's] Shaker Loops is a minimalist quartet that became a septet, then a piece for full strings. Edwards and Ensemble Modern's particularly good recording combines clarity and individualism with density and power, [in] its rapturous lyricism (middle movements) and high-octane energy (outer movements). Kretzschmar drives [the] rhythmically propulsive Phrygian Gates [in] its restless shifting of colour and pulse. This beautifully recorded CD is strongly recommended.
Rob Cowen, Gramophone,01/01/0001
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