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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

  • 31 AUG 2012
    Beijing, China
    Beijing Dance/LDTX
  • 08 AUG 2012
    Ulster Hall, Belfast, N. Ireland
    Ulster Orchestra
    Joann Falletta, conductor
  • 26 JUL 2012
    Elglaska Orkiestra Kameralna
    Pawel Kotla, conductor
  • 25 JUL 2012
    Interlochen, MI
    Interlochen Center for the Arts
  • 27 JUN 2012
    Rheingau Musik Festival
    Kurhaus Wiesbaden, Germany
    San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra
    Donata Cabrera, conductor
  • 10 JUN 2012
    Ojai, CA
    Norwegian Chamber Orchestra
    Reinberg de Leeuw, conductor
  • 01 JUN 2012
    Regina SASK, Canada
    Boundary Ensemble
  • 01 JUN 2012
    Regina, Canada
    Boundary Ensemble
  • 23 MAY 2012
    The Apex, Bury St Edmunds
    Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra
    Leslie Olive, conductor
  • 12 MAY 2012
    Metropolitan Museum of Art Concert Series
    New York, NY
  • 12 MAY 2012
    Radio Filharmonisch Orkest
    Gijs Leenaars, conductor
  • 11 MAY 2012
    Karlsruhe, Germany
    Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe

    Other Dates:
    19,25 May; 15 June - Karlsruhe, Germany
  • 09 MAY 2012
    Pforzheim, Germany
    Badische Philharmonie Pforzheim

    Other Dates:
    15 May; 3 June; 5 July - Pforzheim, Germany
  • 30 APR 2012
    ACHTBRÜCKEN Musik für Köln
    Philharmonie Cologne, Germany
    Mahler Chamber Orchestra
    Lawrence Renes, conductor
  • 28 APR 2012
    Mahler Chamber Orchestra
    Lawrence Renes, conductor

    Other Dates:
    29,30 April - Germany
  • 28 APR 2012
    Mahler Chamber Orchestra
    Lawrence Renes, conductor
  • 25 APR 2012
    Sharon, MA
    Alea Iii
    Andreas Tselikas, conductor
  • 22 APR 2012
    OSESP Chamber Orchestra
    Wagner Polistchuck, conductor
  • 18 APR 2012
    Miami, FL
    Seraphic Fire
    Patrick Dupree Quigley, conductor
  • 29 MAR 2012
    Fort Myer, VA
    United States Army Band
    Maj. Tod Addison, conductor

    Other Dates:
    30,31 March - Fort Myer, VA
  • 25 MAR 2012
    San Francisco, CA
    San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra
    Donato Cabrera, conductor
  • 15 MAR 2012
    Glurns, Italy
    Orchesterakademie Ski und Musik
    Martin Lill, conductor

    Other Dates:
    16 March - Reschen, Germany
    18 March - Karlsruhe, Germany
  • 01 MAR 2012
    San Francisco, CA
    New Century Chamber Orchestra
  • 26 FEB 2012
    Pforzheim, Germany
    Badische Philharmonie Pforzheim
    Tobias Leppert, conductor

    Other Dates:
    4,10,7,16 March; 4,11,26 April - Pforzheim, Germany
  • 24 FEB 2012
    Jamaica Plain, MA
    A Far Cry
  • 23 FEB 2012
    Berlin, Germany
    Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin
    Steffen Tast, conductor
  • 23 FEB 2012
    Berlin, Germany
    Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
    Steffen Tast, conductor

    Other Dates:
    24 February - Magdeburg, Germany
  • 21 FEB 2012
    Stuttgart, Germany
    Stuttgarter Kammerorchester
    Christoph Altstaedt, conductor
  • 16 FEB 2012
    Darmstadt, Germany
    Orchester des Staatstheaters Darmstadt
    Markus Baisch, conductor
  • 27 JAN 2012
    Minneapolis, MN
    Minnesota Orchestra
    Sarah Hicks, conductor

    Other Dates:
    28 January - Minneapolis, MN

[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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