Elation: Adams

Short Ride in a Fast Machine by John Adams (b. 1947) is a piece that both expresses elation and makes me elated when listening. It is what I call “go music.” There is so much energy, optimism, brilliance and character, I can’t help but feel invigorated.

John Adams is a minimalist composer. Most people think that minimalism has no melody and simply repeats over and over again. This is not true. Minimalism has a long melody over time that doesn’t stay the same, it is always different. Always evolving.

You’ll notice that in this first clip, everything starts on the beat with the wood block: the fast clarinet notes, the trumpets, and the trombones. But as things evolve, they get off the beat and become more and more syncopated. It reminds me of dancing.

A few minutes in, there is someone who enters the dance who doesn’t want to do it the same way. Perhaps an older, heavy man who doesn’t enjoy it as much. The rhythm in this clip still has the wood block and the eighth-note motor in the strings, but the basses and tubas play a a rhythm that is slower and disjointed from the rest. This is a phenomenon known as polyrhythm. The effect on the listener is the same as if she were to pat her head and rub her stomach. You actually have to think and be engaged to listen to this kind of music.