I first heard Adam’s music in 2009 on an old Myspace page. Gabby Diaz, a wonderful violinist who I’ve worked with both in the context of Guerilla Opera and separately, had recommended his music as something I might like. Not only did I like Adam’s stuff, I was floored by it. Most composers in their late twenties are still finding themselves as artists, taking chances, throwing ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks. This is an important process out of which composers mature, ideally into something that is truly “them.” What I found in Adam’s work was an already codified, distinct voice. He had an identity that was unique, recognizable and thrilling.
In 2010, I finally met the man himself while he was finishing his PhD at Harvard. We ran in similar new music circles so it was surprising that we hadn’t met at some point in the previous decade during which we both lived in Boston. I had heard that Adam was from my hometown Columbus, OH, but we quickly realized that not only were we both from Columbus but we also both grew up in Clintonville, a neighborhood just north of Ohio State University. We were almost the exact same age, had mutual friends and both worked in immediate succession [if our memories going back 17 years are to be believed] at the same small Austrian bakery, scraping pans and cleaning floors for five dollars an hour under the table.
I found the synchronicity of our origins fascinating, not only because of the improbability of two Clintonville kids growing up to devote their lives to this obscure musical sub-genre, but also because of what it might potentially say about our work. I wondered if my enthusiasm for Adam’s music was related to our shared geography, as if perhaps Columbus had shaped us in some unconscious and profound way and imbued us with similar sensibilities which we would later come to recognize in the music of the other.
I’d like to highlight some of what I find so wonderful about Adam’s music. Check out the following three excerpts:
Excerpt from Sinews (2008)
A composer’s treatment of a single melodic line is usually a nice window into his sound world. In this excerpt from Sinews, some of the characteristics that make Adam’s music so unique come to foreground. While his use of timbral manipulation imbues the excerpt with a plethora of diverse color, the real meat of the music for me is in the thin line dividing fingered melodic gestures and outright glissandi. There’s both a foreignness and familiarity to the music, a common dichotomy in his work.
Excerpt from Strange Loops (2007-2008)
There’s an orgasmic ecstasy to the profusion of repeated gestures in this short excerpt from Strange Loops, in which Roberts layers two images on top of one another. The first of these, in the foreground, relentlessly reiterates itself in ever-so-slight variation like some broken, mechanical device. The second image is more subtle, a vast ocean beneath the surface of the first, undulating with a profusion of unsettled small percussion instruments, like a swarm of insects creating an ever-shifting texture.
Excerpt from Recoil
Recoil highlights Adam’s brilliant manipulation of denser textures of instruments. There’s a thickly layered sheen made up of a multitude of smaller gestures. The more strident melodic material unifies a texture that, perceived as a whole sounds, like a massive, somehow-flawed machine factory laboring away, threatening to collapse under it’s own weight.
The process of working on Giver of Light has given me the chance to see Adam’s music from a new perspective. The opera arrived several months ago as a silent block of pages. Leafing through it I got the chance, in some sense, to experience his music without the filter of other artists. It gave me the chance to revel in the details of his sound world, to admire the construction of his architecture on both the macro and microscopic levels and to see his creative signature so carefully hidden amongst all those notes. But the magic of notated music is the filter it must go through to be realized. It requires other people’s interpretation of the composer’s imagination. I can’t wait to experience it as a final product, surrounded by other listeners being spun in his beautiful web.
Boston, April 16, 2013