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Div III: Experimenting with Music Leads to Book Chapter

By Taliesin Nyala 07F

When Dave Herr’s 06F faculty committee told him his Division III was publishable, he wanted to get feedback from the man whose music had inspired it before sending the research paper to journals.

Herr sent his Div III, entitled “Process in the Music of John Luther Adams: A Study of Strange and Sacred Noise,” to composer John Luther Adams and received both an enthusiastic response and the opportunity to write a chapter in an upcoming book about Adams’ work.

“The timing was serendipitous,” says Herr, because German scholar Bernd Herzogenrath was at work on an anthology of Adams’ work. Another contributor had already written about Strange and Sacred Noise, so they asked Herr to write about Adams’ 2007 orchestral composition, Dark Waves

“I really like Adams’ music,” Herr says. “I have real love for the forms he uses, both listening to and looking at the scores of these pieces.”

Adams is an American experimental composer who is heavily influenced by the natural world, chaos theory, and fractal geometry. His music is based on physical processes going on in nature, like the collapse of glaciers or the calm silence of the open land.

Though his music is experimental and minimalist, “nothing is left up to chance in the scores. It’s all very tight and organized,” says Herr.

In Dark Waves, there are “sound clusters that swell and fade away, but no tunes or melodies,” Herr says. “There is an electronic version of the orchestra playing, taken from snippets of different instruments” that is overlaid by music from a live orchestra. The two are blended in such a way as to make the electronic and human sounds indistinguishable from one another.

While he enjoys writing about music, Herr is also a musician in his own right, and composed a score for Div III. He sees writing about music and music composition as directly related, and plans to go to a graduate school that will allow him to study musicology crossed with composition.

“I have a month to write the chapter [on Dark Waves], so I feel some pressure but I’m excited to know that it’s going somewhere,” says Herr.

Div III faculty committee: Professor of music Daniel Warner and Associate professor of music Rebecca Miller.

John Luther Adams

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