Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Philip Lambert

Subject Categories

Environmental Sciences | Music


algorithmic music, Ecocentric, ecomusicology, John Luther Adams, musical semiotics, sonification


The composer John Luther Adams envisions his role as one who re-imagines and re-creates relationships with other human and non-human beings through music. This dissertation consists of an examination of songbirdsongs, Earth and the Great Weather, In the White Silence, Strange and Sacred Noise, The Place Where You Go to Listen, and Inuksuit to determine whether, and how, Adams succeeds in re-creating these relationships.

In the Introduction various means of connecting music and the natural world are reviewed, a semiotic and ecomusicological framework for analysis is established, and a listening typology is suggested. In the following chapters, analysis of Adams's six works is based on his compositional process, the musical scores, and the listening process that each piece facilitates.

What emerges are multiple ways in which Adams facilitates new relationships amongst people and between people and the natural world. In works like songbirdsongs, Earth and the Great Weather, and Inuksuit, Adams directly employs the sounds of the natural world but helps listeners to focus on them as sounds rather than as tools for his own compositional expansion. Works like The Place Where You Go to Listen and Inuksuit integrate listeners into their specific natural environments. In almost all of his works beginning with Earth and the Great Weather, Adams limits the amount of personal expression that he puts into his music, structuring the music instead according to algorithmic processes. He also transfers creative responsibility to his performers in open works like songbirdsongs and Inuksuit, and in the former ethological rules established by songbirds guide the performers as well. In The Place Where You Go to Listen he leaves determination of the musical surface in the hands of the natural world itself. Finally, in all of his music, Adams asks the listener not to listen to his "message" but rather to an unfolding process in the music that parallels something in the natural world. The pieces reward a patient, prolonged attentiveness with an experience of beauty and/or power and a deep sense of place.