American composer John Luther Adams has long felt a connection with the natural environment, and Become Desert marks the conclusion of a trilogy he never intended to create. Become River (2010) was followed by 2013's Become Ocean (Cantaloupe Music, 2014), which won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2014.
Become Ocean divided the orchestra into three parts, creating a constantly shifting, dense texture that evoked the motion of ocean waves. Become Desert utilizes space to an even greater extent, splitting the large orchestra and choir into five groups which surround the audience. The use of voices differentiates the sonic texture from the earlier piece, as does a greater use of percussion in the ensembles (the composition opens with gentle percussion sounds).
No doubt the listening experience is less immersive reduced to stereo (the second disc in the physical two-disc set is a DVD featuring a 5.1 surround mix of the recording, as well as a slideshow of desert images, shot by Adams himself, that loops during playback). But there is still a palpable sense of movement as the sound rises and falls, building to a low-pitched, throbbing crescendo at about the halfway point before finally falling back to the airy texture of the opening, emphasizing high strings punctuated by chiming percussion.
"'Become Desert' is both a celebration of the deserts we are given, and a lamentation of the deserts we create," says Adams. Like Become Ocean this recording was made in collaboration with the Seattle Symphony (and Seattle Symphony Chorale) conducted by Ludovic Morlot. It is a triumphant document of experimental music that embraces the orchestra, producing a ravishing, beautiful result.