Album Review: “Become Ocean” by John Luther Adams

Become Ocean is a moving work, to say the least. My first listen left me reeling in such a way that I immediately started over from the beginning. Mississippi-born and Alaska-based John Luther Adams won the 2014 Pulitzer for this piece, and it’s imminently clear he deserved the award.

John Luther Adams - Become OceanJohn Luther Adams (not to be confused with California’s John Adams, also nominated for a Pulitzer this year) has the heart of an ambient musician, the hands of a skilled composer and the spirit of the wild. If enjoyed without distraction, you can in fact, “become ocean.”

I first learned of Become Ocean (as many of my friends did) via this excellent episode of Radiolab, excerpting the equally impressive podcast Meet the Composer. Snippets featured in these shows drew me in, but none of that prepared me for how truly impressive as a whole Become Ocean is.

Alex Ross, a contributor to The New Yorker, shared this rough illustration of Adam’s form in an addendum to his review of the piece. The power behind Become Ocean emanates from the overlapping swells of an orchestra distinctly segmented. The result is an ever changing tide, the full ensemble hitting simultaneous crescendos thrice. Become Ocean strikes its most intense moments around the half-way mark; after that point, the piece is performed in reverse. Among many things, Become Ocean is a palindrome.

Alex Ross' diagram of Become Ocean.
Alex Ross’ rough diagram of Become Ocean.

In all honesty, Become Ocean feels like it shouldn’t be possible. At the very least, it’s hard to believe that it was not assembled in post production. Rather, John Luther Adams has created a solid 42-minute composition recorded with a real-life orchestra in full surround sound. Harps in the left ear swell into similar arpeggios on piano dead center, then strings in the right ear. At times, it’s easy to forget that the lulls in each wave are produced by real people, and not computer-built improvisations.

I can only imagine what it felt like to be John Luther Adams, experiencing his work in the flesh for the first time. After a year in composition, Adams did not hear Become Ocean until its third presentation: a packed house at Carnegie Hall. Become Ocean is a must-listen, if only to experience the subtlety and power a master of modern composition such as John Luther Adams can create.

In Adams’ own words:

Life on this earth first emerged from the sea. As the polar ice melts and sea level rises, we humans find ourselves facing the prospect that once again we may quite literally become ocean.

Check out Become Ocean for yourself on Murfie. While you’re at it, make sure to hear the full story via Radiolab.


John Kruse
@mamtweet

John Praw Kruse is an Operations Manager, and Product Manager for the Murfie Vinyl Service. In his free time, John makes music, including scores for indie films and various shorts. He is the founder of Mine All Mine Records and the Lost City Music Festival. John devours new music.


Last Call: Your Murfie Week in Review


Monday 8/28—

[Blog] Grant gave us a dose of cool: soul jazz musician Grant Green.

Tuesday 8/29—

[Blog] We previewed Sand + Silence by folk duo The Rosebuds.
[Twitter] Our developer Marc leaked info about a cool new feature on mobile.

Wednesday 8/30—

[Blog] Wishy Wednesday happened in full force.
[Twitter] A Murfie member admitted his Creed CDs were on sale for $0.

Thursday 8/31—

[Blog] We previewed Spoon’s upcoming rock album, They Want My Soul.
[Facebook] The Murfie Genie delighted a few members with album gifts.
[Blog] Two words: Music History. (Learn up, people!)
[Twitter] Pixologie had fun visiting the Murfie office!

Friday 9/1—

[Twitter] We wished blues guitarist Robert Cray a Happy Birthday.

Last Call: Your Murfie Week in Review

 

Monday
7/21

[Blog] Grant picked the top 5 albums by Pink Floyd, one of rock music’s most influential bands.

Tuesday
7/22

[Blog] We previewed Lese Majesty by experimental hip hop/electronic collective Shabazz Palaces.

[Blog] We previewed Jenny Lewis’ upcoming album The Voyager.

Wednesday
7/23

[Blog] We previewed The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale, by Eric Clapton & Friends.

Thursday
7/24

[Twitter] Any good #ThrowbackThursday albums? Bueller? Bueller?

Friday
7/25

[Blog] When Andrew bought a copy of Gwen Stefani’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby., things went bananas.


 

Last Call: Your Murfie Week in Review

 

Monday
7/14

[Twitter] We remembered the great Woody Guthrie on his birthday.

[Twitter] We recommended Murfie as the best way to rip your CD collection in lossless format.

Tuesday
7/15

[Blog] Grant talked about songs that can easily get stuck in your head.

Wednesday
7/16

[Blog] Andrew talked about the top 5 albums of 2014 (so far).

[Website] We ran another round of Wishy Wednesday, where you can update your Wishlist for a chance of getting a wish fulfilled.

[Blog] We previewed La Roux’s new electronic synth pop album Trouble in Paradise.

Thursday
7/17

[Blog] We previewed a fresh new album called Heaven & Earth by the successful prog rock band Yes.

[Twitter] We received a crate from Korea! What do you think it could it be?

Friday
7/18

[Blog] Andrew recommended a few bands to fans of The Strokes.


 

Last Call: Your Murfie Week in Review

 

Mon.
7/7


[Twitter] We recommended pre-ordering new albums by Anand Wilder and Cloud Boat.

[Twitter] We bumped some reggae tunes on the office Sonos PLAY:5.

Tues.
7/8


[Blog] We previewed the upcoming album Terms of My Surrender by John Hiatt.

[Website] We re-vamped and improved search on murfie.com.

Weds.
7/9


[Blog] Wishy Wednesday delighted a few lucky Murfie members.

[Twitter] Our CEO Matt Younkle shared a cool article about music ownership vs. rental.

[Blog] We previewed Weird Al’s newest album Mandatory Fun.

[Twitter] We recommended pre-ordering Trampled by Turtles’ upcoming album.

Thurs.
7/10


[Blog] Andrew wrote a review of Radiohead’s career.

[Twitter] We reacted to an awesome article about CD collecting.

Fri.
7/11


[Blog] Andrew recommended a few albums to fans of Bruce Springsteen.

[Twitter] We suggested Murfie as a way to #declutter CDs.


Last Call: Your Murfie Week in Review


Sunday 5/25: In the Marketplace – We refreshed our Staff Picks Cool Collection.

Monday 5:26: Memorial Day! Our staff spent the day relaxin’. :-)

Tuesday 5/27: In the Press – The Isthmus wrote an article and Madison Startups wrote an article about the launch of the Yahara Music Library, an awesome local music streaming project that Murfie is part of.

Wednesday 5/28: On the Blog – Ally gave us our weekly dose of music history for May 28th-June 3rd.

Thursday 5/29: In the Marketplace – A ton of albums were added to our Summerfest Cool Collection, showcasing the greta range of talent coming to Milwaukee this summer.

Friday 5/30: On the Blog – We reviewed  the classic compilation “Legend” by Bob Marley & the Wailers. Share the article or retweet one of our #FreeFriday tweets for a chance to win your own copy! In the Press – Madison Magazine wrote a story covering the Yahara Music Library.


 

Last Call: Your Murfie Week in Review

 


Sunday 5/11

– On Twitter: We shared some Mom-Approved music for Mother’s Day.

Monday 5/12

– On Twitter: We got a cool tweet from a new member overseas!

– On Facebook: A huge rainstorm hit Madison! We posted a photo to try to capture the intense storm.

– On Facebook: Daniel Edgerton won our #FreeFriday: The Mouse and the Mask giveaway!

Tuesday 5/13

– In the Press: HarborLAB posted an article showing how they are using Murfie’s recycled CD cases to restore wetlands and create a fun educational opportunity!

– In the Marketplace: A bunch o’ new album releases were added to our shop, including Dolly Parton’s Blue Smoke, Little Dragon’s Nabuma Rubberband, and The Black Keys’ Turn Blue.

Wednesday 5/14

– On Twitter: We thought it was pretty cool that Morrissey sent our his first tweet!

Thursday 5/15

– On the Blog: Ally gave us our weekly dose of music history, featuring facts about The Stones, The Beach Boys, Elton John, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, The Who and Adele.

Friday 5/16

– On the Blog: Our current #FreeFriday: Back to Black review was posted, featuring the late great Amy Winehouse. You still have a chance to win if you retweet our tweet or share our Facebook post!

– On Facebook: We challenged you to buy a Beach Boys album!

– On Twitter: James got a tat!!!