Slow Ride in a Fast Machine

Posted on July 28, 2010


I’ve been so pumped this past week that so many of you out there are ready to try some new music. Motivated by your spirit, I decided to increase the types of foods that I was willing to eat while on vacation with my wife in Montreal. If you know me, you know that this is no small concession. I normally have the culinary sensibilities and preferences of a 3rd grader (with apologies to most 3rd graders), but this week I chowed down on bananas, kiwi, blueberries, melons, and lots of other fruits. I was so proud of myself! (Pretty pathetic that I’m patting myself on the back for this, I know.) In fact, I was so proud of my newly acquired big-boy pants that for thirty seconds, I seriously considered ordering a side of escargot at a restaurant just to see what it tasted like.

But after about 30 seconds, I wussed out.

For your sake, I hope this music is more like the fruits I added to my diet. Don’t wuss out on me, even if classical music is your escargot. Be better than me. Give me your ears for 4 minutes and 23 seconds.

I submit for your approval: Slow Ride in a Fast Machine, by American composer John Adams

For my money, this piece has it all. It’s fast and exciting. It has loud percussion and loud brass (a.k.a. LOUUUUUUD NOISES). It uses “colors”- sounds created by the instruments that are used, how they’re used and how they’re combined- that most people are familiar with from film scores (especially sci-fi films). It’s got some repetitive rhythms which gives a listener like me something to latch on to. And best of all? It’s short! Not much longer than your average popular song.

Before you dive in, if I may, I’d like to offer up an analogy that I hope will help you hear this music in a way that might help you enjoy it more.  You see, listening to pop music is usually like running around a track (this is NOT an insult). You decide on a speed and start to run. On each lap, you might run in a different lane, or the people around you may come or go, but your surroundings remain mostly stagnant and essentially it’s the same experience on each lap. A lot of classical music- this piece included- is more like running on a path. When you run on a path, the sidewalk might stay the same kind of concrete, and you might stay in one neighborhood, but your surroundings are constantly changing. The path also provides a greater potential for surprises. For instance, you might have to watch out for bikers, inconsistencies in the path, or even occasionally avoid some dog’s mess that someone neglected to clean up.

I share this with you because if you listen to this music expecting to “run around a track” while you listen, you’ll be disappointed. Try to enjoy the path instead of the track, even if you prefer the security and predictibility of the track (as I often do). Let the path take you where it wants you to go, and not where you want the path to go. I mean, sometimes you’ve gotta look yourself in the mirror and say, “When in Rome…”

It helps me if I close my eyes when I listen to new music, but do whatever works for you.

The speed of your run with this music is set by a wood block at the beginning, which you can hear throughout almost the entire piece (something else you can try to latch on to as you’re listening). If you think you’re pretty good at keeping a steady beat, see if you can hang with the wood block until it stops near the end. Have fun!

(BTW, I’m not intending for you to watch these videos, although this first one is related to the music. They just happen to have the audio we want. Don’t watch. Just listen. )

Like it? Listen again! Unsure if you liked it? Please give it one more shot now that you know a little bit about the path it’s going to take.

Thanks for listening. And…for listening.

If I’ve piqued your interest, I’m going to try and include something I want to call “Music I Dare You To Listen To” at the end of each blog entry that provides you with a listening sample. The dares will be more challenging music to listen to- in other words, it will test your willingness/ability to let the music take you on the path that it wants to go. I’ll frame these dares with a shoutout to one of my favorite childhood shows: Nickelodeon’s Double Dare. The first piece is a Dare: similar/closely related to the first piece in some way (in my opinion). The second piece- a little more of a stretch for the listener- is a Double Dare. And for those who want to test their limits with what might turn out to be musical escargot- the Physical Challenge. No one will hold it against you if you wuss out here (especially not me), but it’s good to know it’s there if you ever get up the guts to try it someday.

Dare: Shaker Loops: I: Shaking and Trembling– John Adams. Typical of the style that John Adams and his contemporaries made famous. Twice as long as the first example, so if you listen, make sure you have about ten minutes to spare. Not sure what’s up with the GM video that goes along with the music. Just minimize the window and listen without watching.

Double Dare: Harmonielehre: Part III: Meister Eckhart and Quackie– John Adams. A little longer, a little more complex. Last two minutes are awesome, so hang in there. For more on the weird title, click here (scroll down to Part III).

Physical challenge: Hallelujah Junction: Part 1– John Adams

Sound quality is weak on this clip. Neat piece for two pianos at the same time. Beautiful beginning, but it gets a little weird and I predict that you may hate the way it ends. Just remember: when in Rome…

Until next week, you stay classy…Planet Earth.

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Posted in: Music