Tracks 1 and 3 to 11 recorded at Skywalker Sound, Nicasio, CA in August 1996.
Track 2 recorded at Skywalker Sound in August 1995.
Tracks 12 to 14 recorded at Air Studios, London, England in July 1997; edited and mixed at Galaxy Classics, Mol, Belgium.
Mastered at SoundByte Productions, NYC.
## 1-11 John's Book of Alleged Dances, for string quartet 1996
Performed by: David Harrington, Joan Jeanrenaud, Hank Dutt, John Sherba, Kronos Quartet.
These dances, says Adams, are "alleged" because "the steps for them have yet to be invented." They were written for the Kronos Quartet. Adams "prepared" a piano in the fashion of John Cage: he attached screws, bolts, rubber erasers, weather stripping, and other material to the strings of the piano. The key playing that string would then produce a given percussive sound rather than a note. Then Adams sampled the prepared piano sounds, organized them into loops, and set them up as short rhythm tracks. The idea was that, as called for in six of the dances, a member of the quartet would trigger these loops to perform them "live." This idea proved to be too complicated, so Adams just recorded them. In those six numbers the quartet plays with the pre-recorded prepared piano loops. The order of movements is that used in a recording of the work supervised by the composer. However, essentially there is no fixed order. The exuberance, one could even call it rowdiness, of these dances, makes for a score that is technically extremely demanding. Interestingly, the composer supplies highly entertaining notes to explain all the titles, also mentioning the musical contents of some of the pieces. "Judah to Ocean," for example, is the route of streetcar that Adams could from hear his window. "Toot Nipple" (the name is from the novel Postcards by E. Annie Proulx), features "furious chainsaw triads on the cello." "Dogjam" is a demon fiddle piece, "in twisted hillbilly chromatics." Other movements include a tender song for a young teenager, a scat-like song, a portrait of an aging Cuban dictator, a portrait of two housing contractors hired by the composer, a sluggish escalator in a local Macy's, and a serenade in unclear rhythms. The overall effect is humorous, attractive, and sometimes quite wild.
## 12-14 Gnarly Buttons, for clarinet & ensemble: The Perilous Shore 1997
Performed by: John Adams, Roger Chase, Michael Collins, Christopher van Kampen, Gareth Hulse
Although the clarinet was Adams' instrument, he composed no music featuring that instrument until his fiftieth year. This may relate to a sad story Adams tells about his father, a professional clarinetist but later a victim of Alzheimer's disease, who became obsessed with the idea that someone was trying to steal his two treasured Selmer instruments. Ultimately, he disassembled them and tried to hide them in the laundry hamper. After he got them, the younger Adams did not play them until he began to compose this piece. It was written for Michael Collins, a British clarinetist "whose way of playing the instrument most approximates my own ideal." The work was commissioned by the London Sinfonietta and Present Music, an ensemble in Milwaukee.
Adams explains that "gnarly" means "knotty or twisted." However, California-American surfer-teen talk also uses the word to mean "awesome," "neat," and the like. "Buttons" refers to Gertrude Stein's "Tender Buttons," but also to the increasing ubiquity of buttons our modern age demands be pushed.
The first movement is based on an old Protestant hymn found in a nineteenth-century shape-note hymnal, specifically upon the first line, "O Lord, steer me from that Perilous Shore." This hymn tune is "twisted and embellished from the start," Adams says. Its first appearance is in a single voice, and then it is set with progressively greater complexity. These complications generate musical material that is used in subsequent movements. The second movement is a rodeo as seen through the eyes of the cattle, who generally are roped, tied, wrestled, ridden and otherwise antagonized. The title also refers to the Mad Cow disease scare in England, which occurred just as Adams's British friends were preparing the piece for performance. The final movement is a gentle love song that starts out in a tender mood, and ends up "gnarled and crabbed."