Short Ride in a Fast Machine

December 16, 2007

Or as we used to call it back in my orchestra days, just plain Short Ride. It’s a famous piece by minimalist composer John Adams that I heard a snatch of the other day while I was messing around with some video for the Digital Library, and I knew that it was a piece that I had once played and listened to obsessively, and I knew it had a catchy, poetic title, but for the life of me I could not remember what it was. This distressed me, but a quick tour around my CD collection jogged my memory. And, while it really should be listened to in a format geared toward sound quality, this vid of the Hong Kong Symphony playing it has the advantage of giving you some idea just how hard it is to pull this piece off. It’s a wall of notes that only sound like they are patterns repeated over and over again without change–there are small changes constantly, and all those little notes must be played an counted with ruthless precision to get this effect of being immersed in a moving, breathing sound world. It’s tremendous to be a part of, and exhausting even though it’s only about four minutes long. That tuba lick in the middle is no fooling. And the ending has always made me feel like I was suddenly standing on an ocean promontory, looking out over water and sky and seeing life–vast, intense, and momentarily triumphant. Good stuff, deserves its reputation as far as I am concerned.

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