"Shaker Loops" was composed in the fall of 1978 and first performed on December 8 of that year by members of the San Francisco Conservatory's New Music Ensemble and has since become my most frequently performed composition. It is scored for 3 violins, 1 viola, 2 celli and 1 bass.
Although being in its own way an example of 'continuous music', "Shaker Loops" differs from most other works of its kind because it sees so much change within a relatively short amount of time. Also it avoids the formal and temporal purity of much 'minimal' music by not adhering to a single unbending tempo throughout. This less severe approach allows a freer movement from one level of energy to another, making a more dramatic experience of the form.
The 'loops' are melodic material assigned to the seven instruments, each of a different length and which, when heard together, result in a constantly shifting play among the parts. Thus, while one instrument may have a melody with a period of 7 beats, another will be playing one with 11 while yet another will repeat its figure every 13 beats, and so on. (This is most easily perceived if one counts the beats between the various plucked notes in 'Hymning Slews').
The four sections, although they meld together evenly, are really quite distinct, each being characterized by a particular style of string playing. The outside movements are devoted to 'shaking', the fast, tightly rhythmicized motion of the bow across the strings. The 'slews' of Part II are slow, languid glissandi heard floating within an almost motionless pool of stationary sound (played 'senza vibrato'). Part III is essentially melodic, with the celli playing long, lyrical lines (which are nevertheless loops themselves) against a background of muted violins, an activity which gradually takes speed and mass until it culminates in the wild push-pull section that is the emotional high point of the piece. The floating harmonics, a kind of disembodied ghost of the push-pull figures in Part III, signal the start of Part IV, a final dance of the bows across the strings which concludes with the four upper voices lightly rocking away on the natural overtones of their strings while the celli and bass provide a quiet pedal point beneath.
Reviews"Shaker Loops is Adams' first real masterpiece, and one of his most enduring scores ... This recording captures the work's brilliant melding of Minimalist motivic development and Neo-Romantic power." - Pulse!