Alex Ross writes about the life and music of John Luther Adams.

Adams is an avid art-viewer, and is particularly keen on the second generation of American abstract painters: Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns, and Joan Mitchell. There are more art books than music books on the shelves of his studio, a neat one-room cabin that faces south, toward the Alaska Range.

Adams says, “I remember thinking, To hell with classical music. I’m going into the art world; I’m going to do installations. But I was really just interested in working with new media. And it doesn’t matter what I think I’m doing. The work has a life of its own, and I’m just along for the ride. Richard Serra talks about the point at which all your influences are assimilated and then your work can come out of the work.”

One of Adams’ experimental works is a room that generates the music based on external happenings.

The mechanism of “The Place” translates raw data into music: information from seismological, meteorological, and geomagnetic stations in various parts of Alaska is fed into a computer and transformed into an intricate, vibrantly colored field of electronic sound.

‚ÄúThe Place‚Äù occupies a small white-walled room on the museum‚Äôs second floor. You sit on a bench before five glass panels, which change color according to the time of day and the season. What you notice first is a dense, organlike sonority, which Adams has named the Day Choir. Its notes follow the contour of the natural harmonic series‚Äîthe rainbow of overtones that emanate from a vibrating string‚Äîand have the brightness of music in a major key. In overcast weather, the harmonies are relatively narrow in range; when the sun comes out, they stretch across four octaves. After the sun goes down, a darker, moodier set of chords, the Night Choir, moves to the forefront. The moon is audible as a narrow sliver of noise. Pulsating patterns in the bass, which Adams calls Earth Drums, are activated by small earthquakes and other seismic events around Alaska. And shimmering sounds in the extreme registers—the Aurora Bells—are tied to the fluctuations in the magnetic field that cause the Northern Lights.

I’d love to check that out.