Commissioned by and dedicated to the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra for its Centennial Anniversary.
Unavailable for performance.
I am walking through a desert, on the bottom of the sea. A glint catches my eye. I stop and pick it up. White coral, a shard of a colony of creatures that lived here some 300 to 500 million years ago. I can’t comprehend how long ago that was. Yet by that time, 80 to 90 percent of earth’s history was already written in stone. This place where I’m standing now, wasn’t here at all. The earth beneath my feet was much closer to the equator, rotated 90 degrees on the north-south axis, and submerged under warm tropical waters. I am walking in deep time.
An Atlas of Deep Time is grounded in my desire, amid the turbulence of human affairs, to hear the older, deeper resonances of the earth. The piece is scored for a large orchestra, arrayed in six instrumental choirs surrounding the listeners, and layered in six simultaneous tempos.
Like the geologic layers of rocks beneath our feet, the densities and textures, the instrumental and harmonic colors are always changing, yet somehow the substance always seem to be the same.
The earth is 4 billion 570 million years old. An Atlas of Deep Time lasts roughly 46 minutes, which equates to about 100 million years per minute. At that tempo, the entire history of the human family is represented in the dying reverberations of the last 25 milliseconds of this music.
—John Luther Adams