Live in Rice’s live oak grove: A free performance of percussive ‘Inuksuit’

Concert-length work by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer will echo across campus

The live oak grove just inside Entrance 1 will bloom with the wild sounds of percussion when Rice hosts a performance of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams’ “Inuksuit.”

Inuksuit flyerForty-five musicians from the Shepherd School of Music and across the U.S. will spread out in the large, leafy area playing drums, cymbals, gongs, glockenspiels and sirens, while audience members are encouraged to wander the grove and create their own unique listening experience.

“I call it a ‘choose your own adventure’ piece,” said Sydney Boyd, the Spatial Studies Project Manager for Rice’s Humanities Research Center and organizer of the event. “You can make it whatever you want, by moving freely but also by listening. It is really about becoming aware of your environment — stepping out of the everyday noise, putting your phone away, forgetting about all those outside stresses — and taking a moment to contemplate where you are in the world.”

The concert-length work be performed on a Saturday afternoon, Feb. 16, beginning at 4 p.m. It will be presented by the Spatial Humanities Initiative in the Humanities Research Center. Directed by Doug Perkins and produced by Brandon Bell, this presentation of “Inuksuit” will be the premiere performance with a landscape installation specifically designed for the work by Falon Mihalic.

Using boulders, wood, and cables, Mihalic’s design will create a listening map focused around a suspended chandelier in the center of the grove. Her work will remain on display in the grove through March 16.

Since its premiere in 2009, “Inuksuit” has been performed hundreds of times around the world in spaces as disparate as a Rocky Mountain meadow, an Australian beach, a Greek plateau, the wilds of Alaska, the deep woods of northern Vermont and, most recently, the border wall between San Diego and Tijuana.

Finding the perfect place for this performance of “Inuksuit” proved challenging, Boyd said. Rice hosted the Houston premiere of the work in 2013 at James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace. But for this performance — which seeks to incorporate new elements both natural and man-made — Boyd sought a larger space suited for sprawling out.

“Because ‘Inuksuit’ is all about opening your eyes and ears to the environment around you, it mattered an enormous amount that we chose a space that people could open and discover transport in,” she said.

The New York Times has called “Inuksuit” “the ultimate environmental piece,” while Alex Ross, writing for The New Yorker, hailed it as “one of the most rapturous experiences of my listening life.” Though Boyd has yet to experience “Inuksuit” firsthand, she’s excited to finally hear the work of a composer she’s respected and loved for years.

“As a Ph.D. candidate a few years ago, I was researching 21st-century music that dealt with different spaces and played with time, and I came across his album ‘In the White Silence,’ which moves through the alphabet — movements are called ‘The Letter O,’ for example,” Boyd said. “The first time I listened to it, I thought, ‘This is the most peaceful, ethereal sound from the last decade’s new music I’ve ever heard.’”

The performance of “Inuksuit” is free and open to the public. Audience members are encouraged to bring folding chairs or blankets and footwear appropriate for comfortable outdoor walking. Parking is also free on a first-come, first-served basis in the Lovett Lot beginning at 3:30 p.m. The length of the work ranges between 60 and 75 minutes depending on various environmental factors.

For her part, Boyd said she’s excited to see how Mihalic’s installation — that giant chandelier and the listening map — make the music come alive, and thrilled to finally hear “Inuksuit” echo across campus.

“I’m looking forward to the moment those first sounds ring out in the grove,” she said.

For more information on the Feb. 16 performance of “Inuksuit,” visit

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.