ANTHOLOGY OF FANTASTIC ZOOLOGY
“the largest piece Bates has composed to date… it’s a grand, playful, surprising, exuberantly colorful concerto for orchestra… [it] recalls the conclusion of Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, but on a meth high.”
-John Von Rhein (Chicago Tribune)
“A formidable and inventive new work…a narrative so compelling and so imaginatively crafted… Its four movements offer a time-traveling montage, from 1896 through the year 2222, that is alternately whimsical, moving and eerie…. It’s also Bates’ most ambitious and epically scaled work to date, and it shows his mastery of the orchestral landscape like nothing before it.”
—Joshua Kosman (San Francisco Chronicle)
“To judge from the prolonged applause and cheers that erupted from the younger-than-usual crowd attending Thursday’s first performance of “Alternative Energy,” Muti is backing another Bates crowd-pleaser…. Mankind’s use and abuse of increasingly powerful energy sources through real and imaginary ages forms the scenario. The first sounds we hear are the accelerando cranking of a car motor and a bluesy fiddle tune meant to evoke auto-industry pioneer Henry Ford, circa 1896. Bates’ neon-lit orchestral palette is laced with billowing waves of John-Adams-like post-minimalist sound and mechanistic rhythms that owe as much to jazz and hip-hop as they do to Stravinsky.”
—John van Rhein (Chicago Tribune)
Mason Bates’ fascinating new “Alternative Energy,” a 26-minute, four-movement “energy symphony” … illustrates mankind’s obsession over the centuries with more and more potent and destructive sources of energy. Percussion “instruments” found in a Chicago junkyard bop and batter away, ferocious electronic sounds swoop from Bates’ laptop, the orchestra produces novel sonorities of its own. The piece has a jazzy, lurching verve that Muti seemed absolutely in tune with.”
—Richard Ginell (LA Times)
Muti, his left arm ticking like a metronome as a hard-core techno beat breaks out in the midst of composer Mason Bates’s “Alternative Energy” … might be dialing in the most vivid HD imagery — another landscape, but futuristic, boiling with percussion (including Bates’s own laptop triggering of sampled sounds) and etched by sharpshooter brass. One wonders what Fritz Reiner and Sir Georg Solti — CSO music directors of past eras — might have thought about this fellow Bates, and about this program.
“Alternative Energy” is the most satisfying piece I’ve yet heard from Bates, 35, who lives in Oakland and now Chicago, where he is a composer-in-residence with the CSO, which commissioned this new piece… This new piece — Bates calls it an “energy symphony” in four movements — collapses the walls between his two lives, breaking through to the soulful glee of the dance floor. Bates describes it as a sort of tone poem, spanning centuries: visiting a Midwestern junkyard in the time of Henry Ford, moving on to a particles collider in suburban Chicago, followed by a Chinese nuclear power plant in 2112, and finally a 23rd century Icelandic rainforest where, post-meltdown, folks once again huddle around the campfire.
— Richard Scheinin (San Jose Mercury News)
“Bates managed to endow the words with not only the wonder of the technology but also the intensely human objective of restoring closeness between separated family members… [this] may still be Bates’ most intensely emotional writing to date.”
—Stephen Smoliar (Examiner)
“a jumpy, high-energy conversation for marimba, Thai gongs and toy drums, overlaid with popping electronica. “Difficult Bamboo” imagines the dislocated rhythms, slashing chords and bent tunings of a strings-winds-piano-and-percussion sextet as an alien bamboo plant invading and ruining a sylvan landscape.”
—John van Rhein (Chicago Tribune)
“Mason Bates, 30 years old…knows how to command an orchestra just as well as he does his touchpad. Bates’s Liquid Interface, a National Symphony commission that received its world premiere last night, surpassed in sheer sonic beauty even the works by Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky that rounded out the program.”
—Andrew Lindemann Malone (The Washington Post)
“A probing and sustained achievement – and for at least one listener the triumphant high point of the weekend – was Mason Bates’ Liquid Interface, a four-movement tone poem that combines virtuoso orchestral writing with the rhythms and textures of electronica. It’s all too easy to blend disparate musical strains like this, but it’s rare to hear it done with such canny skill or formal control. Liquid Interface has a subject that any 19th century composer would have recognized – it traces the phases of water from glaciers through flowing streams to warm mists and back again – and Bates gives full rein to both parts of his hybrid texture. So in the first movement, the electronic track (played by the composer at his trusty laptop) provides both the sound of a synthesized Arctic wind and the dance beats to which the orchestra’s icebound chordal blocks move.”
—Joshua Kosman (San Francisco Chronicle)
Nineteenth-century composers of symphonic tone poems relied on instrumental effects to convey a narrative or scene. Contemporary composers can integrate high-definition recordings of sounds they want to evoke, as Mason Bates does in his cleverly constructed Liquid Interface. The first movement, “Glaciers Calving,” begins with an ominous recording of glaciers crashing into the Antarctic Ocean, soon followed by dense, haunting swirls from the strings and electronic beats that accelerate to lively drum and bass rhythms. Mr. Bates’s colorful four-movement tone poem, which uses a vast orchestra and electronics to evoke water in both soothing and menacing forms, received its New York premiere at Carnegie Hall on Thursday with the National Symphony Orchestra (which commissioned it), conducted by Leonard Slatkin. In the vivid “Scherzo Liquido,” eerie electronic beats punctuate a pointillist string canvas, aptly evoking the unnerving sound of dripping water. Mr. Bates, who is also a D.J. (working under the name Masonic), has written other works blending classical and electronica. He stood near the percussionists with his laptop and electronic drum pad…. For the listener it was like wandering down a road with a string quartet playing on one side and a D.J. spinning on the other.
—Vivien Schweitzer (New York Times)
Bates’ stylistic personality is as firmly rooted in the world of pop music and electronica as it is in the more rigorous realm of classical music. The quirky, individual manner with these disparate impulses are absorbed into his music has won him critical praise .… The percolating energy and accessibility of his music, its sly sonic imagination, and its eagerness to engage listeners of all persuasions [are] a prime reason why Muti pushed for Bates’ appointment.
… Bates’ crazy-quilt of neon-lit orchestral sonorities, peppered with freaky electronic riffs, morphs and dances to its own internal beat. I enjoyed hearing it. So, apparently, did the audience, to judge from the cheers and applause that erupted once the music had hurtled to its high-decibel conclusion. When was the last time a new classical piece produced that kind of reaction at a CSO concert?
—John van Rhein (Chicago Tribune), May 13 2011
“The B-Sides, an SF Symphony commission, emerged as a characteristically colorful and puckish score from a composer whose cheerful disregard for stylistic boundaries is a godsend. … In the central piece, Bates combines vivid orchestral writing with clips of communications with the 1965 Gemini IV mission to imagine an astronaut’s serene freak-out; other movements feature a lazy tropical lilt and a dark, jazzy strut in homage to Henry Mancini The piece is vibrant and amusing….”
—Joshua Kosman (San Francisco Chronicle)
Riccardo Muti bade arrivederci to the CSO last week, when he ended his first season as music director with an electrifying final performance. The closing bill, which paired Mason Bates’s electronica-infused The B-Sides with Schumann and Strauss, proved a success. Not a single harrumph was heard from conservative season-goers as Bates triggered samples from a laptop. He received rapturous applause.
—Mia Clarke (Time Out Chicago), May 25 2011
“Based in the San Francisco Bay area, Bates, 34, studied with Corigliano among others; but he also moonlights as a DJ, and the influence of techno music, the electronic dance music pioneered in Detroit by Derrick May, Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson, was all over The B Sides.”
“What was most impressive was how organically Bates integrated electronics into the acoustic sound world of the orchestra. He knows how to orchestrate: Performing with the DSO on a laptop computer and electronic drum pad, Bates, who stood near the percussion section, dappled techno beats and sonic atmospherics into the mix the way a painter might apply an especially vibrant range of colors to a canvas.
So, for example, the opening “Broom of the System” merged sandpaper blocks and, literally, a household broom to create a swooshing rhythmic ground that grew into gleaming post-minimalist pulsations, winking perhaps at the influence of Adams and Steve Reich. High strings, mallet percussion, winds, bursts of muted trumpets and irregular electronic beats created an ever-shifting mélange of fragmented melody, rhythm and meter. The groove was elusive, abstract, yet you always felt the essence of dance.
A similar sense of mystery informed the purely acoustic, ballad-like “Aerosol Melody (Hanalei),” whose clarinet and oboe melody and evocative string glissandos led to the third and longest movement, “Gemini of the Solar Wind,” where over a bed of slow-moving, richly voiced chords, Bates incorporated samples of actual dialogue from the 1965 Gemini IV rocket voyage (“Roger,” “Looks like we’re coming upon the coast of California,” etc.)….
With “Terminal Noir” the music returned to an irresistible, syncopated shuffle. This led to the finale, “Warehouse Medicine,” an homage to Detroit techno in which Bates finally cut loose with a steady four-beat electronic stomp — boom, boom, boom, boom — that drove the orchestra to a jubilant climax.”
—Mark Stryker, Detroit Free Press
“And never has a Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony been so colored by the music that preceded it on the program. Mason Bates’ Ode, commissioned by the Phoenix Symphony, takes the argument of the Beethoven and turns it backward … So that when the Beethoven begins, and plays the music in the proper order, we have a different take on it.”
—The Arizona Republic
Mason Bates’s “Digital Loom,” for organ and electronics … transformed the hall into something between a decaying cathedral and an East Berlin club.”
—Alex Ross (The New Yorker)
“Take Mason Bates’s Digital Loom for organ and electronics, a centennial commission. Definitely a voice from the younger generation, Bates reimagines the king of instruments as a surreal creature inventing its own space, the illuminated stops flashing like an enormous pinball machine and presided over by the organist as D.J. who programs wild sequences of hip-hop, funk, and ambient electronica.
—Peter Davis (New York Magazine)
RUSTY AIR IN CAROLINA
“If Mason Bates’ Rusty Air in Carolina is any indication, this 30-year-old composer (who is based in the East Bay and has a parallel career as a DJ) also has a voice…A Virginia native who summered as a teenager in South Carolina, his new work recalls sticky Southern nights, filled with the chatter and buzz of katydids and cicadas. …Sitting at his laptop beside the orchestra’s percussion section, Bates kept releasing those sounds, electronically, into the hall. In the first movement, they mingled with his delicate scorings for the orchestra: flutters of flute; buzzes of muted trumpet; rushes of percussion. Night sounds. You could feel the humidity, while luxuriating in Bates’ exquisite, almost Impressionistic, atmospherics.”
—Richard Scheinin (San Jose Mercury News)
“Mason Bates’s musical language lies at the intersection of three major streams of contemporary music — jazz and its offshoots, classical music with all its harmonic and textural experimentation, and electronica. …. It exudes a sense of Americana for the 21st century (much as Dvorak’s music did in the 19th century, and Copland’s in the 20th).”
—Joan Reinthale (Washington Post), 3/22/10
“Beauty in Danger, in Song” San Francisco Classical Voice