MASON BATES (b.1977): The B-Sides, Liquid Interface, Alternative Energy.
Catalogue Number: 03R079
Label: SFS Media
Reference: SFA 0065
Format: SACD hybrid
Description: Bates has carved out a niche for himself by integrating the digitally precise, mechanical but timbrally varied beats of various styles of popular electronica music into an approachable neo-romantic 'classical' context - a perfectly logical next step after the addition of jazz combos, rhythms sections and rock drums into symphony orchestras in certain types of 'crossover' pieces. In fact, he does exactly this in the third movement of Liquid Interface, where a drum kit and a lively big band sound evoke New Orleans, a city that knows all too much about interfacing with water. That is the theme of the piece; sampled sounds of icebergs calving from glaciers, storms and gently lapping waves join with atmospheric, sometimes minimalistically pulsing and undulating, very tonal orchestral textures and the jittery, hyperactive electronic rhythms of trip-hop, drum and bass and the like. The B-Sides is a suite of five pieces that explore ideas of places and events off the beaten track of history - hence the title - with unusual items contributing novel timbral percussion and rhythm effects alongside the sampled sounds. The third movement, depicting astronaut Ed White's spacewalk, is especially impressive and moving, with surging waves of opulent orchestral texture decorated by samples of NASA recordings of the event. The following jazzy movement eschews electronics altogether and finds the composer in big-band, space-age bachelor pad mode; the finale is a raucous celebration of techno that brings the pounding electronic beat back with a vengeance. Bates' 'energy symphony' depicts four stages in humanity's relationship with energy; early motorised machines, present-day nuclear physics, a terrifying industrial future, and a post-apocalyptic return to nature. The first movement makes use of 'junkyard percussion', mounting mechanical momentum, and an initially rustic violin theme, which appears in successive movements assaulted by more aggressive electronics. The second movement, incorporating sampled sounds from the FermiLab particle accelerator and beats assembled from them, is jazzy and optimistic. The third is nightmarish, a desolate wasteland overwhelmed by pounding techno machinery. The finale fades back into nature, with tribal drumming and bird sounds and only the last twitches of the almighty machines to disturb the future primitives and their recovered rustic fiddle. Mason Bates (electronica), San Francisco Symphony; Michael Tilson Thomas.