Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mason Bates and Mercury Soul

What do you get when you combine orchestral writing with jazz harmonies and techno rhythms? Mason Bates—modern composer and DJ extraordinaire also known as DJ Masonic. This month, Clef Notes explores the music of composers living in today’s world. We kick things off with Mason Bates, a thirty-eight year old composer who strives to share music with people in a way where no one feels isolated.  

How does he accomplish this? One way is what Bates calls “Mercury Soul”—an idea that has brought classical music to thousands of people in non-traditional settings including clubs and warehouses. Mercury Soul is headed by Bates and Maestro Benjamin Shwartz who first launched it in San Francisco’s Mezzanine Club in 2008 for an audience of 1,400 people. They use modern stagecraft designed for the space in which the performance is held and incorporate lighting elements created by Anne Patterson. The end result fuses electronic dance music with contemporary classical.

Written in 2011, Bates’ Mothership combines orchestral music and electronica. In the video clip below, notice the visual presentation of the soloists and the special lighting effects. This is one way Bates may attract a younger audience. Also note the types of instruments that are used as soloists. The electric guitar and zither are not common orchestral instruments! While Mothership uses these modern elements, it also has historical roots in that it is quite similar to the symphonic scherzo, however it incorporates techno rather than waltz rhythms.

Did you notice the composer in the video clip above? Bates often appears with his laptop in the percussion section of the orchestra. Mason Bates has found great success in his approach to composition and was recently appointed the first composer-in-residence at the Kennedy Center.

Join me next time as we learn about Jennifer Higdon!

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