The Composer Is the DJ: Mason Bates
by Seth Colter Walls | June 5, 2014
The 37-year-old composer Mason Bates has made his name, in part, with the way that he has integrated live electronics into orchestral performance practice. He famously travels to participate in as many concerts of his symphonic pieces as possible, lending a hand with the samplers and laptops during concerts, in order to help the orchestra in question bring off his acoustic/digital blend.
As a composer in residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, in recent seasons, Bates has been a frequent presence alongside the orchestra (and their world-class conductor, Riccardo Muti). A new album from Muti & Co. gives us the best look yet at what Bates' electro-symphonic aesthetic sounds like. The four-movement Alternative Energy works up a fierce momentum during its jaunty, countrified opening movement (subtitled "Ford's Farm"); when the second movement begins, you can hear clearly the sound of Bates at his controls. Ditto for the opening of the third movement.
In our Classical Remix series, normally the version of the piece with electronics added to it is the "remix" version -- but in something of a twist, the alternative take of "Ford's Farm" is actually the one without Bates' digital intervention. For her 2013 album In 27 Pieces, virtuoso violinist Hilary Hahn commissioned 27 composers to write encore-sized pieces for violin and piano. Bates responded with a version of the "Ford's Farm" movement from Alternative Energy. In our attached playlist, we've put Hahn's miniature performance up first, and then followed it up with the new recording from Muti and the Chicago players. Sprinkled throughout are electro-acoustic cuts from two other recordings issued by Bates: Digital Loom and Stereo Is King. Enjoy!