Daily Music Post

Do you enjoy your Americana music with some jazz and light electronics? Then you will most likely enjoy "The B Sides" as performed by Mason Bates and the DSO.

 

About the piece:

It was between Tchaikovsky and Brahms that Michael Tilson Thomas, surprisingly mellow in his dressing room during one intermission, broached the idea of a new work. Fresh off the podium after the concerto, and apparently undistracted by the looming symphony in the second half, he suggested a collection of five pieces focusing on texture and sonority - perhaps like Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra. Since my music had largely gone in the other direction - large works that bathed the listener in immersive experiences Ñ the idea intrigued me. I had often imagined a suite of concise, off-kilter symphonic pieces that would incorporate the grooves and theatrics of electronica in a highly focused manner. So, like the forgotten bands from the flipside of an old piece of vinyl, The B-Sides offers brief landings on a variety of peculiar planets, unified by a focus on fluorescent orchestral sonorities and the morphing rhythms of electronica.

The first stop is the dusky, circuit-board landscape of "Broom of the System. To the ticking of a future clock, our broom - brought to life by sandpaper blocks and, at one point, an actual broom - quietly and anonymously keeps everything running, like a chimney-sweep in a huge machine. The title is from a short-story collection by David Foster Wallace, though one could place the fairy-like broom in Borges' Anthology of Fantastic Zoology.

The ensuing "Aerosol Melody (Hanalei)" blooms on the Northshore of Kauai, where a gentle, bending melody evaporates at cadence points. Djembe and springy pizzicati populate the strange fauna of this purely acoustic movement, inspired by several trips with the Fleishhacker family. The lazy string glissandi ultimately put the movement, beachside, to sleep.

"Gemini in the Solar Wind" is a re-imagination of the first American spacewalk, using actual communication samples from the 1965 Gemini IV voyage provided by NASA. In this re-telling, clips of words, phrases, and static from the original are rearranged to show Ed White, seduced by the vastness and mystery of space, deliriously unhooking from the spacecraft to drift away blissfully.

His final vision of the coast of Northern California drops us down close to home. The initial grit of "Temescal Noir," like the Oakland neighborhood of the title, eventually shows its subtle charm in hazy, jazz-tinged hues. Unbothered by electronics, this movement receives some industrious help in the rhythm department by a typewriter and oil drum. At its end, the broom returns in a cameo, again altering the tempo, and this propels us into "Warehouse Medicine." An homage to technoÕs birthplace - the empty warehouses of Detroit - the final stop on The B-Sides gives no quarter. Huge brass swells and out-of-tune pizzicati emulate some of the visceral sonorities of techno, and on this pounding note The B-Sides bows out.

The work is dedicated to Michael, whose impromptu composition lessons informed the work to an enormous degree, in addition to the countless concerts I have experienced while living in the Bay Area. Many thanks, as well, to the wonderful musicians who have brought this to life.

About the composer:

Mason W. Bates (born January 23, 1977) is an American composer of symphonic music. Distinguished by his innovations in orchestration and large-scale form, Bates is best known for his expansion of the orchestra to include electronics. One of the most-performed composers of his generation, he has worked closely with the San Francisco Symphony and currently holds the position of composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony.