The Mason Bates Interview

Published On March 25, 2013 | By Kymbo Slice | Check It, Community

MBPittsburgh Symphony Orchestra‘s “Composer of the Year”, the esteemed Mason Bates, is making his return to Pittsburgh in a very notraditional format. His project, Mercury Soul, combines orchestral compositions with electronic music and takes place in a night club, rather than a seated theatre. This experience allows attendees to roam freely and engage at whatever level they please. Collaborators include members of the PSO, CMU’s School of Drama and Visual Director Anne Patterson, who created a custom lighting and set design for the performance. Mercury Soul also marks the world premeire of Bates’ PSO-commissioned The Rise of Exotic Computing. In order to learn more about this talented man, we asked him a few questions in anticipation of April’s event and even managed to score a few tickets to give away!

Kymbo Slice: Most individuals familiar with Mason Bates know of your orchestral collaborations. How does planning and executing an event with an orchestra in a traditional setting differ from your Mercury Soul project?

Mason Bates: The orchestral space is unlike almost anything else we have : a huge acoustic space devoted to the thoughtful consumption of music. I like the focus that comes with the symphonic space, the chance to tell big stories and move through strange worlds. Sometimes a traditional space like this can, in the midst of a rapidly changing world, become almost revolutionary. I do think that orchestra concerts provide a special respite from our multi-tasked world.

But when Mercury Soul comes to town, we revel in musical multi-tasking. The entire 5-hour event unfolds without a single break, with DJ sets morphing into classical sets and back. This music can withstand the changes in cabin pressure from concert hall to club; it just takes some adventurous travelers.


KS: How do your influences differ as a composer and a DJ/producer?

MB: Composing classical music and DJing electronica used to be separate worlds for me; now they are happily coexisting. Both of these musics involve rich, imaginative sonorities and intricate rhythms and harmonies. Electronica is one of the few realms of popular music that has no vocal line, and the resulting tracks are a wonderful spin on what was once known as ‘instrumental’ (ie non-vocal) music.


KS: You are one of the youngest-ever recipients of a Heinz Award. What was that experience like?

MB: Few foundations offer such generous support to individual artists, a species of human that needs time to develop ideas. The Heinz Foundation’s support will allow me to continue to focus on writing music. On the stage with scientists, environmentalists, and educators, I’ll admit to feeling less immediately useful to society! But thankfully the Heinz recognizes the arts as the critical communal force that it is, and I am very honored to have received their nod.


KS: Some would call you a pioneer of your field. Can you speak to the success you’ve had with engaging younger audiences in this type of music?

MB: My interest in fusing orchestral textures and electronica grew from the pregnant musical possibilities they presented. But it has certainly been invigorating to see so many young people drawn to this. The orchestra is, after all, the world’s greatest synthesizer, and there’s no reason young people can’t rock out it!


KS: What’s next for you in terms of career goals or upcoming projects?

MB: A cello concerto for the Seattle Symphony, a new piece for St Paul’s Chamber Orchestra, an psychedelic ‘animal suit’e for the Chicago Symphony.


Mercury Soul takes place Friday, April 5 at Static in the Strip District. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased here. If that’s too steep for your pocketbook, don’t fret. We have TWO pairs of tickets to give away to this unique event, so why not enter and experience this one of a kind production! To enter, simply follow the Rafflecopter instructions below. Winners will be notified via e-mail and must respond within 24 hours to confirm.


a Rafflecopter giveaway


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