Skip to page content

Composed: 2006
Length: c. 25 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (all = piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd = English horn), 3 clarinets (3rd = E-flat clarinet & bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd = contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, bongos, trap set, vibraphone, xylophone, marimba, cymbals, suspended cymbals, ride cymbal, chimes, high tam-tam, castanets, triangle, glockenspiel, washboard with spoon, crotales, wind machine), 2 harmonicas, slide guitar, crystal glasses (glass harmonica), strings, and electronica
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances

The music of Mason Bates fuses innovative orchestral writing, the rhythms of electronica and techno, and imaginative narrative forms brought to life by cutting edge sound design. A composer of symphonic music who often includes live electronica in his orchestral music, he has become known as an artist who moves fluidly between those two worlds — performing on electronic drumpad and laptop, for example, under Michael Tilson Thomas in The B-Sides at Carnegie Hall. Recent commissions have explored everything from the marriage of orchestral sonorities and earthquake recordings (Music From Underground Space, for the California Symphony), to siren poetry from various cultures (Sirens, for Chanticleer).

Active as a performer, he has played his concerto for synthesizer with the Atlanta Symphony and the Phoenix Symphony, and he also stays busy as a DJ of trip-hop and electronica in San Francisco’s many clubs, lounges, and artspaces. Studying English literature and music composition in the Columbia-Juilliard program, he worked primarily with John Corigliano, and has also studied with David Del Tredici and Samuel Adler. In October 2009, he was appointed by Riccardo Muti to the post of composer-in-residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Now living in North Oakland, he worked with Edmund Campion at UC Berkeley. Bates wrote the following note about Liquid Interface:

“Water has influenced countless musical endeavors — La Mer and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey quickly come to mind — but it was only after living on Berlin’s enormous Lake Wannsee did I become consumed with a new take on the idea. Over the course of barely two months, I watched this huge body of water transform from an ice sheet thick enough to support sausage venders, to a refreshing swimming destination heavy with humidity. If the play of the waves inspired Debussy, then what about water in its variety of forms?

Liquid Interface moves through all of them, inhabiting an increasingly hotter world in each progressive movement. ‘Glaciers Calving’ opens with huge blocks of sound drifting slowly upwards through the orchestra, finally cracking off in the upper register. (Snippets of actual recordings of glaciers breaking into the Antarctic, supplied by the adventurous radio journalist Daniel Grossman, appear at the opening.) As the thaw continues, these sonic blocks melt into aqueous, blurry figuration. The beats of the electronics evolve from slow trip-hop into energetic drum ’n’ bass, and at the movement’s climax the orchestra blazes in turbulent figuration. The ensuing ‘Scherzo Liquido’ explores water on a micro-level: droplets splash from the speakers in the form of a variety of nimble electronica beats, with the orchestra swirling around them.

“The temperature continues to rise as we move into ‘Crescent City,’ which examines the destructive force as water grows from the small-scale to the enormous. This is illustrated in a theme-and-variations form in which the opening melody, at first quiet and lyrical, gradually accumulates a trail of echoing figuration behind it. In a nod to New Orleans, which knows the power of water all too well, the instruments trail the melody in a reimagination of Dixieland swing. As the improvisatory sound of a dozen soloists begins to lose control, verging into big-band territory, the electronics — silent in this movement until now — enter in the form of a distant storm.

“At the peak of the movement, with an enormous wake of figuration swirling behind the soaring melody, the orchestra is buried in an electronic hurricane of processed storm sounds. We are swept into the muffled depths of the ocean. This water-covered world, which relaxes into a kind of balmy, greenhouse paradise, is where we end the symphony in ‘On the Wannsee.’ A simple, lazy tune bends in the strings above ambient sounds recorded at a dock on Lake Wannsee. Gentle beats echo quietly in the moist heat. At near pianissimo throughout, the melody floats lazily upwards through the humidity and — at the work’s end — finally evaporates.

“Many thanks to Leonard Slatkin, who showed characteristic courage in commissioning this large work, and to the musicians of the National Symphony. Liquid Interface is dedicated to John Corigliano, whose mentorship and friendship helped make this work possible.”