About this Piece
Recently awarded both a Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome and an American Academy in Berlin Prize, Mason Bates (b. 1977) moves fluidly between the worlds of classical concert music and underground electronica. His symphonic and chamber music has recently been heard on concerts ranging from the Atlanta Symphony and the Annapolis Symphony to venues such as the Kennedy Center, Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, and Alice Tully Hall. Dozens of orchestras around the country have performed his orchestral music, and his latest chamber works are toured by groups such as the Claremont Trio and the Biava String Quartet.
Active as a DJ of underground hip-hop in the San Francisco and Rome scenes under the pseudonym Masonic, he has often appeared at lounges such as 111 Minna, Skylark, Cloud 9, and the Plado Media parties in Golden Gate Park. In Rome, his sets of trip-hop and funk have been heard at Scarabocchio and Metaverso in Testaccio, a thriving electronica scene tunneled inside an ancient pottery dump.
Bates studied English literature and music composition at Columbia University and the Juilliard School, where he worked with John Corigliano, David Del Tredici, and Samuel Adler. Currently busy with both commissions and performance engagements - he has performed his concerto for synthesizer with both the Atlanta and Phoenix Symphonies - he is a member of the acclaimed Young Concert Artists. For more info, go to MasonicElectronica.com.
Bates has provided the following note:
Omnivorous Furniture exists at the junction between a world of morphing electronic beats - generally described as electronica - and the rich and varied textures of a chamber orchestra. While these two musical spaces usually exist on opposite ends of the universe, my activities in both have convinced me of some pregnant possibilities. The thumping electronica beats of an underground club - which are other-worldly sounds to some listeners of acoustic, 200-year-old instruments - can provide an interesting stasis that an orchestra's myriad textures can explore. Some might even proclaim the orchestra the finest synthesizer ever made. This can create thrilling possibilities when paired with the rhythmic contagion of electronica.
The work is organized around several "omnivorous moments," when material previously perceived as background - the wallpaper or "furniture" surrounding the foreground material - ultimately consumes the entire texture. The fleeting pentatonic tune that opens the work, for example, is chased by a variety of staccato, pointillistic gestures that point the listener's attention away from any sustained notes. But these sustained notes in the orchestra begin to fuse together rapidly in the moments preceding the first climax, creating a sonic wall which shatters the beats that have dominated the first quarter of the piece.
The orchestral interlude that then ensues is a feature that reappears with greater significance. Indeed, the form of the work is quite simple: Progressively longer orchestral interludes interrupt progressively shorter beat sections. Superimposed over this is the gradual elongation of the opening motive, from its bouncy and capricious first moments to its long, lyrical flowering in the work's core.
This melody, having reached its expressive peak during the orchestra's longest escape from the electronica beats, then begins to dissolve. Pulled lower and lower by sliding pitch, it collapses into the work's final ambient space in a kind of chemical meltdown of pitch and texture. Flowering imperceptibly from this surreal ambient landscape, a reincarnation of the work's opening material swiftly brings us to the end.