Mason Bates The B Sides Program Notes
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 work is equally informed by Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra as it is by a variety of American vernacular music.
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 techno’s 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.
- Mason Bates
"The B-Sides” emerged as a characteristically colorful and puckish score from a composer whose cheerful disregard for stylistic boundaries is a godsend. … In the central piece, Bates combines vivid orchestral writing with clips of communications with the 1965 Gemini IV mission to imagine an astronaut's serene freak-out; other movements feature a lazy tropical lilt and a dark, jazzy strut in homage to Henry Mancini. The piece is vibrant and amusing….” — San Francisco Chronicle