Classic and Electronic Collide At Upcoming Mercury Soul

Photo: MEETING OF MINDS. San Francisco Symphony Maestro Benjamin Shwartz (left) and DJ Mason Bates collaborate for genre-spanning concert experience.
Lydia Danmiller/Courtesy
MEETING OF MINDS. San Francisco Symphony Maestro Benjamin Shwartz (left) and DJ Mason Bates collaborate for genre-spanning concert experience.

  • Printer Friendly Printer Friendly
  • Comments Comments (0)

What do the English electronica group Autechre and Johann Sebastian Bach have in common? Mercury Soul. This Friday at San Francisco's Mezzanine, the concert hall will meet the dance club and musical boundaries will be destroyed.

The masterful project, with a unique stage design by visual designer Anne Patterson, meshes electronic grooves with live classical music. It is the combined vision of San Francisco Symphony Maestro Benjamin Shwartz and award-winning composer and DJ Mason Bates. Bates, a graduate student in music at Berkeley, saw the possibility years ago.

"When I was having a dual personality in 2000 and 2001-when I was writing for orchestras and then DJing at night-there was this possibility of linking these two worlds that would be musically interesting to me," said Bates, whose pieces have been played by the renowned Berlin Philharmonic and National Symphony.

The link he found between electronic and classical music was a focus on texture-the interaction of sounds in music. Bates believes that this element relates the genres saying that the orchestra's layers of sound makes it seem like "an ancient synthesizer in a way."

Bates hopes that cross-genre relationship will bring classical music to a wider audience. He feels that although many electronic music fans can idolize Mozart as much as Daft Punk, the concert hall's atmosphere has turned people off.

"When people feel like they can't make any noise in their seat and have to figure out when they have to clap, and they can't go get a glass of wine in between pieces-I think it makes the whole experience feel almost like a museum, and we want it to feel like a living organism."

Mercury Soul will be brought to life with Patterson's visual effects; each segment will feature choreographed lighting. But don't expect dizzying strobe lights during classical works. Bates promised that when the classical music is playing, you "aren't being distracted by having a laser shot in your eyeball." He feels that while classical music needs listeners to focus, electronica still has an impact but demands less immediate attention.

Electronica sets will be interspersed with classical segments. The classical selections are all 20th century pieces that are akin to electronica in their rhythms and textures. The last piece of the set, "Seismology," was composed by Bates and inspired by earthquake sounds sped up by Peggy Hellweg of the Berkeley Seismology Laboratory. With "Seismology," Bates incorporated the sounds of nature into a piece that was texturally similar to the classical pieces and beat-driven like electronica.

The ambitious sets will be mixed by Bates and conducted by Shwartz. Bates said Shwartz "has in his bloodstream the same kind of music I do."

"Not everybody can be that lucky to be on the same page with a collaborator," said Bates.

Bates hopes that in addition to introducing classical music to new audiences, he also demonstrates the possibilities of electronic sounds in classical music. This possibility is being explored by Berkeley's little-known Center for New Music and Audio Technologies, whom Bates says have been helpful to him.

Bates knows how innovative Mercury Soul is. "It's definitely coming out of a different tradition than the approach to electronic music of other 20th century composers," he acknowledged nonchalantly. Very few would disagree with that.


Destroy musical boundaries with Raj at [email protected]

Comments (0) »

Comment Policy
The Daily Cal encourages readers to voice their opinions respectfully in regards to both the readers and writers of The Daily Californian. Comments are not pre-moderated, but may be removed if deemed to be in violation of this policy. Comments should remain on topic, concerning the article or blog post to which they are connected. Brevity is encouraged. Posting under a pseudonym is discouraged, but permitted. Click here to read the full comment policy.
White space
Left Arrow
Image After outstanding year, Stone Foxes look to Outsid...
One of the best parts of attending San Francisco's Outside...Read More»
Image Doctor Strange
Oddball Film+Video, the largest film archive in Northern California, is tuc...Read More»
Image Slouching towards Sloane
The whole thing is made up," Sloane Crosley told me over the phone about he...Read More»
Image The expanding range of Dengue Fever
It's easy to say something invokes nostalgia when talking about music, but ...Read More»
Right Arrow

Job Postings

White Space