Mason Bates

Stereo Is King

Innova 882


01 Stereo Is King                                                                   12:35

Cynthia Yeh, Jacob Nissly, Eric Banks, percussion

Mason Bates, electronica


02 Observer in the Magellanic Cloud                                6:22



03 Difficult Bamboo                                                         23:31

Baird Dodge, violin • Jennifer Gunn, flute

Susan Warner, clarinet • Kuang-Hao Huang, piano

Cynthia Yeh, percussion • Cliff Colnot, conductor


04 Terrycloth Troposphere                                                  5:11    

Mason Bates, electronica

Bill Ryan & Grand Valley State New Music Ensemble


05 String Band                                                                      12:26

The Claremont Trio

Emily Bruskin, violin • July Bruskin, cello • Donna Kwong, piano


06 White Lies for Lomax                                                     6:13

Tania Stavreva, piano


Total: 66:16



Cynthia Yeh, Jacob Nissly, Eric Banks percussion

Mason Bates electronica

Commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNOW series


Stereo Is King exists at the intersection of indigenous percussion sonorities and lightning-fast electronica rhythms. Throughout the piece, the marimba is shadowed by a set of Thai gongs, which produce slightly bent pitches when laid flat atop foam. The antiphonal interplay between these two players is further enhanced by hard-panned stereo effects in the electronics, and a third player supports them on a ‘toy drum set’ of baby rotos toms and woodblocks.


The tribal music of the opening, which features Tibetan prayer-bowls, quickly transforms into the shattered sound of drum ‘n bass electronica. An ambient middle section explores the Tibetan prayer-bowls more lyrically, with processed prayer-bowl recordings wafting by. As things become restless again, the fast-paced antiphonal music of the opening returns with a vengeance.


Dedicated to Cynthia Yeh, principle percussionist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.



Commissioned by Chanticleer


Eons from now, a lost satellite floats in the Megallanic Cloud (Nubeculae Megallani), a group of dwarf galaxies. The satellite picks up a glimpse of ancient light from Earth. The light is old because it has been traveling for so long, and it reveals a look into Earth’s distant past. Focusing its telescope, this robotic observer witnesses the Maori (the indigenous people of New Zealand) chanting to the Megallanic Cloud, which appears as a cluster of stars when seen from Earth’s surface:


Tuputuputu atua   Magellanic Cloud, sacred one,

Ka eke mai i te rangi e roa e  Mounting the heavens,

Whangainga iho ki te mata o’te tau e roa e.  Cause all the new year’s growth to flourish.


Distant future meets distant past in this brief moment. Then the telescope retracts, the satellite floats on, and the Maori leave their food in thanks.



Baird Dodge violin | Ken Olsen cello | Jennifer Gunn flute

Susan Warner clarinet | Kuang-Hao Huang piano

Cynthia Yeh percussion | Cliff Colnot conductor

Commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNOW series


Difficult Bamboo’s transformation from eerie minimalism to frenetic maximalism is based on the premise of an aggressive species of running bamboo invading a bucolic landscape.


The pentatonic-tinged harmonies that open the piece, articulated by fluttertonging and tremolo sonorities, conjure a West Coast pastoral. But this lyrical music is quickly visited by an insidiously persistent ‘replicating music’ of a pulsing, bending unison. Flickering motives and out-of-tune notes soon infect each instrument, and the harmony then morphs into highly chromatic territory. Even the percussionist’s shaker rhythm jumps to the others’ music stands. At several moments, the lyrical pastoral music returns, but the ‘replicating music’ (like the plant itself) is impossible to kill.


Dedicated to conductor Cliff Colnot and the musicians who brought the work to life.



Mason Bates electronica

Bill Ryan & Grand Valley State New Music Ensemble


An homage to California minimalist Terry Riley, this piece surrounds fragments of his seminal In C with quicksilver electronica rhythms and trippy harmonies.



The Claremont Trio

Emily Bruskin violin | July Bruskin cello | Donna Kwong piano

Commissioned by Young Concert Artists, Inc.


This work begins as a reimagination of old-time string-band music, but it evolves rapidly away from this music into other spaces. A unison that slowly bleeds lower, made more effective by the use of pencil erasers and small screws inserted in the piano, grows into bluesy, sliding half-steps. This ultimately flowers, in the middle of the work, into a long melody framed by bent notes — but at that moment the piece begins to disintegrate. With the pitch world fractured and the grooves of the beginning now fading into the chemical sunset, the last half of the piece shows the ensemble as a very different kind of string band. It is a unified band of resonating strings, with the melody regressing back to its original space of a bleeding unison.


Dedicated to Edmund Campion.



Tania Stavreva piano

Winner of the 3rd Van Cliburn American Composers Invitational, May 30, 2009


It is still a surprise to discover how few classical musicians are familiar with Alan Lomax, the ethnomusicologist who ventured into the American South (and elsewhere) to record the soul of a land. Those scratchy recordings captured everyone from Muddy Waters to a whole slew of anonymous blues musicians.


White Lies for Lomax dreams up wisps of distant blues fragments –more fiction than fact, since they are hardly honest recreations of the blues – and lets them slowly accumulate to an assertive climax. The homage ends with an old recording of a blues musician floating in from an off-stage radio, briefly crossing paths with the cloud-like remnants of the work’s opening. The seemingly recent phenomenon of sampling – grabbing a sound-bite from a song and incorporating it into something new – is in fact a high-tech version of the very old practice of allusion or parody, and the inclusion of a scratchy field recording at the end is a nod to that tradition.




Recording engineers: Chris Willis (Stereo Is King, Difficult Bamboo), Ron St. Germain (White Lies for Lomax), Chris Manning, Donald Fraser, Matthew Oltman (Observer in the Magellanic Cloud), Adam Abeshouse (String Band)

Mastering engineer: Greg Reierson |

Artwork: Chained to the Future by Jason Brammer |

Graphic design: Tim Schwartz |


Special thanks to Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for its Mead Composer in Residency, with support from Cindy Sargent.


Innova is supported by an endowment from The McKnight Foundation

Philip Blackburn director, design

Chris Campbell operations manager

Steve McPherson publicist