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Rusty Air in Carolina

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Composer: Mason Bates

The music of Mason Bates fuses innovative orchestral writing, imaginative narrative forms, the harmonies of jazz, and the rhythms of techno. Frequently performed by orchestras large and small, his symphonic music has been the first to receive widespread acceptance for its expanded palette of electronic sounds, and it is championed by leading conductors such as Michael Tilson Thomas, Leonard Slatkin, and John Adams.


The “rusty air” that Mason Bates invokes in this symphonic poem is actually that of South Carolina, where the composer spent a summer as a teen. But he composed this work for the Winston-Salem Symphony, and what he calls the “white noise of the Southern summer” can certainly be heard in North Carolina, too. Known for his pioneering blend of orchestral textures and live electronics, Bates draws here on ambient sounds that evoke cicadas and katydids.



In the opening section of Rusty Air, shimmering orchestral effects are matched with whirring electronics, a dialogue between the symphony and the cicada. Sonic waves ripple through the orchestra, culminating in a bluesy, jittering section. Katydid sounds become the basis for a backbeat whose crossrhythms evoke Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. As the groove dissipates, the music returns to its mysterious soundscape — what Bates titles “Southern Midnight” — followed by a gleaming, dawn conclusion, punctured by the rhythmic enthusiasm of locusts singing in the heat.