The Visionary Composer Behind the New Opera About Steve Jobs

Sep 4, 2017

What does it take to write an opera about a man who changed the world? It takes a composer like Mason Bates, known as a master of computer-generated music who integrates the sounds of technology with the beauty of acoustic instruments.

Bates chose Steve Jobs as the subject of his first opera, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, because he says that Jobs the technologist revolutionized how we communicate. Bates himself is aiming to revolutionize the sound of classical music.

The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs was premiered in July, 2017 by the Sante Fe Opera.

Radio script: 

[MUSIC: The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, by Mason Bates, libretto by Mark Campbell, live recording of premiere performance by the Santa Fe Opera, July 22, 2017]

Debra Lew Harder: Like Steve Jobs, the title character in his first opera, composer Mason Bates is a visionary. Jobs married technology with beautiful design; Bates began combining electronic music with the beauty of the symphony orchestra when he was just a teen.

Composer Mason Bates using his Apple laptop during a rehearsal.

Mason Bates: Integrating electronics was a vision for me that nobody else was really doing on a large scale, and I had no precedent to follow.

DLH: It took 25 years for Bates to develop his craft before The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs saw its premiere at the Santa Fe Opera.

MB: In this piece, the integration of electronic sounds, the human voice, and the orchestra—it takes a huge amount of experience to make that work.

DLH: While Bates’ work as a DJ and in electronica grounds him in the world of machine-generated sound, the grounding to write for the human voice came to him first.

Bates began combining electronic music with the beauty of the symphony orchestra when he was just a teen.

MB: I grew up in the Episcopal Church and actually came to music through singing in choirs. My early experience writing for the voice, writing for chorus, is so close to my heart. So when I came into this opera, a lot of people said, "I didn’t know you could write for the voice,” and I said, "Well, I’m a sleeper cell choir boy.”

DLH: So perhaps it’s telling that in one of the loveliest moments in the opera, Steve Jobs calls on the music of Bach. 

At home, Bates plays a range of acoustic instruments, including a piano, a guitar, even a didgeridoo.

MB: I think it’s important to have acoustic sounds around you, not just a computer.

[Music in interview: Scene from The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs by Mason Bates, libretto by Mark Campbell, the Santa Fe Opera, Edward Parks, baritone, Wei Wu, bass.]

 

Edward Parks as Steve Jobs in The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.