composer Mason Bates, aka DJ Masonic. (courtesy of Bucklesweet media)

Mercury Soul’s new “Cathedral” mini-series blends meditative classical with electronica

Mark Gresham | 20 AUG 2020

San Francisco-based Mercury Soul has produced a new, eclectic, four-part music video mini-series entitled Mercury Soul: Cathedral, which made its debut this past Saturday with the release of its first episode on YouTube. The series will be deployed over the course of four weeks, with Episode 2 being premiered this Saturday, August 23, at 8pm and the final two on Sundays — August 30 and September 6, on Mercury Soul’s YouTube channel.

The first episode is also embedded below.


Mercury Soul: Cathedral, Episode 1

Bates: Tectonic Plates
Debussy: The Sunken Cathedral
Indian classical: Bho Shambho
Jóhannsson: Sálfræðingur Deyr

Click the “expand” button in lower right corner to enlarge (recommended) or view directly on YouTube at youtu.be/fBoanR-ofTo


Curated by composer Mason Bates, who is Mercury Soul’s artistic director, the videos include a substantial amount of music by Bates, who also performs in his alter ego of DJ Masonic.

That double should not be entirely unfamiliar to Atlanta audiences, as Bates filled both roles as composer and performer here in 2003, when the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed his concerto-like Sounds for His Animation, with Bates as synthesizer soloist. Not only that, The Atlanta Opera has scheduled a production of his Grammy-winning techno-opera, The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, as part of its 2021-22 season.


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For this Mercury Soul:Cathedral video series, Bates has assembled an array of performers and an eclectic mix of complementary music for the series.

In the first episode, Bates is joined by violinist Shaina Evoniuk, pianist Elyse Weasley, flutist Vineet Gopal and percussionist Arun Saigal (playing mridangam), and Eclecta String Quartet. Electronica by Bates and Johann Jóhannsson open and close the episode, with Debussy’s “La Cathédrale engloutie” and the classical Indian “Bho Shambho” woven in between.

Of the series’ programming and production values, Bates says:

“We created this series as a soulful response to the current climate, with a specific goal of showing a much more imaginative way to present classical music digitally. In the beginning of lockdown, it was great to see so many bedroom solos or Brady Bunch virtual performances, but soon those endeavors felt like such a shadow of the real thing. So we programmed meditative music and filmed it with a magically floating viewer perspective.”

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That premise of a “journey” for the audience applies equally to Bates’ concepts about live concert presentation as it does to video.

“For classical music to grab an online viewer, it has to be presented in a highly dynamic visual way. You almost have to make it work even if the sound is off. So the concept was a continually roving camera, floating from one part of the cathedral to another. We wanted the viewer’s perspective to perfectly gel with the mystically lyrical music we programmed, from Bach to Johannsson to Indian classical music. A key element of focus for all Mercury Soul shows is the transitions between sets, which are carefully choreographed with specially composed interludes and lighting shifts. That’s true too in this series: when each performance finishes, the shot begins gliding to the next musician.”

The other three episodes promise similar variety:

  • EPISODE 2 – released August 23, 2020
    Bates: Sea of Trees (Vineet Gopal & DJ Masonic)
    Bach: Cello Suite No.3 Bouree (Jonah Kim, cello & Julia Rowe, San Francisco Ballet soloist)
    Bach: Sonata No. 2 Andante (Matthew Szemela, violin)
    Trumbore: In the Light of Late November (Brass Over Bridges Quintet)
    Bates: Walk the Dog (Eclecta String Quartet & DJ Masonic)
  • EPISODE 3 – released August 30, 2020
    Massanet: Thais Meditation (Eclecta String Quartet)
    Bates: Sideman (Matt Ebisuzaki, trumpet & DJ Masonic)
    Chinese traditional – Falling Flowers Coloring the Green (Shuxin Meng, pipa)
    Bates: The Caged Bird Sings (Elyse Weakley, piano)
    Bates: Glitchy (Brass Over Bridges Quintet & DJ Masonic)
  • EPISODE 4 – released September 6, 2020
    Gesualdo: Moro Lass0 al mio duolo (Brass Over Bridges)
    Bates: Ingessana Blues (Matt Szemela, fiddle & Masonic)
    Clyne: October Rose (Shaina Evoniuk & Ilana Thomas, vln)
    Bates” Tectonic Plates (Jonah Kim, cello & DJ Masonic)

Founded in 2008 by composer/DJ Mason Bates, conductor Benjamin Schwartz, and visual designer Anne Patterson, Mercury Soul presents classical music in new ways to a new generation. Initially launched at San Francisco’s famed Mezzanine club, it continues to produce events in San Francisco’s bustling club circuit at venues such as Mezzanine, Halcyon, Monarch, The Great Northern and DNA Lounge. They have come to be known nationwide for their merging of classical music and electronica in alternative venues that feature elaborate productions and immersive stagecraft.  ■


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