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Mason Bates Creates a 'Liquid Interface' Between Electronica and Classical Music

Also: music by classical and popular singer Josh Groban. And a listener in Taiwan asks about the Jim Crow laws that once enforced racial separation in the US. Transcript of radio broadcast:


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week:

We answer a question about racial separation laws of the past …

Play music from Josh Groban …

And report about musical composer Mason Bates.

Mason Bates

The worlds of techno music and classical symphonies are usually very separate. But the musical composer Mason Bates is changing this. This thirty-year-old musician from Virginia artfully combines classical music with the sound of electronic beats. Barbara Klein has more.



That was part of a work called "Liquid Interface." Mason Bates performed it for the first time in February with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. He was influenced to write the musical piece while living in Berlin, Germany. He watched the lake near where he lived transform from an ice formation to a warm swimming place.

In “Liquid Interface” you can listen to the many forms water takes and the effects of climate change. You can hear the breaking of large ice glaciers, as well as melting drops of water. Bates also makes a musical reference to New Orleans, Louisiana to show the more destructive side of water.

This work needs a very large orchestra. Musicians played more than forty traditional instruments at the Washington, D.C. performance. They were guided by the orchestra's musical director, Leonard Slatkin. Mason Bates stood on the side with his own instrument, the portable computer. He fluidly worked the electronic sounds and beats into the structured classical music.

But Mason Bates does not only write symphonies. At night, you can find him playing trip-hop and French house techno music in the clubs of San Francisco, California. He is also finishing his doctorate degree at the nearby University of California, Berkeley. Mason Bates’ skill at combining these two very different musical worlds has been recognized. He has won important awards for his music pieces such as the Prix de Rome.

Mason Bates believes that when you listen to music it lives in your imagination and your blood at the same time. He wants his music to be intelligent as well as interesting. To listen to more music by Mason Bates, go to for a link to his Web site.

Jim Crow Laws


Our VOA listener question this week comes from Taiwan. Howlong Wu asks about “Jim Crow laws."

These laws enforced racial separation between black people and white people in the American South. The term was taken from a character called Jim Crow in musical shows in the eighteen thirties. In these minstrel shows, white people darkened their faces and performed as if they were black people. These shows were insulting to black people.

Starting in the eighteen eighties, Jim Crow became the name for the laws enacted by Southern cities and states to oppress black people and keep them separate from white people. For example, Jim Crow laws made it illegal for the two races to attend the same schools, eat at the same restaurants or use the same public transportation.

The United States Supreme Court supported Jim Crow laws in some of its decisions. An important one was Plessy versus Ferguson in eighteen ninety-six. The Court ruled that railroads could require white and black passengers to ride in different cars. It said this was legal because the treatment in the two cars was "separate but equal." In another case in eighteen ninety-nine, the Court ruled that no one’s rights were violated by the two races attending separate schools.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People led the long effort to overturn Jim Crow laws through legal action. Finally, in nineteen fifty-four, a Supreme Court ruling overturned the Plessy versus Ferguson decision. The decision was called Brown versus the Board of Education. The Supreme Court ruled that separate schools for blacks and whites were unconstitutional. This ruling required towns and cities across the country to permit blacks and whites to attend the same schools.

The Jim Crow system was finally ended in the nineteen sixties through the efforts of the civil rights movement. These efforts resulted in a series of federal laws including the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act.

Josh Groban

Josh Groban is a young singer who performs classical and popular songs. His record albums have sold millions of copies. Katherine Cole plays some music from Groban's latest album called "Awake."


Josh Groban is twenty-six years old. He is from Los Angeles, California. As a teenager, he sang at the inauguration of former California governor Gray Davis in nineteen ninety-nine. That was when he was discovered by a record company official. He released his first studio album two years later.

Josh Groban's third studio album is called "Awake." Like his other albums, he sings in English, Italian and Spanish. Groban says the music on his latest album sounds like it is coming from his heart and soul as well as his voice. This song, "You Are Loved (Don't Give Up)," was also released as a single.


Josh Groban plays several instruments, including piano, drums, electric guitar, marimbas, flugelhorn and dulcimer. Groban also helped write some of the songs on his latest album, like this one, called "Machine." The famous jazz musician Herbie Hancock plays piano.


Josh Groban has appeared on many American television shows. Now he is in the middle of a seven-month performance tour to seventy cities in the United States, Canada and Europe.

Groban performs two songs on his latest album with the South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Groban first heard this song during a visit to South Africa in two thousand four. We leave you now with the song "Weeping."



I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

It was written by Dana Demange, Shelley Gollust and Nancy Steinbach. Caty Weaver was our producer. To read the text of this program and download audio, go to our Web site,

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