If you’ve ever thought, “Hey, I would love to walk down the aisle to ‘Baby Got Back'” but just couldn’t find an arrangement befitting the class and solemnity of your matrimonial ceremony, Sir Mix-A-Lot and the Seattle Symphony have a jam for you.
The pioneering MC, whose given name is Anthony Ray, joined the symphony on stage at Benaroya Hall and brought something for music nerds and party animals alike. First, the party animals.
“Something you really should not do, but since tonight is orchestral movements from the hood night, I’m going to leave some of this open if a couple of ladies would like to get up on the stage,” Sir Mix told the crowd.
A couple dozen women jumped on stage, and I am not ashamed to say I would totally have been among them (and capable of a better showing than many, though I do not, in fact, have that much back). As a band nerd raised in Durham, N.C. in the ’80s, there are few things that would satisfy more of the disparate yearnings of my soul than shaking dat ass on stage with Sir Mix-A-Lot and a 100-piece orchestra.
So, that part’s kind of silly and cringe-inducing. But I like silly, and I would unabashedly induce cringing along with them. To avoid a decent helping of the awkward, just listen, but the young woman in black at the front is particularly game. Git it, gurl.
Now, for the music nerds: Composer Gabriel Prokofiev chose Sir Mix-A-Lot from a list of famous musicians from Seattle on which this series of Seattle Symphony collaborations is based. Prokofiev is a longtime fan and sometime producer of hip-hop and electronic music, but how do you recreate the sounds of an early hip-hop hit with classical instruments?
The first step for achieving this was to deconstruct several of his tracks and get inside the inner workings of his beats and his raps. The next step was to actually orchestrally recreate two of his tracks: Posse On Broadway and Baby Got Back. I made these orchestrations as faithful to Mix-A-Lot’s original electronic arrangements as possible, and therefore I had to build an orchestral pallet that created the same sound pallet as Sir Mix-A-Lot and I became very familiar with many of his rhythmic patterns…
To recreate Mix-A-Lot’s ground-breaking range of sounds, I’ve had to ask the orchestra to use some unusual playing techniques and use several customised percussion instruments, including an acoustic ‘Scratcher’ (made by scratching a credit card against a metal guiro), a ‘jackdaw’ (a friction drum that creates a frog like noise), bunches of bamboo cracking against the sides of drums, and various drums laden with chains and cymbals to create distorted drum and clap effects.
The event was part of the critically acclaimed Sonic Evolution project, which creates a bridge between the symphony and Seattle’s reputation as a launching pad for creative musicians.
Each year, in celebration of the past, present and future of the city’s musical legacy, Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony commission world-class composers to write orchestral world premieres inspired by bands and artists that launched from, or are related to, Seattle.
Now, I’m sure there’s an argument among classical music purists that this kind of thing represents a coarsening of classical music culture. That it’s a sort of click bait (Buzzfeed for Bassoonists!) for orchestras who wish to tap into pop culture but aren’t doing justice to the rich tradition they represent. While I find grown women shaking their asses on stage rather harmless, it’s hard to argue it’s in keeping with a traditional orchestral vibe. I’m fine with that. An occasional departure can be fun while exposing new audiences. I also appreciate the musical challenge the arrangement presented for Prokofiev and the increasingly mashed-up culture the collision of the two genres represents, but there’s plenty of room for reasonable people to disagree. And, I’m not sure they’re entirely wrong about the click bait. After all, it worked. *CLICK*