"Alternative Energy" opens in a Midwestern junkyard, set in the 19th century. Bates built a drumset made from scraps of car parts for the CSO's principal percussionist, Cynthia Yeh, with a blues fiddle handling the primary melody. That central motif evokes the cranking up of a vintage car motor, which Bates sees as "a kind of rhythmic embodiment of ever-more-powerful energy."
The crank motif is echoed in the second movement, set in the present day, and featuring a recreation of the sounds of Fermilab's particle accelerator booting up, among other tonal effects. Bates received a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility last year, listening intently as physicist Todd Johnson revved up various pieces of machinery, and making recordings of those he found interesting.
Seriously, though, why Fermilab?
"Fermilab exists at the intersection of technological power and human curiosity, and I wanted the symphony to include an example of massive energy used in a positive way," Bates told Fermilab Today.