Sock Monkey

Description: 
Keeps both your feet and ears warm.
Composers: 
Mark Applebaum
Performers: 
Beta Collide
Brian McWhorter
Christopher Froh
Duo Runedako
Florian Conzetti
Mark Applebaum
Meridian Arts Ensemble
Paul Dresher Ensemble
sfSound
Stanford Symphony Orchestra
Terry Longshore
Catalog Number: 
#706
Genre: 
experimental
new classical
Collection: 
Mark Applebaum
percussion
orchestra
Location: 

Palo Alto, CA

UPC: 
726708670627
Price: 
$15.00
Release Date: 
Dec 13, 2011
Liner Notes: 
View
Format: 
1 CD

Sock Monkey

One Sheet: 

“Dada” and “Darmstadt” are only a few entries apart in the encyclopedia but these opposing art icons—bizarre lunacy and severe complexity—are both equally abundant in Mark Applebaum’s world. The pages of dense black dots that typify scores by composers such as Brian Ferneyhough and Elliott Carter are here interspersed with irreverent off-the-wall performer instructions, lending a distance as well as an endearing quality to this post-conceptual music.

Applebaum is the prolific Stanford composer who might show up with his amplified odds-and-ends contraption known as the Mouseketier, or with sheaves of complex musical notation for some of today’s most undauntable new-music performers. Often both, in fact.

“Sock Monkey,” his tenth innova release, is every bit as cuddly and mischievous as the title suggests. The title track is an orchestral transcription of his 18-month-old daughter Charlotte running around the house (carrying, of course, the pink sock monkey). “Variations on Variations on a Theme by Mozart” was originally for piano but is played here on a prepared one (with paperclips and bolts stuck in between the strings), overdubbed eighteen times. While the keystrokes may be the same for the player the result is a charmingly distorted view of the past. The other pieces on the disc are perfectly calculated to hover between the brain’s cerebral and humor cortices.

The performances from some of the Bay Area’s finest, are never less than dazzling; inspiring incredulity and whimsy. From the Paul Dresher Electroacoustic Band, Meridian Arts ensemble and sfSound to the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, there is no stop left un-pulled.

If the sock monkey ever grows up to be a composer it will have had a most stimulating musical education. 

Reviews: 

In an amusing and well-written autobiographical note included in the beautifully produced 20-page booklet accompanying this latest offering from Mark Applebaum (b. Chicago, 1967), the composer writes: "Some of his music is composed according to painstaking and thorough, if dreary, techniques defended by sober, sensible and defensible logic resulting in characteristics like authenticity, integrity, depth, merit and seriousness, qualities that tend to make modernists happy, or at least comfortable. [..] Recent works, however, tend increasingly toward absurdity. In retrospect (or historical revision), Applebaum's aesthetic relies on acts of musical collision." Sock Monkey, the follow up to 2004's Catfish (Tzadik), and the latest of a whole string of albums on Innova, starts off with a fine example of Applebaum's exuberant postmodernism, in the form of Magnetic North (2006), a 14-minute adventure scored for brass quintet and percussion with occasional interpolated cadenzas from an additional soloist, in this case Applebaum himself on his self-designed mouseketier (an electroacoustic sound sculpture incorporating amplified bits of junk and toys, whose already strange sounds are further transformed electronically). The score – extracts from which appear in the booklet – uses various forms of traditional and graphic notation, and also calls on the performers to engage in various other activities, including tearing up bits of paper, dropping ping pong balls, and constructing a "bag mute" made from a ball of tin foil which is rolled around among the musicians and eventually stuffed into a paper sack. One amusing instruction calls for a bar to be repeated x+1 times, where x is the number of times it takes two players to stop playing on protest (!). John Zorn's game pieces inevitably come to mind, so it's only natural he gets a mention in Applebaum's liners. The piece is smart, well-written and superbly performed – but probably funny enough without the trombone belly laugh before the end.

Last year's The Composer's Middle Period (I'm a little wary of such titles, I don't know why) is another hectic 3'25" tour de force written for the sfSound ensemble, here a sextet consisting of oboe, bass clarinet, trumpet, trombone, violin and cello, in which five "materials" – ranging from a graphically notated ensemble "outburst" to intricately scored canonic writing – are repeated five times, in various overlapping configurations. The three pieces entitled Theme in Search of Variations, scored respectively for percussion trio, five-piece and four-piece ensemble, are somewhat less frenetic, but still reluctant to sit still. Once more, virtuosity seems to be the name of the game – this is music which somehow seems designed to impress: why else would the composer include a diagram showing the percussionist's setup? Light relief of sorts (not that anything on this album is exactly "heavy" enough to warrant any) comes in the form of Variations on Variations on a Theme by Mozart (2006), in which the composer performs the Variations on Ah! Vous dirai-je maman (K.265) – on prepared piano. Not one but eighteen of the beasts, each prepared differently. It's hilarious stuff, but the liners go rabbiting on about the piece being a "musical collision through transcription of the subset collisions through neuromuscular economy," or something. Tongue in cheek, perhaps, but probably the kind of spiel you'd expect from someone who studied with Brian Ferneyhough at UC San Diego. Hence the title of Entre Funérailles I (1999), a hypothetical interlude to be performed between two versions of his erstwhile teacher's Funérailles (for string septet and harp), in this case a tiny (2'21") but intricate miniature for solo trumpet, expertly handled by Brian McWhorter.

On Martian Anthropology 7 – 9 (2006, again), commissioned and performed by the Paul Dresher Ensemble Electro-Acoustic Band, Applebaum goes rummaging in the toybox once more, with crackleboxes, samplers, and a drumkit featuring pizza boxes, egg cartons and plastic bags. On the Nature of the Modern Age is a little more sedate – as it should be, being an affectionate homage to John Silber, Applebaum's former composition teacher at UCSD – and is scored for piano duo and live electronics, which are used principally to loop sounds sourced from inside the instruments. The closing title track Sock Monkey (2007) is named after a cuddly toy belonging to the composer's young daughter Charlotte, which might explain the relatively accessible nature of the writing for the Stanford Symphony Orchestra. It's clear Applebaum knows his Stravinsky, Bartók and Ligeti inside out, but I wonder what a card-carrying modernist like Ferneyhough would make of those Sacre flourishes at 4'21" and the descending octatonic harp tinkles that set in a minute later. Dogmatic quibbles aside, it's clear Applebaum knows how to write challenging and entertaining music for the top-notch performers he has access to at Stanford. As he's a tenured composition professor there, expect him continue doing so for quite some time to come.

- Dan Warburton, ParisTransatlantic

Now an associate professor of music teaching courses from composition to rock and roll history, the 40-year-old Applebaum enlivens the campus community with his extravagant hair, boldly painted instruments, sly humor and eagerness to expose students—not just music majors—and the greater community to the sometimes inscrutable joys of contemporary classical and postclassical music. He's a character as vibrant as his music scores, which may contain diagrams, colors and instructions. Unusually, in this era of computerized notation software, he writes them by hand. As his music makes its way into performances around the world, Applebaum has found a way to overcome those doubts and fears—by creating his own instruments, making his own rules, forging his own offbeat path into the future of music.

- Brett Campbell, Stanford Alumni Magazine

I have to say that as seemingly funny or absurd some of Applebaum’s pieces may sound, the technical demands on the instrumentalists is quite striking. The first number is called “Magnetic North: 86 Public and Consensual Rituals,” has a lot of spot-on stops and starts. The music seems to stagger head, but in an almost comical herky-jerky manner. The sounds blurt, bubble, rattle, and roll ahead, always percussive and brief.

A lot of new music is serious in nature, but the pieces featured in Sock Monkey, a new recording of music by Mark Applebaum, stresses the humorous side.

- James Bash, The Gathering Note

Walking the line between being hip, edgy, and relevant and being on the tenure track is a tightrope indeed, and it is impressive that Applebaum can do both...

...there are definitely moments of inspiration here, not to mention a distinct musical character...

- Uncle Dave Lewis, All Music Guide

The pieces themselves are varied, extremely well executed, beautifully recorded and of a consistently high standard.

Highly entertaining.

- Fillipo Focosi, Kathodik

....every bit as cuddly and mischievous as the title suggests. The title track is an orchestral transcription of his 18-month-old daughter Charlotte running around the house (carrying, of course, the pink sock monkey). 'Variations on Variations on a Theme by Mozart' was originally for piano but is played here on a prepared one (with paperclips and bolts stuck in between the strings), overdubbed eighteen times. While the keystrokes may be the same for the player the result is a charmingly distorted view of the past. The other pieces on the disc are perfectly calculated to hover between the brain’s cerebral and humor cortices. 

The performances from some of the Bay Area’s finest, are never less than dazzling; inspiring incredulity and whimsy. From the Paul Dresher Electroacoustic Band, Meridian Arts ensemble and sfSound to the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, there is no stop left un-pulled. 

If the sock monkey ever grows up to be a composer it will have had a most stimulating musical education.

- Ros19ini, Demonoid