Although they are sonically diverse, these works share an important trait: they all fuse acoustic and electronic sounds to create unusual hybrids. Some of these pieces combine live acoustic instruments with pre-recorded tape (Ferneyhough ReMix, Plundergraphic); others involve electroacoustic sound-sculptures, either in combination with samplers and live acoustic instruments such as violin and bassoon (Scipio Wakes Up) or with live electronic manipulation (Mouseketier Praxis); the acoustic piano is the only sound source in the piece that gives this collection its title (Intellectual Property), although the instrument used has been retrofitted with an electronic player piano mechanism that allows the performer to operate in a virtual 4-handed piano setting; and one piece, Pre-Composition, for 8-channel tape (here presented in its stereo mix) relies on the most traditional acoustic instrument—the human voice—without any electronic modification whatsoever, a somewhat ironic approach given 8-channel tape’s cultural role as the most celebrated medium of high-tech academic electronic music. I am grateful to all of the intrepid and sensitive players who realized this music.
* * *
Intellectual Property I
Intellectual Property is written for the Yamaha Disklavier player grand piano. It is performed by two improvising pianists: the first pianist records an improvisation into the Disklavier’s memory prior to a performance; in concert the second pianist improvises with and against the recorded improvisation. In this regard the first pianist’s performance is fixed while the second’s is flexible. And because both parts are executed on the same instrument, the players frequently find themselves competing over individual notes on the keyboard.
This piece seeks to dramatize a stylistic evolution from one set of aesthetic values to another, in this case from a non-vernacular and minimally determined formal environment to a vernacular one that refers to a specific cultural locus (jazz) and employs a rigid form (12-bar blues). The piece ends with a composed coda: an arpeggiated hocket between the pre-recorded and live parts.
Plundergraphic is an improvised piece for two groups of players, live electronics, and 8-channel tape. The first group consists of any number of live instrumentalists—on this recording it is piano, cello, percussion, and flute/piccolo. The second group comprises the diffusion artists who apply signal processing (DSP) to the players and mix the levels of their live sound, their signal processing, and the 8-channel tape. Ryan Francesconi, the lone diffusion artist on this recording, had a great deal of control over the outcome. He could choose to make a certain part of the piece dense or sparse, loud or soft. He could feature a certain instrument at a given moment, maintain or eliminate its electronic component. Parts of the 8-channel tape could surface or vanish as he decided. In short, the diffusion artist is a kind of sonic alchemist, concocting an inexplicable and protean brew.
Plundergraphic: Mixing Sources
The 8-channel tape consists of four stereo pairs. Channels 3 & 4 are a stereo mix of a quartet of multi-tracked instruments (Quartet A): drums, arco contrabass, pizzicato contrabass, and prepared sounds from inside the piano. Channels 5 & 6 are a stereo mix of a second quartet of instruments (Quartet B): two violins, voice, and miscellaneous percussion. Chad Anderson played the drum part in Quartet A and I performed the remaining seven parts. Channels 1 & 2 are an electronically processed version of Quartet A while channels 7 & 8 are a processed version of Quartet B. Therefore, the diffusion artist mixes among four tape programs: two pre-recorded acoustic quartets and their electronically transformed counterparts.
The score to Plundergraphic consists of several leaves, each a “plundergraphic” image—a graphic transformation of one of my extant scores. These pages aspire to provoke the performers, who improvise freely, reappraise the visual images, interact with the other players, and listen to the diffusion artist’s mix of the 8-channel tape.
Ferneyhough ReMix (Affection Aphorism 1)
Years ago Brian Ferneyhough composed a short percussion duo for his teacher, Klaus Huber, on the occasion of Huber’s 60th birthday. So when Brian turned 60 on January 17, 2003 I took the opportunity to compose a short percussion duo for him, a kind of musical birthday card. The instrumentation of Ferneyhough ReMix also incorporates a stereo tape part: a remix of percussionist Steven Schick’s recording of Ferneyhough’s 1991 percussion solo Bone Alphabet.
The piece attempts to be an explosion of sound, almost entirely expositional in nature and ranging in instrumentation from traditional (e.g. vibraphone, drums, woodblocks, gongs) to common musical found objects (glass bottles, metal pipes) to unconventional musical found objects (hairdryer, pendulum metronome, compressed air spray, bicycle bell). In addition to customary percussive articulations, the players are called upon to pop balloons, blow harmonicas, whisper and shout, tear paper, and mangle bubble wrap. And, although it’s not communicated on an audio recording, the players also illuminate a string of decorative lights woven among the instruments in synch with the blast of a huge Balinese gong. The hyperactive shifts among these odd materials and techniques makes for a rather histrionic and whimsical performance.
I composed the dense two-minute tape part first, appropriating various short samples from Bone Alphabet and then radically transforming, layering, and reordering them. The result was attractive sonically but rather unruly from a metric standpoint. That is, the tape part did not always convey a clear beat and, when it did, the tempo tended to fluctuate. This caused a problem: how best to describe the synchronization of the live percussion parts and the tape part.
I settled on a combination of graphic and metric notation. The stereo tape was distilled pictorially into a single visual line. At the same time, meter and tempo were imposed. For example, the first 4.012 seconds of the tape sounded to me like nine beats at 202 with an emphasis on the sixth beat, followed by four beats at 180; this span therefore became measures 1-3 of the piece: 5/8 at 202, 4/8 at 202, and 4/8 at 180. Navigating among these rhythmic complexities requires great precision. A rehearsal CD designed to help the performers accompanies the score. It contains 74 excerpts from the two-minute tape. For example, track 1 consists of measure 1 repeated eight times in succession. Track 3 consists of measures 1-3 (the aforementioned first 4.012 seconds of the piece) repeated eight times. This allows the players to isolate and apprehend the tape sound associated with any given measure or group of measures, and to practice the live part with the corresponding tape excerpt. The magic in this particular performance goes beyond its astounding rhythmic accuracy and ensemble coordination; Steven Schick and Ivan Manzanilla give a persuasive virtuoso performance full of prodigious flair, manic energy, and hyper expressiveness.
The Mouseketier is an original sound-sculpture made of junk, found objects, and hardware mounted on electroacoustic soundboards. It is played with chopsticks, knitting needles, a violin bow, brushes, wind-up toys, corrugated Lego rail, and the hands. The sounds are often modified with a battery of live electronics that permit timbral and temporal transformation as well as live multi-track looping.
This is my most recent instrument and the most successful in four ways. First, it unites my favorite materials from prior instruments—doorstops, ratchets, threaded rods, springs, strings stretched through pulleys and turnbuckles, squeaky steel caster wheels, astroturf, nails, twisted bronze rods, combs, and, of course, mousetraps; to these I’ve added some intriguing new ones, notably a copper toilet tank flotation contraption and metal “push” & “pull” signs that operate as small thundersheets. Second, the Mouseketier improves the ergonomics and playability. Third, this instrument possesses the most refined soundboard construction and electronic function. Of particular note, while there are three soundboards—its tiers—each with its own piezo contact pickup, five additional pickups are located on the center soundboard. These are reserved as simple switches for sending on/off signals to various electronic processors, an idea suggested by Timothy Place. And fourth, the Mouseketier is a practical travel model. Remembering the agony of transporting the behemoth Mousetrap to Darmstadt, Germany for a performance in 1992, I chose first to design the flight case based on the maximum airline baggage allowance; the instrument itself came second. My wife Joan Friedman contributed the idea of the distinctive and crucial multi-tiered architecture, as well as the witty name.
Praxis is a collection of Mouseketier improvisations that aspire to showcase the current state of the art/obsession. Inventing a new instrument provides immediate gratification: one instantly becomes the world’s greatest player of that instrument. The problem is that one abruptly realizes that one is also the world’s worst player. The goal then is to envision—to invent—the skills that might constitute virtuosity on a unique instrument. Or, to think of it in historical terms, to develop a classic and then mannerist state of the art from a pre-classic antecedent. There is ample latitude within a culture of one, but it is also a lonely and challenging undertaking because a community that might inform and guide progress remains absent. I can’t precisely define the state of my current work with sound-sculptures. I do know that the performance technique has developed substantially, both in terms of my own facility and in terms of defining an idiomatic method. Compositionally I find myself referring to recent and earlier aesthetic orientations. (In performance I will nostalgically think to myself “Ah, remember how I used to approach the doorstop in the mid-1990s?”) I also see that the electronics have become much more elaborate, integrated, and prominent in a kind of hyper-instrument that is both more garish and more refined. By looking back, I see that I have come some distance and this distance urges me to look forward.
Scipio Wakes Up (and Smells the Coffee)
Although its concerns are numerous (and somewhat esoteric), Scipio Wakes Up (and Smells the Coffee) is the product of two principal obsessions. First, the piece gave me new ways to employ the sound-sculptures I have been designing and constructing since 1990. Except for its use of amplified violin and bassoon, Scipio consists exclusively of sounds derived from six sound-sculptures—the Micro Mice—designed specifically for Scipio Wakes Up. Unlike my other sound-sculptures, which are hybrid instruments (the Mousetrap, the Mini-Mouse, the Duplex Mausphon, the Midi-Mouse, and the recent Mouseketier which is heard on Mouseketier Praxis), each of the six Micro Mice consists of only one material: a squeaky steel caster wheel; a row of nails protruding at various heights; threaded steel rods of varying lengths; wire stretched through a pulley (a kind of one-stringed koto); pieces of twisted bronze braising rod; and a stretched steel spring. The first sounds of the piece come from these sculptures themselves; later the sound-sculptures appear as mutated samples triggered by the ensemble’s two keyboardists and two percussionists.
A second obsession, one that informs the entire Janus Cycle (1992-1996) of which Scipio is part, is a bipartite formal design in which a monolith (of primarily texturally unified material) is juxtaposed with a kaleidoscope (of short materials that constantly interrupt one another, a mercurial orgy). Purposefully schizophrenic, Scipio welds together two sections of opposing—although not antithetical—characters, notational approaches, and compositional intents. As in all eleven Janus pieces, the point of intersection between parts raises questions about similarity and polarity without providing an easy reconciliation.
It was, however, the Paul Dresher Ensemble’s unique instrumentation, abilities, open-mindedness, and dedication that ultimately inspired the work. Scipio is dedicated with great thanks and friendship to Paul, who commissioned it. This recording is from a live performance.
Pre-Composition is a piece for 8-channel tape. The sound source is merely my voice…or voices.
My music emerges as the result of conversations in my head. In all honesty, the voices I hear are not my own. They are the cultivated wisdom of my many colleagues, mentors, critics, friends, and relatives. Some of these people are still alive and near to me, others have died or are distant. They are both musicians and non-musicians, real and imagined. They include hypothetical collaborators who implore me to do certain things, and conjured audiences whom I try to satisfy or challenge.
Usually I feel like a chameleon. I guess that any originality—or at least uniqueness—in my music would derive from the manner in which I carefully and consciously cultivate this “council of elders,” as composer Matthew Shlomowitz appropriately calls it. I have developed a kind of deliberate switching mechanism, inviting certain council members to the party when I need to invoke them, and then dispatching them. There are moments in the compositional process in which I need Roger Reynolds to mentally kick my ass as if I am in lesson with him; other times I want to know what my mom thinks. It is perverse and probably has unsavory mental health implications for me, but that’s how I compose.
This idea, coupled with my experience of a lot of well-intentioned but misguided, bland, tedious, cliché, or just dumb music at electronic music festivals (some of it my own), provoked the eight characters of Pre-Composition. Although the basic mechanism of the mental conversation is germane, this piece is clearly facetious, ironic, a bit sarcastic, self-deprecating, and satiric. These are not really members of my council of elders. If they were, I would labor to keep most of them out of the conversation. But for Pre-Composition they compose an ideal cast.
Pre-Composition: Stereo Diffusion Scheme
Clearly, as the boundary between piece and meta-piece is problematized and eroded, it calls attention to the frame of the medium. But there are other odd or downright ludicrous aspects of the piece. The sounds are simply unprocessed vocal sounds, moving from meta-musical narration to absolute musical expression. The title is ridiculous because I don’t distinguish between the act of pre-composition and composition. And I rarely through-compose a piece in the way the characters do here. So while this piece provides legitimate insight into my compositional mind, it is perhaps equally misleading. I like that.
Pre-Composition was commissioned by Electronic Music Midwest 2002.
—Mark Applebaum, July, 2003
Mark Applebaum (b. 1967, Chicago) is assistant professor of composition and theory at Stanford University, where he received the 2003 Walter J. Gores Award for excellence in teaching. He received his Ph.D. in composition from the University of California at San Diego where he studied with Brian Ferneyhough, Joji Yuasa, Rand Steiger, and Roger Reynolds. His solo, chamber, choral, orchestral, and electroacoustic work has been performed throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia with notable performances at the Darmstadt summer sessions, the Bourges Festival in France, ICMC in Beijing and Singapore, Italy’s Festival Spaziomusica, the Young Nordic Music Festival in Sweden, Sonic Circuits in Hong Kong, Amsterdam’s Great Virtuoso Slugfest, SEAMUS, strictly Ballroom series at Stanford University’s CCRMA, the Woodstockhausen Festival in Santa Cruz, the College Music Society, the Southeastern Composers League, NWEAMO, the Florida Electro-Acoustic Music Festival, the Northwestern University New Music Marathon, the Kansas City Electronic Music Festival, Piano Spheres, SIGGRAPH, the North American Saxophone Alliance, the American Composers Orchestra’s OrchestraTech, UC Berkeley’s CNMAT, Dartmouth College’s Hopkins Center, the Essl Museum in Vienna, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and at Electronic Music Midwest where he served as the 2002 visiting artist.
He has received commissions from Betty Freeman, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the Vienna Modern Festival, the Paul Dresher Ensemble, Zeitgeist, MANUFACTURE (Tokyo), the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the Harmida Trio, the Jerome Foundation, and the American Composers Forum, among others. His music has been played by the Arditti String Quartet, Speculum Musicae, Musica Nova, Zeitgeist, newEar, red fish blue fish percussion ensemble, the Northwestern University Contemporary Music Ensemble, the University of Illinois New Music Ensemble, the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, the Callithumpian Consort, Skin & Bones, MANUFACTURE, players under the direction of Harvey Sollberger and Dennis Russell Davies, and some of the finest solo artists of our time, including Steven Schick, Irvine Arditti, Gloria Cheng, Craig Hultgren, Helen Bledsoe, and Bertram Turetzky. Performances of his chamber music can be heard on an upcoming CD on Tzadik.
In 1997 Applebaum received the American Music Center’s Stephen Albert Award and an artist residency fellowship at the Villa Montalvo artist colony in Northern California. He has engaged in numerous intermedia collaborations, including That Brainwave Chick (with neural artist Paras Kaul), Archittetura Redux (with film-maker Iara Lee, Caipirinha Productions), Concerto for Florist and Ensemble (with florist James DelPrince), Aphoristic Fragment (with animator Anna Chupa), Interactive Sound Pavilion (with architect David Perkes), Spring Migration (with choreographer Brittany Brown), and projects with the laptop DJ ensembles Digital Cutup Lounge (Hong Kong) and Tricky OL (Japan).
Since 1990 Applebaum has built electroacoustic instruments out of junk, hardware, and found objects for use as both compositional and improvisational tools. Mousetrap Music, a CD of sound-sculpture improvisations can be heard on the Innova label. Also on Innova is The Janus ReMixes: Exercises in Auto-Plundering, a CD of eleven electronic works whose source material corresponds exclusively to recordings of the eleven acoustic compositions that constitute his Janus Cycle (1992-1996).
Applebaum is also active as a jazz pianist. He has concertized from Sumatra to the Czech Republic. In 1994 he received the jazz prize of the Southern California Jazz Society and in 1999 the Mark Applebaum Trio performed in the first Mississippi arts event broadcast live over the World Wide Web. At present he performs with his father, Bob Applebaum of Chicago, in the Applebaum Jazz Piano Duo. Their first recording, The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree, is available on Innova.
Prior to his current appointment, Applebaum taught at UCSD, Mississippi State University, and Carleton College where he served as Dayton-Hudson Visiting Artist. He has been invited to give lectures and master classes at various institutions, including Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Wesleyan, the University of Chicago, Dartmouth College, Brooklyn College, the New England Conservatory of Music, the Kansas City Conservatory of Music, Hong Kong University, the JML/Irino Foundation in Tokyo, the Bruckner Conservatory in Linz, Austria, the College of Santa Fe, the University of Oregon, the University of North Texas, San Francisco State University, the University of Illinois, Lawrence University, the University of California at Berkeley, the Janacek Akademie, Czech Republic, and at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club. Additional information and announcements of upcoming performances may be found at www.markapplebaum.com.