Concert Review by Judith A. Coe

 The Acoustic and Electronic Music of Mark Applebaum

Faculty Artist Series at McComas Theatre

Thursday, September 10, 1998
Mississippi State University

featuring: Mark Applebaum, piano, sound-sculptures
guitarScott Bauer, trumpet
London Branch, contrabass and The Sacrifice Quartet:
Gail Levinsky, soprano saxophone
Josh Power, alto saxophone
James Bell, tenor saxophone
Kevin Poe, baritone saxophone

This first concert of the 1998-99 Faculty Artist Series at Mississippi State University featured composer Mark Applebaum's strong individual authority as a gifted composer and a consummate pianist in an artistically satisfying and technologically diverse recital. First, Hymn for saxophone quartet, played by The Sacrifice Quartet, was a lovely sentimental piece, tonal and motivic, and by Applebaum's description, somewhat uncharacteristic of his music.  Next came s-tog, Applebaum's improvisational composition for live electronics and his originally designed and constructed electro-acoustic sound-sculptures:  the mousetrap, the mini-mouse, and the duplex mausphon,  influenced formally by the Copenhagen metro system.  S-tog utilized a work/performance/station constructed of junk, found-objects, and hardware mounted on electro-acoustic soundboards to create an abstract and engaging aural and visual experience which incorporated tribal rhythms, a rain stick-like sound, various electronic effects, bowed harmonics, layered metallic timbres dissolving into sustained electronic overtones, and terraced dynamics.  The overall effect was a daring yet highly accessible and expressive work.  Applebaum's greatest strength as both composer and performer lies in his ability to fuse elements of classical music (specific musical compositional techniques such as tonality, atonality, motivic development, modality, polytonality, polymeter, and metric displacement) with elements of rock and jazz, and sound explorations.

Quadrivium B, Applebaum's four-movement piece for improvised piano, references the ancient Latin quadrivium composed of geometry, astronomy, arithmetic, and music.  Lamenting that music no longer possesses a central institutional significance, Applebaum's notes describe this piece as "a requiem for other disciplines whose survival, particularly in the realm of public education, has been increasingly unsuccessful," but he cleverly utilizes humor, dramatic antics, musical fragments, elements of camp, and irony to illustrate his observations.  Although an improvisational composition, a placebo page turner was utilizedthroughout to lend an intended authenticity to a "serious" composition.  The first movement, Home Economics, was reflective at the start, escalated into an intensely rhythmic and multilayered mid-section, then ended with a soft, thin texture, signaling, perhaps, resignation.  This movement incorporated a strong jazz influence, and the middle section, with a wacky percussive bass line, insinuated mad vacuuming and furious window-scrubbing. 

The second movement, Acting, used inflected blues rhythms with a hip, very cool, steady wind-up, walking through a tonal scenario, where, mid-way through, a badly muted bass key on the piano halted the performance.  Applebaum got up and inspected the inside of the piano, asked the page turner to examine it as well, and then used his cell phone to call someone to fix the problem.  An AAA mechanic in a jumpsuit rolled out an electronic keyboard, tried the pedals, connected the keyboard to the grand piano with jumper cables and "jump-started" the piano.  The movement ended on a questioning, ascending jazz arpeggio, and the musical tourist is left pondering where creativity would be without technology, and where technology would be without creativity. 

Movement III, Sexual Education, incorporated a very large transparent plastic bag, removed from under the piano bench by Applebaum as if to suggest an emergency flotation device, and placed so that the keyboard area was completely covered.  Applebaum played the entire movement with his hands atop the plastic -- a piano condom -- employing lush jazz chords and slow, melodic motives.  He continually adjusted the bag, as it wanted to fall off and onto the floor as he played. This plastic rustling against the balladic backdrop of his beautiful playing created a very funny and sophisticated commentary on safe sex, and the movement concluded as Applebaum played melodic fragments from Harold Arlen's If I Only Had a Brain, then lifted the bag off the piano, and discarded it.  Applebaum's colleagues at MSU have dubbed this movement 'The Well-Protected Clavier'.  Wood Shop, the final movement, used great expressionistic blobs of flowing, subtle sounds sculpted into more precisely articulated structures by the end, and aptly quoted the Flintstones Theme.

Dead White Males Remix was a virtual electronic tapestry, which combined digital recorded audio samples with synchronous visual computer data projection, and was Applebaum's inaugural work utilizing a new digital editing software program.  By far the most provoking and dramatically effective work on the program, Applebaum's remix compiled digital samples from the recorded premier of the original orchestral composition, and reoriented them through "juxtaposition, superimposition, time compression and expansion, pitch shifting, and reversal of sounds." Contemporary culture defines itself in relation to its past and also recycles and reworks historical forms. As electronic technologies develop and become increasingly intertwined and meshed with every aspect of our daily lives, new tools and concepts are leading to new approaches to art and universal possibilities for human creativity.  Applebaum provided the audience with access to materials and information essential to understanding the current development of music and related art forms in our technological age.

The remainder of the concert was a delightful and accomplished jazz combo performance by Mark Applebaum on piano, Scott Bauer on trumpet, London Branch on acoustic bass, and Chad Anderson on drums.  The combo performed two of Applebaum's pieces: 8 Years, written for his wife on their 8th anniversary, and the frenetic and sparkling Tornado Food. Arrangements of Wayne Shorter's Footprints and Victor Young's Beautiful Love were particularly exquisite, aided by Bauer's mellifluous horn-playing, Branch's fabulously versatile bass-playing, and Anderson's exceptional rhythmic expression. Applebaum's compositions exhibit an unusually broad scope and an engaging fusion of intellect, playfulness, and superb craft.

Applebaum's style as a jazz pianist is marked by a dramatic performance persona, experimentation, sophisticated and cunning improvisational skills, and an eclecticism which displays an exceptional variety of tonal color and expression.The audience was delighted by this captivating and inventive performance.

Mark Applebaum, Assistant Professor of Music Education at Mississippi State University, received his Ph.D. in music composition from the University of California at San Diego where he studied principally with Brian Ferneyhough. His music has been performed throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan including premieres at the Darmstadt Summer Music Courses. He has received commissions from the American Composers Forum, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the Paul Dresher Ensemble, Zeitgeist, MANUFACTURE, and Betty Freeman among others. His honors include the 1997 Stephen Albert Award from the American Music Center for promising young composer and the 1994 Jazz Prize of the Southern California Jazz Society for his innovative work as a jazz pianist. Applebaum is also active as an instrument-builder; his 1997 CD Mousetrap Music, available on Innova Records, is a collection of improvisations performed on his sound-sculptures: constructions of junk, found-objects, and hardware mounted on electro-acoustic soundboards. In 1996, Applebaum served as the Dayton-Hudson Visiting Artist at Carleton College.  Most recently Applebaum has completed a piano work, based on the life of Sun Ra, for Gloria Cheng-Cochran to be prmiered on Leonard Stein's '98-'99 Piano Spheres series in Los Angeles.

Applebaum, Mark.  Mousetrap Music: Electroacoustic Sound Sculpture - available on: INNOVA IV-511-CD ($17.00 CD)
"Mark Applebaum has built the better mousetrap- several, in fact, and they're all musical instruments! This CD offers a sampling of Applebaum's electroacoustic sound sculpture improvisations performed on musical instruments of his own creation."

Dr. Mark Applebaum my be reached at:
phone: 601-325-8775


Judith A. Coe, D.M.A.
Assistant Professor of Music
Mississippi University for Women
Campus Box W-70
Columbus, MS  39701

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