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Mark Applebaum - Pre-Composition

Program Notes

Pre-Composition is a work for 8-channel tape. Its sound source is my voice…or voices. Pre-Composition was commissioned by Electronic Music Midwest 2002.

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 a 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.

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 (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 Austria, 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, Belgium 's Champ D'Action, 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 NYU 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 his recent CD Catfish on Tzadik; a volume of three orchestral works—performed by the Stanford Symphony Orchestra—will be released in the fall on Innova.

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. Tonight he will perform on his most recent sound-sculpture, the Mouseketier—a musical Frankenstein consisting of threaded rods, nails, combs, doorstops, springs, squeaky wheels, ratchets, a toilet tank flotation bulb, and other unlikely objects. 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). And hybrid pieces featuring both acoustic and electronic instrumentation can be heard on the 2003 Innova CD Intellectual Property.

Applebaum is also active as a jazz pianist. He has concertized from Sumatra to the Czech Republic , most recently performing a solo recital in Ouagadougou , Burkina Faso sponsored by the American Embassy. 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, Dartmouth, Wesleyan, the University of Chicago, Brooklyn College, the Eastman School of Music, 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 Universities of Illinois, Michigan, Toronto, California at San Diego, California at Berkeley, Oregon, North Texas, San Francisco State, Lawrence University, the Janacek Akademie, Czech Republic, and at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club. Additional information and announcements of upcoming performances may be found at

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