The mad scientist of music | Mark Applebaum

The mad scientist of music | Mark Applebaum


Translator: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Thu-Huong Ha I thought if I skipped it might help my nerves, but I’m actually having a paradoxical reaction to that, so that was a bad idea. (Laughter) Anyway, I was really delighted to receive the invitation to present to you some of my music and some of my work as a composer, presumably because it appeals to my well-known and abundant narcissism. (Laughter) And I’m not kidding, I just think we should just say that and move forward. (Laughter) So, but the thing is, a dilemma quickly arose, and that is that I’m really bored with music, and I’m really bored with the role of the composer, and so I decided to put that idea, boredom, as the focus of my presentation to you today. And I’m going to share my music with you, but I hope that I’m going to do so in a way that tells a story, tells a story about how I used boredom as a catalyst for creativity and invention, and how boredom actually forced me to change the fundamental question that I was asking in my discipline, and how boredom also, in a sense, pushed me towards taking on roles beyond the sort of most traditional, narrow definition of a composer. What I’d like to do today is to start with an excerpt of a piece of music at the piano. (Music) Okay, I wrote that. (Laughter) No, it’s not — (Applause) Oh, why thank you. No, no, I didn’t write that. In fact, that was a piece by Beethoven, and so I was not functioning as a composer. Just now I was functioning in the role of the interpreter, and there I am, interpreter. So, an interpreter of what? Of a piece of music, right? But we can ask the question, “But is it music?” And I say this rhetorically, because of course by just about any standard we would have to concede that this is, of course, a piece of music, but I put this here now because, just to set it in your brains for the moment, because we’re going to return to this question. It’s going to be a kind of a refrain as we go through the presentation. So here we have this piece of music by Beethoven, and my problem with it is, it’s boring. I mean, you — I’m just like, a hush, huh — It’s like — (Laughter) It’s Beethoven, how can you say that? No, well, I don’t know, it’s very familiar to me. I had to practice it as a kid, and I’m really sick of it. So — (Laughter) I would, so what I might like to try to do is to change it, to transform it in some ways, to personalize it, so I might take the opening, like this idea — (Music) and then I might substitute — (Music) and then I might improvise on that melody that goes forward from there — (Music) (Music) So that might be the kind of thing — Why thank you. (Applause) That would be the kind of thing that I would do, and it’s not necessarily better than the Beethoven. In fact, I think it’s not better than it. The thing is — (Laughter) — it’s more interesting to me. It’s less boring for me. I’m really leaning into me, because I, because I have to think about what decisions I’m going to make on the fly as that Beethoven text is running in time through my head and I’m trying to figure out what kinds of transformations I’m going to make to it. So this is an engaging enterprise for me, and I’ve really leaned into that first person pronoun thing there, and now my face appears twice, so I think we can agree that this is a fundamentally solipsistic enterprise. (Laughter) But it’s an engaging one, and it’s interesting to me for a while, but then I get bored with it, and by it, I actually mean, the piano, because it becomes, it’s this familiar instrument, it’s timbral range is actually pretty compressed, at least when you play on the keyboard, and if you’re not doing things like listening to it after you’ve lit it on fire or something like that, you know. It gets a little bit boring, and so pretty soon I go through other instruments, they become familiar, and eventually I find myself designing and constructing my own instrument, and I brought one with me today, and I thought I would play a little bit on it for you so you can hear what it sounds like. (Music) You gotta have doorstops, that’s important. (Laughter) I’ve got combs. They’re the only combs that I own. (Music) They’re all mounted on my instruments. (Laughter) (Music) I can actually do all sorts of things. I can play with a violin bow. I don’t have to use the chopsticks. So we have this sound. (Music) And with a bank of live electronics, I can change the sounds radically. (Music) (Music) Like that, and like this. (Music) And so forth. So this gives you a little bit of an idea of the sound world of this instrument, which I think is quite interesting and it puts me in the role of the inventor, and the nice thing about — This instrument is called the Mouseketeer … (Laughter) and the cool thing about it is I’m the world’s greatest Mouseketeer player. (Laughter) Okay? (Applause) So in that regard, this is one of the things, this is one of the privileges of being, and here’s another role, the inventor, and by the way, when I told you that I’m the world’s greatest, if you’re keeping score, we’ve had narcissism and solipsism and now a healthy dose of egocentricism. I know some of you are just, you know, bingo! Or, I don’t know. (Laughter) Anyway, so this is also a really enjoyable role. I should concede also that I’m the world’s worst Mouseketeer player, and it was this distinction that I was most worried about when I was on that prior side of the tenure divide. I’m glad I’m past that. We’re not going to go into that. I’m crying on the inside. There are still scars. Anyway, but I guess my point is that all of these enterprises are engaging to me in their multiplicity, but as I’ve presented them to you today, they’re actually solitary enterprises, and so pretty soon I want to commune with other people, and so I’m delighted that in fact I get to compose works for them. I get to write, sometimes for soloists and I get to work with one person, sometimes full orchestras, and I work with a lot of people, and this is probably the capacity, the role creatively for which I’m probably best known professionally. Now, some of my scores as a composer look like this, and others look like this, and some look like this, and I make all of these by hand, and it’s really tedious. It takes a long, long time to make these scores, and right now I’m working on a piece that’s 180 pages in length, and it’s just a big chunk of my life, and I’m just pulling out hair. I have a lot of it, and that’s a good thing I suppose. (Laughter) So this gets really boring and really tiresome for me, so after a while the process of notating is not only boring, but I actually want the notation to be more interesting, and so that’s pushed me to do other projects like this one. This is an excerpt from a score called “The Metaphysics of Notation.” The full score is 72 feet wide. It’s a bunch of crazy pictographic notation. Let’s zoom in on one section of it right here. You can see it’s rather detailed. I do all of this with drafting templates, with straight edges, with French curves, and by freehand, and the 72 feet was actually split into 12 six-foot-wide panels that were installed around the Cantor Arts Center Museum lobby balcony, and it appeared for one year in the museum, and during that year, it was experienced as visual art most of the week, except, as you can see in these pictures, on Fridays, from noon til one, and only during that time, various performers came and interpreted these strange and undefined pictographic glyphs. (Laughter) Now this was a really exciting experience for me. It was gratifying musically, but I think the more important thing is it was exciting because I got to take on another role, especially given that it appeared in a museum, and that is as visual artist. (Laughter) We’re going to fill up the whole thing, don’t worry. (Laughter) I am multitudes. (Laughter) So one of the things is that, I mean, some people would say, like, “Oh, you’re being a dilettante,” and maybe that’s true. I can understand how, I mean, because I don’t have a pedigree in visual art and I don’t have any training, but it’s just something that I wanted to do as an extension of my composition, as an extension of a kind of creative impulse. I can understand the question, though. “But is it music?” I mean, there’s not any traditional notation. I can also understand that sort of implicit criticism in this piece, “S-tog,” which I made when I was living in Copenhagen. I took the Copenhagen subway map and I renamed all the stations to abstract musical provocations, and the players, who are synchronized with stopwatches, follow the timetables, which are listed in minutes past the hour. So this is a case of actually adapting something, or maybe stealing something, and then turning it into a musical notation. Another adaptation would be this piece. I took the idea of the wristwatch, and I turned it into a musical score. I made my own faces, and had a company fabricate them, and the players follow these scores. They follow the second hands, and as they pass over the various symbols, the players respond musically. Here’s another example from another piece, and then its realization. So in these two capacities, I’ve been scavenger, in the sense of taking, like, the subway map, right, or thief maybe, and I’ve also been designer, in the case of making the wristwatches. And once again, this is, for me, interesting. Another role that I like to take on is that of the performance artist. Some of my pieces have these kind of weird theatric elements, and I often perform them. I want to show you a clip from a piece called “Echolalia.” This is actually being performed by Brian McWhorter, who is an extraordinary performer. Let’s watch a little bit of this, and please notice the instrumentation. (Music) Okay, I hear you were laughing nervously because you too could hear that the drill was a little bit sharp, the intonation was a little questionable. (Laughter) Let’s watch just another clip. (Music) You can see the mayhem continues, and there’s, you know, there were no clarinets and trumpets and flutes and violins. Here’s a piece that has an even more unusual, more peculiar instrumentation. This is “Tlön,” for three conductors and no players. (Laughter) This was based on the experience of actually watching two people having a virulent argument in sign language, which produced no decibels to speak of, but affectively, psychologically, was a very loud experience. So, yeah, I get it, with, like, the weird appliances and then the total absence of conventional instruments and this glut of conductors, people might, you know, wonder, yeah, “Is this music?” But let’s move on to a piece where clearly I’m behaving myself, and that is my “Concerto for Orchestra.” You’re going to notice a lot of conventional instruments in this clip. (Music) (Music) This, in fact, is not the title of this piece. I was a bit mischievous. In fact, to make it more interesting, I put a space right in here, and this is the actual title of the piece. Let’s continue with that same excerpt. (Music) It’s better with a florist, right? (Laughter) (Music) Or at least it’s less boring. Let’s watch a couple more clips. (Music) So with all these theatric elements, this pushes me in another role, and that would be, possibly, the dramaturge. I was playing nice. I had to write the orchestra bits, right? Okay? But then there was this other stuff, right? There was the florist, and I can understand that, once again, we’re putting pressure on the ontology of music as we know it conventionally, but let’s look at one last piece today I’m going to share with you. This is going to be a piece called “Aphasia,” and it’s for hand gestures synchronized to sound, and this invites yet another role, and final one I’ll share with you, which is that of the choreographer. And the score for the piece looks like this, and it instructs me, the performer, to make various hand gestures at very specific times synchronized with an audio tape, and that audio tape is made up exclusively of vocal samples. I recorded an awesome singer, and I took the sound of his voice in my computer, and I warped it in countless ways to come up with the soundtrack that you’re about to hear. And I’ll perform just an excerpt of “Aphasia” for you here. Okay? (Music) So that gives you a little taste of that piece. (Applause) Yeah, okay, that’s kind of weird stuff. Is it music? Here’s how I want to conclude. I’ve decided, ultimately, that this is the wrong question, that this is not the important question. The important question is, “Is it interesting?” And I follow this question, not worrying about “Is it music?” — not worrying about the definition of the thing that I’m making. I allow my creativity to push me in directions that are simply interesting to me, and I don’t worry about the likeness of the result to some notion, some paradigm, of what music composition is supposed to be, and that has actually urged me, in a sense, to take on a whole bunch of different roles, and so what I want you to think about is, to what extent might you change the fundamental question in your discipline, and, okay, I’m going to put one extra little footnote in here, because, like, I realized I mentioned some psychological defects earlier, and we also, along the way, had a fair amount of obsessive behavior, and there was some delusional behavior and things like that, and here I think we could say that this is an argument for self-loathing and a kind of schizophrenia, at least in the popular use of the term, and I really mean dissociative identity disorder, okay. (Laughter) Anyway, despite those perils, I would urge you to think about the possibility that you might take on roles in your own work, whether they are neighboring or far-flung from your professional definition. And with that, I thank you very much. (Applause) (Applause)

100 thoughts on “The mad scientist of music | Mark Applebaum

  1. Oh man, Zappa would have loved this guy's instrument.

  2. How to make something drag out

  3. Boring avante garde stuff from the sixties. Probably thinks Yoko Ono is a great singer.

  4. I just heard him talk about how good he is and then he played a childs toy from a dr suess book

  5. What is that international cringe convention!!!
    YES CONGRATS YOU ARE ALL NERDS

  6. He sees himselfe as so many things…
    I see a fat, ugly cringe with poodle hair, making noises…
    At this point justin bieber makes better musik

  7. i have herpes

  8. If all the musically creativity you got inside, lead you to that point this freak is….
    Try it whit sports

  9. simply and heartbreakingly awful.

  10. I only went here coz of his name

  11. I feel like this guy is trolling the whole time

  12. LSD mushrooms
    DMT

  13. I wish I was as smart as this guy

  14. Dude has waaaay to much time on his hands

  15. Btw you play bethoven without soul or sence of rhythm so faild, now making baby noises

  16. And wonder why they can’t pay off their college loans

  17. This isn't music.

  18. Reading the comments on this made me feel better about having watching this.

  19. Chest and belly sweat?

  20. Harry Partch approves…

  21. Yeah, I'm sure the whole, say, nuclear holocaust thing could be "reimagined"…

  22. Ugh

  23. The thin line between genius and insanity. Whack job.

  24. They keep him in Area 51 all year round. They only let him out to play peanut butter.

  25. It's music yes…..but I feel music inside when it's inperfectly performed in the present to personal perfection…
    Copyright..patent pending darron Higgins

  26. IS it music, well I think he answered his own question by not answering it.in my opinion it's a definitive NO, sitting here half drunk I think he is a creative self obsessed creator of the undefined. With a personality equal to himself. Unique but not marketable.

  27. My head hurts from the “ WTF” look I had during this video. Is it music? No. Is it interesting? I’m watching aren’t I. Never again but I watched

  28. Now I get what Reggie Watts is doing when he performs on this platform. Making fun of pretentious people like this.

  29. All the great artists, even the ones that might commonly be desribed as "difficult" know a thing and do that thing – and that is: guide, control and include their audience. It underpins their many other talents. There is no room for an artist who wants someone else to actually do that work for them. When you see guys like this, you suddenly understand what even an OK artist acheives. Applebaum has the advantage of 1st World indulgency – and little else. He is a Professor of Composition at a top University – but in a rich society, we can afford frippery to exist.

  30. 😂

  31. THE BERKLEY , CA., MUSICIAN!

  32. Music, he never answered the question…I believe he is still trying to find the answer to the question…
    I believe he has built a wall up around his heart from his childhood… He only hears the sound intellectually not emotionally… That why he gets bored no matter how good it is…
    His narsistian has crippled him. Yet he is a genius with the mechanics and technique…
    So the question still lies to be answered…what is music . when the sounds of life are in rythmic harmony with the rhythms of the heart… You have music…music is the language of the soul. Music is the sounds from with in .. music can make one feel alive, sad, afraid, suspense, romantic and ete… If your heart is dead so is your music, and if you live behind a narsistic wall then it becomes boring no matter how good it is…
    Music is also the sounds of nature, God singing through his creation…
    How could any one get bored unless of course he dead..

  33. This is a brain ….
    This is a brain on academia in today’s world …..

  34. This dude is fukin hilarious

  35. He hit the 'whoah' 3:31

  36. Is it Music ?

    Sounds are Vibrations and when made into a sequence, it is music.

  37. This is Dadaism at its best. Really abstract

  38. This is what delusional sounds like.

  39. I wish I could get ahold of his drug stash

  40. really? That is just sad…

  41. Worst TED talk I've watched

  42. You can't move your eyes from the sweat that spread over his shirt.

  43. This is the episode of Friends where phoebe says "Ross isn't appreciated in his own time", except in real life.

  44. degenerate art, this guy must be the son of bolcheviques, no art, no aesthetics, pure verbal garbage. I am jewish and I am not amazed.

  45. y didnt he do sth that sounds good? music is supposed tto sound good in my humble opinion

  46. If he had lost his virginity we would have never experienced this, so much virginity sacrificed for art……..

  47. Musical scientist, huh? Name one good song by him.

  48. Self indulgent, pretentious and ultimately quite boring.

  49. I was expecting to hear some interesting good music composed by him
    But now i realize why the title is "MAD" scientist

  50. I'm convinced that this guy is the biggest troll of all time. He is a legend

  51. Why do I even try at life.

  52. Could always do sound effects for cartoons, lol.. Seriously, I get it, is it interesting, yes. Do I enjoy it? Hmmmm lol

  53. If you're not being defined in your music by a vision of the future, then you're left with the old memories of the past and you will be predictable in your music

  54. A snake oil salesman. Nothing more, nothing less. And the people applaud to such nonsense.

  55. This is music.

  56. He should make trap music

  57. No you are boring.

  58. Sonic Dadaism. FZ would have a wide grin watching this.

  59. Who else watching in 2020

  60. Wtf just happened?!?

  61. From a 50 yr pianist…..in jazz if you play the notes quick enough… they all work because you don't give the brain of the Listener time to work out they don't.lol

  62. Im furious!!! Someone get him a psychiatrist!!!! Wtf am i watching that's the exact opposite of ART why does anyone pay to listen to this artificial chaos!!!

  63. THAT'S WHY HUMANITY IS DOOMED!!!

  64. 1:19 bored of bullshit

  65. This isn't a composer, this is a Guy, who lost his mind and eats Mushrooms in the woods!

  66. He clearly lives in Amon Tobin's basement.

  67. This was fucking weird…

  68. "think about the possibility that you might take on roles in your own work."

  69. This guy is insane

  70. This is cool if you are into conceptual theatrical musical theater.

  71. Its nothing compared to breakcore

  72. From all the comments i read the whole lot of you don't read or compose music in the conventional sense or else you would appreciate what he is really doing here. It sounds awful. He is not trying to make it sound good. He is applying music notation to objects and motion instead of individual notes produced by a normal instrument. He is also warping written music from it's traditional form into different characters. Much like english letters to Chinese characters.

  73. Rockin mullet bro.

  74. When the Wook grows up and goes to college.

  75. The flop sweat at14:20 lets us know that he knows he sucks and that he knows we know.

  76. Amazing man,who could dislike this video🤦🏻‍♂️

  77. 10:44 Anything is deep and musical if you add enough reverb.

  78. Sun Ra

  79. There’s math rock, then there’s math piano

  80. This is garbage

  81. Frank Zappa would be proud

  82. I'm curious to know if he got any kind of inspiration andor motivation from hearing any of Frank Zappa' s materialrecordings. Some of what's done here reminds me in a big way of Zappa & the experimental things he did throughout his lifetime.
    Zappa is the only person I've ever seen "play" a bicycle that was turned upside down. He did that on a late night tv show in the early 60's. Jack Parr, Steve Allen I'm not sure who's show it was. Maybe Johnny Carson?

  83. Awesome inspiring

  84. who is ted and why is he in my recommendations feed. cam efor kavsinky not this.

  85. Next installation at the Museum of Unnatural History: Modern Fart

  86. What…..the….efff

  87. I have a great pair of scissors he could make music with.

  88. wow that dude is drenched in sweat

  89. Pure insanity.

  90. is he actually mad? like..was he tested?
    I mean I know it's just for the title but I kinda believe it..

  91. Sok a pofázás majom!!!!!

  92. like rly what did i just watch-weird hair wont make a great mind.
    you just bent out a quintcircle for supersimpleminds while cutting out the crucial parts.
    or no thats too much. its overhype.
    you rather circlejerk about how fancy it is to know a lil bit more about music (pseudo we call) than your neighbour.

  93. Whats boring is another jew ruining the music.

  94. This is like modern art

  95. he went from classical music to jazz in about a second

  96. 11:52 Who else thought they got a message on steam?

  97. Clearly, this guy uses too many drugs…

  98. this guy is sweating balls

  99. he could be one of the creative soundmaker in audio plays 🙂

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