Review Summary: This is my piece, and you - mine - can go - mine - and make - mine - your own.
Musical autarky is Mark Applebaum’s creed. Watching the Chicago-born composer and Stanford professor speak of his craft in a 2012 TEDTalk, one can imagine a ye’ old scientific symposium: Applebaum, presenting his signature instrument - the comically elaborate ‘Mouseketier’ - to a rather polite audience, speaking with enough zest and wry hubris to suspend a hot air balloon. I’d argue, watching some of his ensemble performances is comparable to watching a decontamination crew in Hazmat suits: fun to watch, but you instinctively stay at a safe distance. Applebaum is an admitted narcissist, and this performative quality tends to create a 70/30 split of contempt/admiration among viewers. On Speed Dating
, one can’t help but occasionally smile at the exhibitionism of it all. The music is gluttonous. It’s difficult, maybe ill-advised, to assess Speed Dating
’s emotive appeal; an ability to infer much (if any) is probably to the credit of the listener, not the music. Mark Applebaum excels in cool-headed indulgence, not heartstring tugging.
This manifests especially well in "Skeletons in the Closet”, which is an exercise in compositional deism and indeterminacy. The piece uses eight old analog synthesizers (Moog MG-1, Roland Jupiter 8, Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, and other goodies), with Mark winding the springs and watching chaos ensue, seemingly not getting involved or attached. Applebaum’s algorithms are complex, resulting in “a series of arbitrary ensemble explosions.” We get a sense that the creator established the laws of physics, and let the natural processes occur unfettered. (There’s almost a collective struggle for sentience, as the eight dusty analog synthesizers communicate.) Differing greatly in style, titular octet “Speed Dating” features woodwinds, percussion, and chordophones, separated into duos and irregularly re-paired throughout the piece, swinger-style.
The issue with Speed Dating
is that it feels more like a compilation than a consolidated vision. "The Plate of Transition Nourishes the Chameleon Appetite” (for solo violin) is a two-decade-old composition given new life, but it’s not apparent how it’s supposed to segue into “Clicktrack”, an unconducted semi-improvisational piece featuring twelve percussionists. The first three songs, comprising a triad called “Three Unlikely Corporate Sponsorships”, are essentially poetry with an emphasis on phonetics. At best, these particular songs are funny and whimsical; at worst, the payoff isn’t really worth the runtime, unless you’re a linguist with a taste for Charles Amirkhanian's lexical music (imagine a Venn diagram for this). ((I’m unsure as to why Applebaum didn’t make these into a separate EP.)) All said and done, connecting with Speed Dating
means yielding to Mark Applebaum’s overbearing character: the humour, the excess, the frizzy-haired Dadaism. For most, the trade will be one-sided, in Mark’s favour. For some, the blend of painstaking composition and tongue-in-cheek decadence could be truly rewarding.