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Auxiliary Superpower

a new evening-length work by Mark Applebaum

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A Sneak Peak at the Score…

Posted on May 5, 2020 by Talea Ensemble

Hooray!  Good news: I finished all 60 minutes of my piece Venture Capital Punishment for Talea.  Phew.  The page count is at 161.  I’ve also written a 38-page forward/legend to explain how this rather idiosyncratic piece is played.  (The players are really gonna love me…)
Here are some pictures of my scrawl. 

Boo! Bad news: I still have to draw the neat score for the piece—by hand (as is my custom).  This will probably be four months of agony.
And worse news: the Bay Area is locked down in shelter-in-place mode to flatten the COVID-19 curve.  So I’m a bit distracted by everything.  I probably won’t get to making the neat score until the summer (when family trip plans to Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo will likely be dashed anyway).
–Mark Applebaum 

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Venture Capital Punmishment: Pre-Apocalyptic Etudes

Posted on May 5, 2020 by Talea Ensemble

The title of my piece for Talea Ensemble (provisionally called Auxiliary Superpower at the outset) has changed.  It is now called Venture Capital Punishment.  Well, the full title is actually Venture Capital Punishment: Pre-Apocalyptic Etudes (a.k.a. Rites of a Moribund Tribe).  That has the charm of added accuracy and pretension.
The hourlong septet is divided into nine continuous sections.  The outer sections involve silent but strictly rhythmicized gestures that are gradually sonified by accompanying instrumentalists.  The middle seven sections comprise sextets that invite (err…”require”) solo players to undertake absurd—if prosaic—rituals at two tables flanking the ensemble.  The rituals—dozens of them involving some 212 actions—are all interconnected across the piece.  So, for example, a shoe that is removed from the foot of the flutist early on, later has uncooked linguine sticks inserted into its shoelace holes by the clarinetist; and still later in the piece the percussionist attaches marshmallows to the ends of the linguine (as one would expect).
This was all worked out on index cards and post-it notes, and you’ll see some of the props in the photos. 


Talea Ensemble is thrilled to receive support from New Music USA’s Fall 2017 project grants for the commission of “Auxiliary Superpower,” a new evening-length music/theater work by Mark Applebaum.

Applebaum is well-known to Talea, having collaborated on performances of “Control Freak 4” at Time of Music Festival in Viitasaari, Finland in 2017. The ensemble shares an enthusiasm for his work, which weaves intellectual rigor and incisive musicianship with an expert, whimsical sense of theatricality.

Talea has a long history of championing composers, and is committed to heartfelt performances of visionary works that remain in the audience’s imagination long after a concert. When Talea commissions composers, it is not a simple, short-term gesture of support, but rather an assertive commitment to long-term success of a new work. For example, Steven Takasugi’s  “Sideshow” has been heralded by Talea throughout the U.S. and Europe since 2016, with nearly a dozen performances to-date. The ensemble is eager to undertake such a significant new production, and by collaborating with Applebaum we have found a kindred spirit with vivid musical imagination.

Applebaum: “Most people don’t have superpowers—those clearly useful capacities like flying, telekinesis, or shapeshifting.  But I’m convinced that everyone has at least one auxiliary superpower.  These are probably useless abilities.  (Mine?  I can play blues on the piano while wearing mittens.)  But here’s the thing: you should be aware of your auxiliary superpower because, however unlikely, a circumstance might arise that necessitates precisely such an action to save the planet.  It probably won’t happen. But better to be safe.

This concept—however whimsical—makes for a profound musical analogy when applied to artistic circumstance.  In this 60-minute work for Talea, special “extramusical” capabilities which, on the surface seem useless, will serve as expressive foci.  Each player in the octet sequentially manifests an idiosyncratic extramusical enterprise, featuring different aspects of radical musical expression I’ve pursued in recent years: an absurd language of hand gestures synchronized to sound; carefully choreographed movement on stage among multiple performance locations; assiduously prescribed dadaist rituals with elaborate, fanciful props; or the use of custom-made wristwatches displaying notational glyphs and whose second hands function as local conduction.

The piece will be ludic and rigorous, absurd yet disciplined. It is a sequential concerto in which septets of “normative” musical behavior stand in relief to an outlier, a virtuoso of a particular absurdity, nonsense activity, heterodox preoccupation, or marginal enterprise. At times this will be foregrounded, soloistic.  Other times it will more closely resemble the deliberately “wrong” stitch in a Persian carpet—a clinamen that reminds us of that we are all freaks, outsiders.  Today more than ever I find it urgent to reassert the possibility of the margins, and the super power that agency can confer.”

Talea looks forward to Applebaum’s new work, and is confident our collaboration will yield a vibrant, immersive concert experience with a substantial performance legacy.

Project Media

Rabbit Hole
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Features: Mark Applebaum

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Applebaum writes that “…there are two kinds of musicians. The first type says, “This is what I do; write me something like that.” The second type says, “This is what I do; please (please!) challenge me to do something different.” Steve Schick is in the second category, so when he asked me to compose for the SF Contemporary Music Players I felt at liberty to pursue an astonishingly ridiculous idea I had been mulling for almost two decades: to write a piece of music based on page turns.”

Control Freak
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Features: Mark Applebaum

Performance from the Spoleto Festival USA in 2015.

Applebaum: “Control Freak consists of four movements in which a singer is accompanied by an instrumental septet, both of whom spontaneously invent their own treatment of the given materials. The singer chooses texts from a collection of sonnets by American flarf poet K. Silem Mohammad. Mohammad’s hilarious, often absurd sonnets—which he calls sonnagrams—are anagrams of Shakespeare sonnets. The singer’s treatment may be plain or histrionic, sober or outlandish.”

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New York, New York

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Last update on May 5, 2020

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New York, New York
“Championing works like these, and playing them with a compelling lucidity, are precisely what Talea Ensemble does best.” ~ Steve Smith, The New York Times Talea Ensemble curates innovative programs to disseminate the groundbreaking music of composers who deserve a platform for their artistic individuality. Talea commissions progressive works to perform alongside more recognized contemporary…

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