Mark Applebaum
Composer / Performer / Educator

Medium (2008)

Aphasia score sample

For four players, commissioned by The Quiet Music Festival, Cork, Ireland.

Commissioned by the Quiet Music Festival 2008 in Cork, Ireland with funds provided by the Arts Council of Ireland, Medium is a musical work for a quartet of any four instrumentalists or vocalists who rigorously interpret its score—a mercurial spray of pictographs whose precise definition as musical specifications is left entirely up to its performers. The work consists of a number of separate leaves—pages hand-drawn using pens, drafting templates, French curves, and straight edges. Some of the leaves serve as accompaniment figures while others are arranged in any order and function as ingress and egress canons during which players enter and exit the stage. The main section of the piece, however, is its “quartet,” a series of sixteen bound pages that suggest a continuous musical discourse.

The score, while unconventional, does not invite improvisation; instead, players are charged with the task of predetermining a thoughtful means to sonify (with exactitude) an inferred musicality. This distinction is important: whereas The Metaphysics of Notation was commissioned for a museum setting and invited improvised responses (as well as pre-planned ones), its immediate precursor, Medium, was composed for a musical ensemble performing on the musical stage, and forbade improvisation. Performances by two different ensembles would, presumably, contrast markedly in their sonic morphologies; two performances by the same ensemble should sound nearly identical, varying no more than two performances by a single interpreter of a work by Beethoven.

Aphasia score sample

There are several mediums at play: the work is multi-media as it resides equally in the realms of visual art and music. The score itself is a medium—it presents a conceptual substance through which the expressive energy of creative musicians must pass; and, as a non-standard notation presented to imaginative, inventive performers, it is as much a musical filter as a musical prescription. A performance might loosely evoke the realm of idiosyncratic ritual (the result of imagistic, alchemical proposals) akin to the eccentricities of an intermediary vehicle through which the dead are (allegedly) channeled. And lastly, the work represents a middle state between spatial right and left, between the ceremony of performance and the routine of not performance.

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Download score (PDF- 2MB)

Medium is most often performed by instrumentalists. However, a very fine rendition for singers was made by the London-based group The Vocal Constructivists. Their recording can be heard on their accompanying 2014 CD.