Mark Applebaum
Composer / Performer / Educator

Skeletons in the Closet (2009)

Aphasia score sample

8-channel electronic playback.

There are skeletons in my closet—eight of them. They have names: Oberheim OB-8, Roland Jupiter 8, Roland Juno 60, Roland SH-101, Yamaha CS-40M, Moog MG-1, Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, and Sequential Circuits Pro-One. The skeletons want out; it seems that my 1980s past has finally caught up with me.

Neglected for decades and gathering dust, these classic analog synthesizers were hauled out during the summer of 2009 for the purpose of recording corresponding sample libraries. The painstakingly assembled samples (over 1,400 in total) each have a maximum duration of five seconds, and range from laconic, iconic beeps to irregular, idiosyncratic phrases complete with internal rhythmic complexities.

Skeletons in the Closet consists simply of a series of ensemble explosions (the number of which is selectable for each performance), polyphonic outbursts constituted by the simultaneous concatenation of all eight synthesizers. In effect, the listener is surrounded by a sequence of groaning, shrieking, and scratching (to get out). Insofar as the eight synthesizers occupy fixed positions in the 8-channel space, it might be more accurate to use the plural “closets” in the title.

The piece is characterized by several indeterminate elements. For every outburst, the computer randomly selects a sample within each synthesizer library (never repeating a sample), or it randomly chooses to “play” a silence. Even if the same group of eight samples were to be randomly selected again during a subsequent performance, the ensemble’s collective envelope will differ—that is, the rhythmic relationship among all eight synthesizers is randomized within each outburst. The duration between outbursts is similarly randomized. And the algorithm includes a chance that a given set of eight samples will be immediately repeated—albeit with a newly randomized set of rhythmic relationships amongst them—thereby creating a momentary stutter of sorts. Each of the randomized elements operates within a given range, selectable by the user before the outset of a performance. For example, the user can select the shortest and longest possible durations between outbursts, or fix the likelihood that an individual synthesizer will be silent.

Skeletons in the Closet was premiered at CCRMA at Stanford University. Thanks to Michael St. Clair for his expert assistance realizing the Max patch to my specifications.

consumption Consumption | Why Consumption?

The piece is most effective in its 8-channel presentation, and especially as an environmental “installation” (often a leisurely pre-concert event accompanying the arrival of audience members). A short, stereo excerpt was, however, recorded for this portfolio in order to provide a general sense of the piece’s sound world. It appears on the Supplemental Portfolio CD.