Martian Anthropology

Mark Applebaum

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Martian Anthropology Review

by Fran├žois Couture

What conclusions would Martian anthropologists come to if they had to reconstruct human civilization from only three artifacts? That is the mind game at the heart of "Martian Anthropology 1-2-3," the first piece presented on Mark Applebaum's fourth CD for Innova as a composer. This work presents three movements of studiously unrelated music, a near-endless source of enigmas. We go from a raucous full orchestral sound (the Stanford Symphony Orchestra), to a delicate string orchestra in the second movement, and the return of the full orchestra augmented by Applebaum's own mouseketeer -- an electro-acoustic sound sculpture also featured on his previous CD, Intellectual Property. Crazy and wild, this is a typical Applebaum work, entertaining yet daring. "Skumfiduser!" is even zanier, although this time there is no game or concept underpinning it. It is simply a ten-minute roller coaster for orchestra and two-channel tape, one constantly trying to push the other over the edge. The Stanford Symphony Orchestra, here conducted by Ann Krinitsky (Jindong Cai and Karla Lemon hold the baton in the other pieces featuring the SSO) holds up to the challenge. Despite the fact that Applebaum's writing proceeds from the concert tradition, the results hardly have anything orthodox to offer. The first two pieces were fairly recent; the last two included on this CD belong to the "Janus Cycle," a sequence of 11 works composed in the early- to mid-'90s (and it seems a proper recording and release of the whole cycle is in order if Applebaum ever wants to move on to something else). "Dead White Males," here heard in a 2001 recording, starts with a bang and smoothly boils down over its 17-minute duration. Despite a few daring arrangements and extended techniques, it is the most conventional work on this set. "Triple Concerto" (composed and recorded in 1996), on the other hand, is a striking work for piano, percussion and contrabass soloists (respectively Aleck Karis, Vanessa Tomlinson and Scott Walton), and two percussion, guitar, harp and large choir (the University of California at San Diego Singers, who commissioned the piece). Delicate, highly textural, and ultimately bipolar (abrupt percussive interventions in the first half, very quiet choir drone in the second half), it provides the perfect conclusion, as the listener is left hanging in spiritual limbo, far away from the playfulness found in the previous pieces.

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