TED Talks always manage to lasso mavericks of various fields who come in to share their ideas, but even within that pool of outside-thinkers, Mark Applebaum stands out. In his coordinated purple outfit, fantastic hair, and sharp, self-deprecating sense of humor, Applebaum takes us through his wild interpretations of music sonically, in notation, and in performance. He attributes his wild ideas to a sense of boredom with traditional methods of music-making, which led him to invent entirely new languages within its context. He’s been running with this for a while, and today his work is a form of art that evades every category.
In the talk, he introduces an instrument of his own device called the Mouseketeer, a cluster of sound making objects that looks like it jumped off the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. Running it through a series of effects modules, Applebaum creates a symphony of sounds alien to any traditional Western school of composition. It sounds something like gamelan in outer space.
Stepping away from actual music, Applebaum has created works of art through various languages of musical notation he developed himself. He goes through several examples in the video above, and here is one of them to give you an idea of his style.
Applebaum created Metaphysics of Notation, a series of large panels bearing his own undefined musical notation, which were on display for about a year at Stanford’s Cantor Art Center. They were visited occasionally by musicians who would interpret the notation in their own way, in essence playing a composition based on their own individual translation of what they saw.
Metaphysics of Notation
This is just one way in which Applebaum is taking music out of its context and making it something more. The big question, as he poses it, is “Is it music?”
As he puts it, "This is not the important question. The important question is, is it interesting?”
Well, is it?