TED Talk: Mark Applebaum

TED Applebaum

TED talks are short presentations on ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’ given to a live audience by a vast range of experts on a vast range of subjects. From future technology to identifying fossils, from statistics to stand-up (some of the talks are very funny), they can be found online on YouTube or on the TED website and I highly recommend taking a look for yourself. Here, I will be sharing my favourite TED talk that I’ve seen each week.

Mark Applebaum – The Mad Scientist of Music

Mark Applebaum – The Mad Scientist of Music (16:50) TED x Stanford 3 August 2012

This talk is presented by Mark Applebaum, a self-proclaimed narcissist but professionally a composer. Throughout the whole talk, he explains his different roles as a musician and composer, comparing each role to a part of his talk. He opened the talk by explaining that he was a very creative person and hated that too much of music was ‘boring’. He then sat down at a piano and played an extract from one of Beethoven’s pieces. He then repeated the same extract, only with jazz chords instead of the strict classical harmonies, explaining his role as the interpreter and improviser in his music. This is what Applebaum does, he makes things weird and wacky, he loves to push the boundaries of what is considered traditional music or even music itself.

He then unveiled his own instrument. A very strange contraption made out of junk and rigged up to a simple electronic sound system yet capable of producing incredible sci-fi-esque sounds. This was him being an inventor and scavenger, redefining the definition of a musical instrument by creating his own, unlike anything ever seen before. Not ignoring the ‘composer’ part of his job description, he showed a copy of a piece of music he had written himself, by hand. But, being Mark Applebaum, he didn’t use standard notation, instead he used a strange collection of symbols and shapes to try and get across what he wanted the music to sound like. This single piece, named ‘The Metaphysics of Notation’ was 72 feet long when laid on paper and was hung up in a modern art museum and interpreted by professional musicians.

Applebaum showed other methods by which he has composed music. He used a subway map with musical directions at each of the stops to instruct the performer what to do and a similar concept with a wristwatch. These approaches to composing explored the role of the designer. Another piece he composed was ‘Concerto for Florist and Orchestra’, a slightly more conventional piece of music. It was comprised of a traditional concerto ensemble, a solo musician accompanied by a larger group, yet, instead of a soloist, Concerto for Florist and Orchestra had a florist arranging a flower arrangement to the music. This added a layer of visual stimulus to a normally purely auditory experience.

This, along with other techniques and approaches to writing and composing music made up Mark Applebaum’s presentation. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking talk, not only exploring and testing musical boundaries but inspiring and challenging potential composers to break out of the conventional norm of composing and to do their own thing.

Adam Quinn
Year 10
John O’Gaunt School


One Response

  1. Wow this piece is informative, polished and professional. I enjoyed reading it & look forward to more updates on your favourite TED talks.
    Go, Adam!

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