I am happy to share my new recording of Mark Applebaum's Aphasia!

I first came across this piece watching Mark Applebaum's brilliant TED Talk. I was blown away by all of Applebaum's thoughts on music, and this piece seemed so easy to practice and perform from a logistical standpoint (in the context of a percussion recital where the stage is littered with instruments, a piece that requires only a chair and audio playback is welcomed). This is not to say that Aphasia is an easy piece—quite the contrary, in fact.

I learned Aphasia in the summer of 2013 and performed it for a few friends at the University of Miami in the fall. I was disappointed that they did not seem to "get" the piece as much as I did; in fact, they mentioned that it was boring after a while. I once heard an adage that an inventor who creates a great product cannot blame people for not "getting it," and I have often had similar thoughts about music.

I examined my performance further and came to the conclusion that it was indeed boring. The performance came exclusively from my arms and hands, with effectively no movement from my body or face. Applebaum specifically states in his score that the performer should not add his or her own emotional content on top of the piece, so I was cautious to change anything. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to change the intensity of my face without creating cartoonish expressions. I also put a lot of thought into how to involve my body, especially my shoulders, into the motions to make them seem bigger, heavier, more labored.

After much work, Aphasia was a new piece. I ultimately found that I was respecting the composer's intentions while interpreting them in a way the audience could connect with.

The piece has been quite a joy to have in my repertoire! I was able to perform it for Morris Palter in a masterclass, who was encouraging and gave some helpful pointers. I was also able to perform it for the entire Florida Atlantic University Department of Music at a Music at Noon lecture I did. I even took it to an elementary school talk I did, where the kids got quite the kick out of it.

I was initially nervous to record. There are already a handful of recordings of Aphasia on YouTube, and I wasn't sure that I had anything unique to contribute. I toyed around with the idea for quite a while, and when I finally had the time to work the piece up to a recordable level, I went for it. I realized my unique perspective coupled with increased production value could make for a worthwhile recording.

I did fourteen takes from various angles, three of which were with a live cameraman (i.e. moving), eleven of which were on a tripod. I created a multicam video in Final Cut Pro, so it appears that all of the takes were done at once (which is why you never see a camera, even though it should clearly be in the shot from various angles!).

The whole project was a blast, but I was still wary of sharing it, as I feared I had taken too many liberties in performance and production. I emailed Mark Applebaum the video, and he graciously gave me his express permission to make it public.


AuthorBenjamin Charles