Terry Longshore and his Southern Oregon University Percussion Ensemble became professional recording artists in August with the international release of composer Mark Applebaum's "30" on Innova Recordings, an independent record label of the nonprofit American Composers Forum.
"We were the lead commissioner of the composition," Longshore says. "That means we paid a little more than others in a consortium of 21 percussionists and ensembles worldwide, and it allowed us to direct the project and premiere the work."
Longshore, professor of music and director of percussion studies at SOU, collaborated with Applebaum on the new score written for a large percussion ensemble.
"He's one of my best friends," Longshore says. "We attended graduate school together, and I've recorded with him on his various CDs and recordings. People love his music and his craziness. He's called 'the mad scientist of music.' That description fits him well."
The two worked on Applebaum's idea of writing a piece that could be played in multiple combinations and by varying levels of expertise, Longshore says.
"The solo part is the most difficult, fairly virtuosic, and has the most limited palette of instruments. The quartet is advanced and expands the sonic range, with each player having eight instruments. The septet is the least difficult in a traditional sense, but requires much sensitivity and attention in its playing, and each player has a wide sonic palette of instruments."
The piece was written for Applebaum's wife to mark their 30th wedding anniversary. The titles of the three sections reflect the three decades of their relationship: "The First Decade" for solo percussion, "The Second Decade" for percussion quartet, and "The Third Decade" for percussion septet. The complete recording of three intersecting, 10-minute pieces can be played separately or simultaneously. The Innova recording presents all seven of the possible combinations, performed by Longshore and his ensemble of students and conducted by Bryan Jeffs.
Played separately, the pieces explore an evolving combination of percussion elements. “The First Decade” is a percussion solo, scored for a symmetric, stereo setup with identical instruments for each hand — glass bottles, cowbells and woodblocks. “The Second Decade” is for a percussion quartet playing bass drums, concert toms, congas, snare drums and other larger instruments. “The Third Decade” expands the palette wildly, encompassing everything from car brake drums to rolls of duct tape to ballpoint “click” pens to a lion’s roar.
"I played the solo and my students played the quartet and septet," Longshore says. "The solo and quartet were recorded at Broken Productions in Ashland, and the septet was recorded at the SOU Music Recital Hall," Longshore says. "Sean McCoy of Oregon Sound Recording engineered the project."
It took only about a week to record the full composition. Longshore and his ensemble premiered it in March of 2013 at SOU — on the exact date of the Applebaums' anniversary — and again later that year at Percussive Arts Society International Convention in Indianapolis.
Applebaum uses boredom as a catalyst for creativity and invention, he said in 2012 on TED Talks. Bored with the traditional role of a composer, the Stanford University professor of music took on roles beyond the most narrow definition of a serialist.
"I had to practice Beethoven a lot when I was a kid and I'm sick of it," Applebaum said. He began to transform, improvise and personalize music.
"It's not necessarily better than Beethoven, but it's less boring for me. I have to think about what decisions I'm going to make on the fly as a Beethoven text is running through my head in time and I'm trying to figure out what kinds of transformations I'm going to make to it."
As Applebaum moved from interpreter to improviser, he also became bored with traditional instruments. So he constructed his own contrivance for making musical sounds. It's a platform of found objects — a call bell, nails, wire, a toilet float ball, a spring-loaded doorstop, combs — played with a violin bow or metal chopsticks. With a bank of live electronics, he can change the sounds radically.
"All of these enterprises are engaging to me in their multiplicity, but they're solitary," he says. "Pretty soon I want to commune with people. So I'm delighted that I get to compose works for soloists, sometimes full orchestras. I get to work with a lot of people."
And one of them happens to be his close friend and collaborator, Longshore, to whom Applebaum dedicated "30."
Applebaum's scores are intricate works that he tediously notates by hand — which eventually gets really boring for him. So he strives to make his notations more interesting. His excerpt from "The Metaphysics of Notation" looks like a circus, full of crazy, technographic notations. The full score is 72 feet wide, and it hung for a year in Cantor Art Center at Stanford.
The notation for "30" isn't on such a grand scale. It looks "mostly like normal music," Longshore says.
Longshore and his students are not strangers to recording music. They independently released "Electric Rebel Poetry" early last year and "La Alma del Arbol (The Soul of the Tree)" in 2012. Applebaum's complete "30" and "The Third Decade" appear on "Electric Rebel Poetry."