Digital ReMix Project
The process of musique concrète, in which pieces are constructed by transforming and splicing together bits of analog tape, is intriguing as a means of composition and as a medium. In 1998 I began composing electronic works, in the spirit of musique concrète, but using digital editing techniques and digital signal processing as opposed to the traditional razor blade and splicing block. Of particular fascination was the idea of building new pieces out of my own earlier acoustic compositions. The result was The Janus ReMixes, a CD released on Innova Records that is a collection of eleven remixes, each one a new composition whose sound source originated in the Janus Cycle (1992-1996), itself a collection of eleven solo, chamber, orchestral, and choral compositions.

What follows are the original liner notes for The Janus ReMixes, Innova CD532. The notes that appeared in the actual CD were distilled from those presented here.
"Dr. Applebaum, why don’t you use your powers for good, and not for evil? They laughed at me at the university, ellipses."

This was the title of a piano piece that I composed during my doctoral studies at the University of California at San Diego. Actually, it was more like an improvisation in which I slowly evolved from good—a syntax of dense, unpredictable, mercurial, atonal, dissonant, obfuscated, pulseless, stochastic, modernist passages into evil—a 12-bar blues with regular meter, standard harmonies in one key, and classic blues phrasing. Such was evil, as I perceived it, in the culture of UCSD in the mid-1990s.

Of course when I moved to Mississippi to join the music faculty at Mississippi State University, the tables turned. References to known, vernacular genres, use of swinging rhythms, and linear narratives were celebrated things, whereas, that pulseless (godless) stuff was foreign and suspect. When I play the improvisation at MSU, I play the piece in reverse, but it still moves from good to evil.

What resides at the center and margins of culture are different in every community and dynamic over time. At the midpoint between my experiences at UCSD and at MSU, I taught a course at Carleton College called "The Interaction of Art Music and Popular Music." It was through this experience that I explored that landscape, ultimately my own, on which cultural commodities of varying agency and prestige battled.

My current insight is that the art/pop dichotomy is rapidly becoming an antiquated and useless division. Perhaps it is because I have become ambivalent about the notion of authenticity. I have come to recognize that all music is fusion music, that all music begins as a bastard child. But it is the boundary conditions that are most interesting; while barriers are obstacles, their problematized transgression is rewarding. As we enter a new century (a new millennium—blah, blah, blah), the greatest challenge I foresee is how we are going to become blind to our differences so as to avoid prejudice, while clearly apprehending those unique qualities we wish to celebrate and affirm. Conceptually, a terminally gray culture could result from infinite intermixture, but a culture prohibitively circumscribed is also unacceptable.

The current state of rapid "globalization" and the increased presence of the internet in our lives suggest that this historical moment is special, when in fact it is not. Gutenberg’s press didn’t engender a homogeneity, even regionally, and I have faith that current technologies will not either. So, while the terminal gray condition scares me in concept, I believe that cross-pollination in any sphere of humanity, and the meaningful evolution of tradition rather than its thoughtless sustenance, are positive forces. New lines will always be formed, perhaps the concept of the neo-tribe (in which groups are distinguished by mutual consumer preferences) will be realized next, or we will define cultural territory by other means. The lines will continue to bring our cultural achievements into focus but also facilitate hatred. Despite my reservations about the art/pop compass, it continues to inform my thinking as I reflect upon this current collection of remixes.

Between 1992 and 1996 I composed the Janus Cycle, a group of eleven pieces that all share the same bipartite form. These are hard-core modernist compositions for virtuoso ensembles. Their instrumentation ranges from solo to orchestral works. The pieces are all composed for acoustic instruments with two minor exceptions: in addition to violin and bassoon, Scipio Wakes Up, commissioned by the Paul Dresher Ensemble, uses electro-acoustic sound-sculptures of my own invention as well as electronic triggers of samples of the sound-sculptures; and Tlön, scored for three conductors and no players, is a piece that explores issues like temporal dissonance and dynamic, but through ocular rather than aural means.

The remixes that constitute this disc are derived entirely from extant recordings of these eleven acoustic works. They were created by first collecting digital samples from the recordings and through rather prosaic operations like juxtaposition, superimposition, time compression and expansion, pitch shifting, and reversal of the sounds, I arrived at the remixes, ones which have little, if anything, to do with the discursive vector of the original works. One area of fascination for me is inherently postmodern: the aesthetic squeezing of plastic sounds—themselves containing a particular modernist investment—into the foreign working conditions of the software: industrial, techno-oriented, cinematic.

I cannot think of another genre wherein the technology and values are more intertwined than the worlds of hip-hop, techno, and their related and ever-proliferating sub-genres. So in that sense, I feel that my remixes are inspired, at least distantly, by these vernacular genres. However, there are at least three distinct features that differentiate my work from those of, say, the techno genre. First, I self-consciously limit my compositional resources; second, I do not identify myself as a techno artist; and third, the source of my samples is exclusively my own past composition.

Whereas most techno artists compose pieces without formally limiting their resources, I have chosen to create each remix solely from samples of its corresponding source composition. Despite this strategy, I soon discovered that my self-imposed limitation was really not so limiting. In retrospect, it is not the timbral richness or poverty of a given source that serves as a defining factor. Instead, the source functions as an aesthetic trigger, an icon that prompts, suggests, and inspires. I am rather idealistic about this function. While the remixes make up a diverse set, I believe they demonstrate an expressive focus that parallels the diverse but tightly circumscribed aesthetic of the source materials.

The sources of the individual remixes are:
  • Narcissus:Strata/Panacea for solo marimba.
  • Mt. Moriah for string quartet.
  • Dead White Males (Lunching in the Perspectival Cafeteria) for orchestra.
  • Triple Concerto for piano, percussion, and contrabass soloists with a concertante of two percussion, guitar, harp, and large choir.
  • Anesthesia (+83) for solo viola.
  • Elegy (for Keith Humble) for carillon.
  • Sargasso (83+) for solo cello.
  • Scipio Wakes Up (and Smells the Coffee) for violin, bassoon, six sound-sculptures, and two electronic keyboards, electronic drumset, and electronic marimba triggering samples of the aforementioned sound-sculptures.
  • Tlön for 3 conductors and no players. I never bothered to make a sound recording of this piece. Therefore, for the remix I used the sound of page turns and the ambient noise from a performance of Tlön on video tape.
  • The Plate of Transition Nourishes the Chameleon Appetite for solo violin.
  • Janus for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, two violins, viola, cello, and contrabass.
  • I am not a techno artist myself and only recently have I become an enthusiast of the genre. I have never even been to a rave. The remedial studies that I have undertaken have complicated and perhaps confused my perception of the genre. I take my inexperience as an advantage, a kind of fresh perspective, an opportunity to divine serendipitous consequences, the union of knowledge and misunderstanding.

    Both my work and techno are postmodern in their exploration of the past through recycling. However, the majority of techno artists sample their own listening past (those passages that they admire from other musician’s records) whereas I am exclusively sampling my own compositional past (those passages I admire from self-produced records of my own). My close proximity to these materials suggests both musical narcissism and self-loathing. My past is treasured, adored, fetishized, and canonized but, as in any rape, it is scrutinized, mutilated, profaned, and discarded. At the heart of auto-plundering are not just bricollage and frugality, but a kind of self-exploration.

    I am not sure where these remixes belong on an art/pop continuum, and I have stopped worrying about it. The Duke Ellington adage says that the only kinds of music are good music and bad music, not good music and evil music. What I am sure of is that my musicality is a product of many colliding and fusing worlds.

    October, 1999
  • I started composing these remixes in 1998 at the end of my first year in Mississippi. I have found fewer opportunities to get performances of my acoustic music here. In response to this climate I bought a computer and learned how to use Pro Tools digital editing software. Computer music is mostly a lonely affair, but you get to hear your music almost instantly and exactly how you composed it. I am rather excited about contemporary music technology. But I hope that as we develop current paradigms of music-making, we continue to make acoustic music along with electronic music, that we make live music as well as recorded music, and that we experience music together as well as alone.

    The remixes were composed on an Apple G3 computer in (non-TDM) Pro Tools. I used Hyperprism and Waves plug-ins as well as the standard Pro Tools audiosuite. Occasionally I would import a sound file into Peak or Studio Vision Pro and alter it with SFX Machine, and then export it back into my Pro Tools session. Although some passages are the result of hundreds of tracks bounced down into stereo, my playback limitation at any given time was 16 tracks.