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Present Music’s Sonic Museum Tour a Success

May. 2, 2017
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Photo Credit: Jessica Kaminski

No Present Music exploration of an unconventional venue has been more successful than the event—I hesitate to call it a concert—at the ‪Milwaukee Public Museum last Saturday evening. The large audience was divided into four groups, each encountering the musical units in a different tour order through the museum.

In the Dome Theater, soprano Chelsie Propst sang with floating, effortless tone the mystic The Heavenly Spheres Are Illuminated by Lights by Japanese composer Somei Satoh. Jeff Stanek on piano and James McKenzie were her sensitive collaborators. Hearing this with planetarium imagery was magical. A piece by Olivia Valenza and Nicholas Elert, a slower speed of light, provided an atmospheric soundscape, with slow moans of sound coming from the electronics triggered by Elert on guitar.

In the Gromme Lecture Hall, George Crumb’s Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) Part II was an evocative connection to nature, expertly played by pianist Cory Smythe, flutist Jennifer Clippert and cellist Adrien Zitoun. Other musicians joined for Nina Young’s Tethered Within, which summons anxiety and frustration in whirling, busy sounds punctuated by sharp interruptions. David Lang’s flashy, relentless Learn to Fly took the nervous energy a step further. 

Ashley Fure’s Something to Hunt was performed by Ensemble Dal Niente, hair-raisingly positioned in front of a carnivorous dinosaur above his kill. This is no place for lyrical music, and Fure’s spikey, quirky score certainly isn’t. I loved the animalistic low growl of the double bass that ended the piece.  

In the Rain Forest exhibit, Marcus Rubio played Cory Smythe’s Asphodeloideae, featuring electronics triggered by manipulating an aloe vera plant. Rubio’s own Sonata for Musical Saw and Electronics is an imaginative pushing of boundaries, using multiple techniques to get sounds from the bow on the saw. In the Wisconsin Prairie exhibit, under taxidermy birds, the UW-Milwaukee Flute Ensemble played John Luther Adams’ Strange Birds Passing to good effect. 

The immersive experience included hearing musicians stationed in the Pacific Islands exhibit chant and play instruments from that area, as well as hearing instruments from ancient Mesoamerica in that area of the museum. All in all, quite an evening!

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