Milwaukee Sound Environment Project
By Haven Langhout
Milwaukee is an excellent place for local music of all stripes and it wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say that 91.7 FM WMSE has had a lot to do with it. Since its unlikely birth as the broadcast service of the Milwaukee School of Engineering in 1981, WMSE has been regularly playing locally made and played music, interviewing bands and aiding in producing local musicians’ albums. Ask pretty much anyone involved in the Milwaukee music scene and they’ll attest to what a great resource WMSE has been.
“WMSE has given us on-air exposure, show opportunities and support. To have a local independent station that acknowledges and reaches out to smaller experimental bands is amazing,” says Faythe Levine of Wooden Robot. “[It’s] Music by the Milwaukee people, for the Milwaukee people.” Until recently, the station’s efforts have been ongoing but ad hoc. This changed earlier this year with the launch of the Milwaukee Sound Environment Project, or The MSE Project for short. WMSE’s mission is to broadcast a wide variety of unique music unheard anywhere else on the local dial, and to provide a venue for artists to expose their work to the community. The MSE Project shares this goal and then some. On a recent Tuesday evening, I met up with WMSE Promotions Director Brent Gohde for a full explanation. Brent quietly greeted me at the station’s front door around 7 p.m. and we walked through the lobby, where the band Clamnation was setting up to play live on the air at 8. Sound engineer Billy Cicerelli checked the musicians’ levels. Behind them in the glass-walled booth, DJ Radio Dave was broadcasting his weekly program, Midnight Radio. We found a quiet spot in Studio C and Brent gave me the scoop. The MSE Project began as the brainchild of Polly Morris of UWM’s Peck School of the Arts and the WMSE Steering Committee. Morris saw an opportunity for a matching grant from the Milwaukee Arts Board to aid WMSE in their support of local musicians. Gohde, along with station director Tom Crawford and Cicerelli, fleshed out the idea for The MSE Project and applied. The Board awarded WMSE the grant for the full amount requested, renewing it again for another two years in June. The Milwaukee Arts Board allows a maximum of three years of funding, but WMSE is planning for the project to be self-sustaining by the time the grant is up.
The website, www.mseproject.org, was developed as a local music resource for both listeners and musicians. The site is loaded with Project news, band links, schedules, compilation CD order info, a photo gallery, music downloads, expert advice and more. The site is also a good starting point for musicians who want their music played or a live appearance on WMSE. Brent is careful to point out that the site has nothing to do with fundraising for WMSE. It is merely another MSE Project resource for promoting local music. The compilations are recorded and engineered by Cicerelli, with cover art designed by graphic design students at the UWM’s Peck School of the Art in yet another example of the local arts community’s integration into The MSE Project. The sale of the compilations benefit WMSE and can be purchased at any local independent record store, online through the mseproject.com site, or received as a premium during WMSE’s own pledge drives.
Over 100 bands will play live on WMSE this year, ranging from Spanish hip hop group El Gordo, folksy Vera Deirdre, and garage rock outfit The Riveters. Prior to the MSE Project, only about 40 bands on average would play live on WMSE’s airwaves during a year’s span.
Maria Miller sees the value of WMSE’s support of her own band. “Dorian Gray has had a ten year run in Milwaukee… every year the band has been gaining an audience, even during our recent breakup, because WMSE has always been a huge support to us.” VS