Open to interpretation

By - Jan 1st, 2008 02:52 pm
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By Joe White

“We’ll all have walkie talkies, and I’ll pretty much be like the quarterback,” says Kevin Stalheim.

Such a statement might seem unusual coming from a member of a classical music ensemble, but when the ensemble in question is Present Music – a gaggle of adventurous virtuosi who have trained their fans to expect the unpredictable – the imagery seems in character.

On January 12, Present Music stages “Art, Architecture and Music” at the Milwaukee Art Museum, using the entire Museum as a canvas for a concert.

“We’ve been there for a long time, and we always go in there and do a concert where people sit down,” says Stalheim, who serves as the ensemble’s artistic director. “I thought that someday I’d like to do something where we’re moving around the galleries.”

Before the performance, UWM students and professional video artists will display their work in Windhover Hall while models from Fashion Ninja pose around the museum. After a talk between Alex Mincek and MAM chief curator Joe Ketner about the dialogue between art and music, the action will move to Windhover for the world premiere of Mincek’s “Portraits and Repetitions,” as well as “In White” by longtime Present Music collaborator Kamran Ince and “Women at an Exhibition” by Randall Woolf.

After the performance, concertgoers will split into groups and disperse to different sections of the Museum for music and recontextualized art. Roughly every 20 minutes, the groups will switch places.

“What I’m imagining is people walking around in these groups [in] a very quiet way, in a contemplative way, the way someone might in a cathedral or a library,” says Stalheim. “The music will be happening, but people can feel free to move around.”

Afterward, guests can enjoy an after-party with access to the Martin Ramirez exhibition, an impromptu runway show by Fashion Ninja and a presentation by multimedia ensemble donebestdone.

While the works of Randall Woolf, Alex Mincek and Kamran Ince comprise the traditional sit-down-and-listen section of the evening, they are anything but stereotypical “serious” musicians. Those imagining composers of classical music to be crusty, gray and near-death will have their prejudices particularly challenged by Randall Woolf, who played in garage rock bands in high school and did not have an interest in classical music until college.

“I do modern classical music – modern in the sense that it has sounds, ideas, videos and other elements that you would be familiar with in our world, like electric guitar, turntables and drum machines,” Woolf says. His resume includes Harvard and Tanglewood (perhaps conforming more to the “I don’t own a television and never smile” stereotype of serious composers), but his MySpace page includes PJ Harvey and Bubba Sparxx, and his music reflects as wide a range of styles.

Woolf wrote “Women at an Exhibition” on commission from the Akron Symphony Orchestra and the Akron Art Museum and premiered the work in 2004. The piece incorporates recordings of women speaking and singing and is played in tandem with a film by John C. Walsh and Mary Harron featuring photographs of women.

“The main influence … is the singer-songwriter tradition: Joni Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, Carole King, girl groups,” he says. Woolf also incorporated his interests in Bach cantatas – choral works featuring extended themes – and hip-hop production.

Alex Mincek is a New York-based performer and composer who, like Woolf, is a reputed sonic swashbuckler with wide-ranging musical interests.

“For me, the goal is to create contexts in which the listener has the experience of the familiar made unfamiliar and the novel made inevitable,” says Mincek. He describes his latest work as a grouping of short movements in his signature style: extended repetition, wide dynamic variation and complex timbres.

“Each movement corresponds to a visual artist and explores one or many aspects of the artists’ work as I understand it,” he says. Mincek drew from works in the Museum’s permanent collection by Yves Klein, Sol Lewitt, Ellsworth Kelly and Cy Twombly, among others.

Kamran Ince was born in Montana in 1960, but spent his formative years in Turkey. He returned to the United States as a student and has maintained a highly active career here and abroad ever since.

“He’s one of our favorites,” says Stalheim. Performed and recorded previously for Present Music, “In White” is a concerto for violin and chamber ensemble. Ince’s work, with its near-repetition, creative tonality and world music influence, is often characterized as “postminimalist.”

Ince, however, is known to blow musical raspberries at such labels, creating bold and beautiful work that defies conventional definition.

With respect to his evening of controlled chaos, Kevin Stalheim confesses to an even broader range of original plans.

“I imagined being in the garage and various places, but, believe me, there’s enough going on right now,” he says. “We can do that other stuff another time.”

If the unchecked self-indulgence of the holiday season has dulled the usual twinkle in your eye and life now seems a bleak tunnel of cold weather and bad television, drag your drained self to the Milwaukee Art Museum on January 12 for visual and aural stimulation, and feed the one body part that you forgot about: your soul. VS

Present Music stages “Art, Architecture and Music” at the Milwaukee Art Museum on January 12, 2008. Tickets are a very affordable $16 to $37 and are available by calling 414-271-0711 or visiting Don’t forget Present Music’s “Three Gets One Free” program for students, where two paid admissions get the third friend in at no cost!

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