Sketches from the Machine Gun Concerto at Translator Lab

By - Jul 23rd, 2011 04:00 am

Tonight a group of musicians including Rachel Icenogle, Alex Stewart, Cindy Covelli, Victor De Lorenzo, Jason Wietlispach, Janet Schiff and Steven White, will perform a section of composer Mark Mantel’s Sketches from the Machine Gun Concerto at the Translator Lab. The Machine Gun Concerto for harpsichord, Contrabass, and a chamber orchestra, is a work that merges the structure and control of classical chamber music with the chaotic, ugly and destructive themes of war.

Inspired by a melodic line from Jimi Hendrix’s seminal “Machine Gun,” a section of the work will be performed amidst the staging of art work by Valerie J. Christell (a contributor to ThirdCoast Digest), and filmworks by Scott Johnson and MARN’s Melissa Musante.

Mantel hopes the art will not merely act as a backdrop to the music, but serve as a catalyst for reflection about America’s engagement in various military conflicts, and perhaps even act as an antagonist to the music itself at times.

Though the music for this piece has been in gestation for many years, little has been concretely deciphered by Mantel about how the works of art will interact with the music; the performance is meant to be sketched from sections of a much longer piece. In sections with titles like  “Hey We’re Broke” and “PTSD,” Mantel stages the sonic pieces amidst visual art elements so that there will be an evocative accessory to speak to audiences while they listen, a combination that is both experimental and improvisational.

Three anti rooms, three conflicts — the Translator Lab’s dynamic layout will allow the filmmakers and artists to show their works in different spaces. Each visual artist’s work deals with a different military conflict that America is currently engaged in, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Mantel is hoping that the tension of perspectives will help “uncover hidden musical and metaphorical angles.” He also invites the possibility of confusion; it’s clear from Mantel’s perspective that the inspiration of war calls for tension, and tension presents its own challenges in the viewing and listening experience. This piece will not offer answers.

If successful, the piece and all its components will come together as an effective contemplative offering for listener-viewers.

Composer Mark Mantel

Mantel does have assured notions about the significance of the work being staged in Milwaukee, and in the Translator Lab. He believes that the hope for the art-music scene belongs to and non-profit organizations like MARN, which takes on the staging of myriad interdisciplinary art projects. Mantel says he still finds faults with Milwaukee, though.

“We are not a growing audience. I ride the bus, and I look out the window and think, ‘Do these folks know what really cool shit happens in Milwaukee?'”

Apathy exists in American culture in many forms. In today’s tough economic environment, it is manifest in a the lack of support for art works and new music. The Machine Gun Concerto brings light to apathy towards these long-standing conflicts. with its range of artwork, performers and themes, will offer these simultaneous challenges to a Milwaukee audience.

Sketches from The Machine Gun Concerto takes place this evening, July 23, 8 p.m. at Translator Lab (415 E. Menomonee St.). For more information, click here

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