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Unruly Music breaks sound barriers

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Up-and-coming sound artist Olivia Block performing at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Olivia Block.

Some call it postclassical, some call it avant-garde and some call it experimental.

And some might say it’s all of the above.

Unruly Music, a production of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts and the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, will showcase its cutting-edge sounds Oct. 7 to 9.

The concert series began in 2006 as a way to represent a broad spectrum of contemporary music styles and has since continued to host two festivals each year, one in the fall and one in the spring. The festivals include three or four nights of music, all with different performances.

The artists featured explore and interweave chamber music, electronic and experimental sound,

and both live and prerecorded audio — a mix that makes for a production unlike any other.

“It’s kind of hard to explain until you see it,” said Ellen Schupper, director of marketing at the Peck School of the Arts.

Composer Christopher Burns, artistic director of Unruly Music, said there are not a lot of fitting labels to categorize the type of music presented in this series.

“It’s music that’s challenging, music that’s exciting, music that’s different, music that’s innovative,” Burns said. “It’s music that I think people will be excited to hear.”

Thursday kicks off the festival with “Titanic,” performed by the Milwaukee Laptop Orchestra (MiLO). Just like it sounds, this group uses laptops as instruments, experimenting with the ways computer software can be used to create music live, and also incorporating visual effects to enhance the experience.

MiLO will be performing “Sour Mash,” a collaborative new work by electronic power duo George Lewis and Marina Rosenfeld, new compositions by MiLO members Amanda Schoofs and Greg Surges, and Gavin Bryars’ classic “The Sinking of the Titanic,” an imagining of the sound of the sinking ship as heard echoing from underwater.

Friday night brings in composer and saxophonist Matthew Burtner to perform “Oceans/Elements,” a recital that explores the interrelationship of sound, human activity and nature.

Burns said Burtner focuses on the ways in which music engages with its environment, pairing the sound of natural elements like water, wind and sand with the melodies of his soprano saxophone.

“He invites us to think about the world around us in exciting and different ways,” Burns said.

Saturday features Chicago-based sound artist Olivia Block, who will be combining piano, her own recordings from the field, various found objects and electronic sounds in her performance.

Burns said Block is starting to get a lot of critical attention for her work and is on the verge of becoming widely recognized. He said he tries his best to spot emerging artists like her and bring them to Unruly Music so people can experience their music before they’re big names.

“I think her work is really exciting, and I’m really pleased to be able to present her as part of the festival,” Burns said.

According to Burns, the festival tries to include pieces that are extremely contemporary — the oldest piece that will be presented is from 1969, but most were created this year.

“It is what artists and composers are thinking of now,” Burns said. “It’s the latest and the newest.”

Ryan Schleicher, promotions director of WMSE Radio, said it is part of the station’s mission to represent what is underrepresented in Milwaukee. The station has a close relationship with the Peck School of the Arts and is pleased to promote its unique programming.

“That style of music and all the various forms that Unruly presents is not presented very much,” Schleicher said. “The fact that people are putting their time and money into making those things happen is very important.”

A goal of the Peck School of the Arts is to make its productions more visible to the Milwaukee community. The collaboration with the Marcus Center that began last year provided the perfect venue for Unruly Music, moving the series from UW-Milwaukee’s campus to the heart of downtown.

Paul Mathews, president and CEO of the Marcus Center, is excited to continue working with the Peck School of the Arts and to hopefully draw a larger audience for this season’s performance.

Composer and musician Matthew Burtner and his metasaxophone. Photo courtesy of Peter Swendsan.

“The Marcus Center’s Vogel Hall is the ideal venue for Unruly Music,” Mathews said in an e-mail. “It has great acoustics and provides an informal yet intimate atmosphere for patrons and artists.”

Mathews said the center wanted to work with the Peck School of the Arts because of both organizations’ interest in building new audiences and presenting cutting-edge programming.

“Both organizations went into the collaboration with the belief that we are building something new, and are committed to taking the time to do so,” Mathews said in an e-mail.

Unruly Music will be at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts for three shows from Thursday, Oct. 7 to Saturday, Oct. 9. All shows start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 for students, $10 for seniors and UWM faculty, staff and alumni, and $12 for general admission.

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