Ann Yi’s Sensoria performance punctuated the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Music Hall with a multi-faceted and sometimes eerie series of piano compositions.
Yi is one of six musicians commissioned by Amanda Schoofs, a lecturer of Music Composition and Technology, who is also the artistic director of Sensoria. She co-founded the project with Paul Mitchell in 2014, before moving it from the Institute of Visual Arts to UWM.
Yi specializes in contemporary music as a soloist and ensemble musician. However, Artistic Director Schoofs explained that her experimental sound is derived from her ability to combine anything from nature sounds to human speech with her piano composition.
Yi’s performance is one of many that the Sensoria Project is using to highlight “new music,” a phrase which is quickly replacing the term contemporary. As “contemporary” becomes a more solidified musical period, Schoofs explained, “new music” is the term being used to describe new innovations.
On Saturday, Yi used a Steinway & Sons grand piano to introduce the audience to “new music” with five intriguing new pieces.
She performed Sven-Ingo Koch’s Quel portone dimenticato für Klavie and Morton Feldman’s Palais de Mari before intermission and La Cigüeña (Cindy Cox), Morton Feldman and Hanna Schygulla (Peter Ablinger) and Tombeau de Messiaen (Jonathan Harvey) after.
Julia and Karel Suchy, who arrived at the event together from Kenosha, said they always look for opportunities to enjoy new music.
“[I want to hear] something I haven’t heard before,” Julia said.
Karel agreed, adding, “I want to be surprised.”
Yi manipulated the piano action to create an added layer of acoustics behind the traditional piano notes during Koch’s piece while her rendition of Palais de Mari filled the room with a slow, haunting ambiance.
La Cigüeña, the piece from Cindy Cox, featured an additional keyboard Yi used to simultaneously add sounds resembling dolphin calls and glass chimes to her piano work.
With Morton Feldman and Hanna Schygulla, excerpts of Feldman’s and Schygulla’s interviews were used underneath the musical tones to complement her work. Tombeau de Messiaen, employed pure dissonance across the full range of the “pianoforte” with thunderous lower octaves and piercing high notes.
“On the compositional side, [it was] very innovative,” Karel Suchy complimented at the end of the performance, adding that he especially enjoyed the second and last pieces. “She’s excellent.”
After the performance, Yi said she looked forward to taking a break before attending the recital of her own daughter, Sonya, on Sunday.
As the name “Sensoria” indicates, the series combines a focus on new music with an emphasis on sensory processing.
“The series is designed to push boundaries and push borders of what new music is,” Schoofs said. “I want the series to be a space to have dialogue about art.”
Average attendance is 35-50 people, although it depends on the artist, Schoofs said.
“A lot of events are transdisciplinary,” Schoofs said, to encourage attendance from a broader audience. For example, Schoofs collaborated with Wild Space Dance Company founder and Artistic Director Debra Loewen to put on an improv event in March, where she contributed her vocalist abilities to a sold-out performance of “Caught up in the Moment.”
Schoofs said it was the largest event in Sensoria history, maxing out their facility at 150 people, with several being turned away at the door.
However, Sensoria also has a teaching side. Schoofs said Sensoria is a conduit for young, aspiring artists for fostering patience and depth in music theory for learning musicians seeking to understand the composition process.
“I really like promoting young people’s work,” Schoofs said. “[We want] to show young people the compositional process from beginning to end.”
Yi is also interested in helping aspiring artists. Aside from being a year-long artist resident of the Sensoria program, she is scheduled to put on three workshops between November and April. On Thursday, she will be discussing music composition (development) and notation (writing), as well as extended techniques (unconventional ways to play instruments).
All those facets of Yi’s musical range will be on display April 14, where she will perform six compositions written by UWM faculty and advanced composition students. This event is a rarity in that most Sensoria-commissioned artists choose their own repertoires, Schoofs said.
More of Yi’s piano work can be heard on her page. The unique assortment of sounds and instruments is a hallmark of Sensoria’s design: to be a platform for experimental artists.
For example, Schoofs described her specialty – electronic music – as the use of laptops and software programs to synthesize a variety of sounds, all of which culminate in a musical work.
Jeanette Alred, a Cedarburg resident, attended UWM during the late ‘80s and said that she came out to hear “good and interesting music.” Alred said she likes experimental music and was impressed with Yi’s ability to combine different effects.
“I thought it was really great,” she said.
Schoofs said she wants Sensoria to move audience members like Alred. The most important effect often occurs after the event is over, Schoofs explained, where she hopes the sounds of music will change how audience members perceive the world through their senses.
“I think creativity is extraordinary [because] it helps us learn,” Schoofs said. “[I want you to] learn something about how what you saw happen, happened.”
The next experimental music concert at UWM will occur on Nov. 14, featuring MIVOS, a New York-based, world-renowned string quartet whose members will be performing their acoustic and electro-acoustic music.
In February, electronics musician Olivia Block will perform a new piece as part of the Sensoria project.
Schoofs is excited about the opportunity to showcase the evolving nature of new music.
“Music is important because it’s a form of expression [that] allows people to explore and develop their own individual voice,” Schoofs concluded.