By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jun 03, 2015 at 5:16 PM

On Friday, June 5, Present Music will bring its current season to a close with two performances of "Present Music Nation," a program of … something.

See, we know that the two shows – one at 6 p.m. and the other at 9 – will be hosted at the Hot Water Wherehouse, located at 818 S. Water St. And we know there will be seven contemporary classical pieces performed, in addition to a presentation of a ComposeMilwaukee work and a "spontaneous audience creation piece."

But what are those seven pieces? And even simply what instruments are involved? All a mystery, save for these word clues passed along by artistic director Kevin Stalheim: playful, gritty, reflective, joyous, simple and complex.

Well that narrows it down.

"That’s the thing I find really fascinating with Present Music in general: Even if you did know what’s being performed, if you don’t go out and research it and listen to it, you don’t have any clue," said Present Music managing director Chad Piechocki. "To me, it’s the same as thing as any other concert; you really don’t know, but this is even more of that trust. You just have to come in and trust other people."

In the case of "Present Music Nation," that group of other people the audience must put their trust in is, as it turns out, themselves. After all, the audience will have been responsible for selecting the seven mystery pieces being performed Friday evening. Similar to the ensemble’s presentation of "Choose" back in 2012, Present Music researched and selected a collection of about 14 pieces, and then offered them up to their fans to vote for their favorites online. The compositions with the most votes were arranged into the "Present Music Nation" program, though the audience won’t know what they ended up picking until Friday night rolls around.  

"Kevin is always trying to break down that barrier between the audience and the performer, and present this contemporary music in new and interesting ways," Piechocki said. "How often can you, as the audience, go to The Rep or the MSO and say, ‘Yeah, I really think you should do this.’ They’re always thinking of their audience, programming and curating, and Kevin, of course, is doing that throughout the year. But this is saying, OK, we’re going to let you into this process."

The voting closed on April 30, finally letting Present Music and Stalheim know what their season finale would actually include. With just over a month until showtime, the creative team has to get into action fast, quickly assembling the musicians necessary, ordering the sheet music for the chosen pieces (often from across the globe), shipping it out to the performers and organizing rehearsals in between the players’ other many duties with other shows and concerts – all while the finale date hotly bears down.

"They’re busy, and they’re doing a lot at once, so the one thing for me, as a non-musician going into this, is it’s just a big credit to the quality of musicians in Milwaukee and what an amazing thing we can experience," Piechocki said. "You can hear these musicians play a contemporary music concert, then the next day hear them play a symphony or hear them play in the pit at a Broadway show. It covers the spectrum."

For all of the mystery and suspense surrounding "Present Music Nation," there are at least a few known elements going into Friday night’s concert. For instance, there is a performance planned from the Milwaukee-based folk and bluegrass band Calamity Janes and the Fratney Street Band. The concert serves as one of the group’s first public shows in months after taking a brief winter hiatus, emerging with a new band member lineup and new material.

In addition, Friday night is guaranteed to see an original composition created by Badger Meter employees as a part of a new community outreach program called ComposeMilwaukee. The program sends a composer out to a company – in this case Badger Meter – who, over the course of several workshops, helps guide employees with developing and composing a brand new piece of music.

"Of course it involves water and the use of some of their water meter equipment," Piechocki said. "There’s also sounds that they created with the help of their Flow Lab, where there’s all these tubes of different sizes that they use to test their equipment. They banged around on them and tuned some pipes to certain places to use as background, so it’ll be interesting to see what they all created. It’s something we hope grows into the future. It’s a community thing … a kind of musical conversation."

From the ComposeMilwaukee piece to the idea of an audience-picked program to the "spontaneous audience creation piece" to even the choice of the Hot Water Wherehouse as the finale’s venue, the theme of breaking down the barrier between the performance and the audience, between the art and the community, is engrained into "Present Music Nation" and into the group’s entire past season.

"It’s about coming back to the people, coming back to the audience and engaging them," Piechocki said. "People want to be a part of what we’re doing on all levels. There’s real excitement and real interest, so it’s more than just, ‘We’re buying a ticket and going to go.’ It’s, ‘We want to be a part of the conversation all year round.’

"It’s less about what Present Music is thinking and more about what other people in the community are thinking."

So between their role in creating an on-the spot piece and voting in all of the scheduled numbers, if anybody in the audience comes away unhappy, they really only have themselves to blame.

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.