Highly acclaimed Japanese violinist and composer Mari Kimura performed at Winifred Smith Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 11. Kimura’s performance, “Reinventing Tradition: Violin and Computer Plays the East and Beyond,” was presented by the Gassmann Electronic Music Series. Kimura’s compositions combine elements of classical violin, Japanese and Eastern music and electronics.
In addition to performing some of her own compositions, Kimura performed eight pieces by classical composers like Johan Sebastian Bach and Jean-Claude Risset. Kimura has gained recognition for her improvisational skills and her creation of a revolutionary musical technique known as “Subharmonics,” which involves playing notes below the open G string without lowering the tuning of the instrument.
Kimura performed on stage accompanied by her computer, which played a large role in her creation of new electronic sounds as she blended into the classical elements of her violin playing. Kimura began with a performance of Bach’s Partita No. 3 “Prelude,” which was followed by a piece of Kimura’s own composition entitled “Subharmonic Partita,” a tribute to Bach’s “Prelude.” Kimura played with great vitality and the energy of her performance was felt throughout the hall.
Her compositions are a study in contrasts; her violin playing, combined with her revolutionary electronic techniques, creates a sound that is impossible to label as being classical or electronic. Kimura took advantage of her skills in a piece by Jean-Claude Risset, that showcases the extensive range which she has pioneered.
In a piece entitled “Variants,” the sounds of the violin are transformed and reproduced in real-time by digital processing. The digitally transposed elements and echoes reverberated into a harmonic melody.
The precise control of bow pressure and speed is necessary in order to play Subharmonics, and Kimura displayed her control over her instrument in her execution of the piece. Her next piece, “Pluck-Land,” was written for the classical Japanese instrument called the shamisen.
The piece utilized technology known as Augmented Violin System; Kimura wore a special glove outfitted with a sensor that sends the data of the bowing movements of her hands to an interactive computer music program that interacts with violin, shamisen and augmented violin and processes them in real time.
Another piece by Kimura, “Polytopia,” involved live signal processing and interactive music software. The technology creates the effect of Kimura being backed by a six-piece orchestra of violins, but at all times the solo violin is the only source of music (there is no pre-recorded music). The violin is pitch-shifted and altered so many times that it creates the illusion of a sextet of string instruments playing together in the same sound space.
Kimura’s recital also utilized multimedia elements such as interactive video, projections and spoken narrative. Her work “The Old Rose Reader” involved a video that was projected onto the wall behind Kimura. The piece was played by Kimura as the names of hundreds of different roses were narrated and projected onto the wall.
The spoken narrative tells the fairytale-like story of a woman who is transported to a fantastic kingdom of roses. The repetition of the names of roses combined with Kimura’s hauntingly beautiful violin created a hypnotic sensory experience, engaging both the eyes and ears.
Kimura’s recital highlighted her techniques and showed off her virtuosic skills as a violinist and as an innovator in the field of classical music.