Air on a G5 – Violinist on the Edge

Mari Kimura stands elegantly dressed in black, playing violin in a duet with a sort of stripped down, steampunk version of a slide guitar. Next to her, the contraption made of metal and strings, moving frets and rotating picks, seems to bounce up and down to Mari’s violin.

This is just the kind of challenging composition that Mari Kimura is known for. Her GuitarBotana is an interactive duet between violin and the GuitarBot, a self-playing mechanical guitar created by Eric Singer and the good folks at LEMUR (League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots). The GuitarBot “listens” and responds to Mari via computer software, creating the pitch-bending accompaniment to the violin.

The offspring of a solar energy pioneer and a law professor, Mari Kimura embodies the two worlds of hardcore classical music training and high tech interactive geekery. Mari invents weird and wonderful violin sounds, extending the voice of her instrument through the imaginative use of Max/MSP, sensors and wireless ethernet. Her bowing technique includes the development of “Subharmonics” – playing notes below the open-G string without lowering the tuning of the instrument. The New York Times calls her “Chilling… gripping… charming…a virtuoso playing at the edge.”

On a recent summer morning, Mari Kimura is herself warm and sunny in person, a busy Mom with a few moments of peace and quiet in her Manhattan apartment. She invited me up for a visit to talk about her work. You can listen to her comments and excerpts of her music right here:

Mari studied violin with Joseph Fuchs, Roman Totenberg, Toshiya Eto, and Armand Weisbord; composition with Mario Davidovsky at Columbia University; AND computer music at Stanford University. In her native Japan, she received the prestigious Kenzo Nakajima Music Prize, and she performs at festivals in over 20 countries. She’s improvised with the likes of Henry Kaiser, Robert Dick, Jim O’Rourke, and Elliott Sharp. In the hallowed musical halls of Juilliard, where she holds a doctorate in performance, she teaches a graduate class in Computer Music Performance.

You can read another interview with Mari Kimura in 20th Century Music, and her album, Polytopia: Music for Violin & Electronics, is available from Bridge Records.

– Jocelyn

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