Sunday, October 5, 2008

Subharmonics etc .... continues :)

This is Max Mathews, a pioneer of computer music, who visited Juilliard last week to take some of my Subharmonic samples in front of a class (of a colleague, Mike Czajkowski in the photo). I am going out to California in February so probably drop by at CCRMA at Stanford where he is a prof. Emeritus, and visit his lab for a further study... Max is in great shape mentally and physically. I truly respect his unrelenting pursuit and the power and willingness to go as far as you can at any age. My own father is 75 also and now thinking of building a new solar house in Japan. I really hope I'm going to be like this when I'm 80, scratching my violin away! :) The sad news is that Prof. Bill Bennett, mentioned in the last entry, had past away this summer in June without finishing his music acoustics book... I miss him very much.

Since the last entry, my son went into an emergency room cutting just below the eyebrow getting 13 stitches (he fell inside a city bus), my husband had a deviated septum operation (and didn't get a plastic surgery as Hollywood actresses do), I went and came back from performing in a very nice international festival held in Oaxaca, Mexico called Instrumenta (and brought back an excellent bottle of Mezcal for my husband--without worms inside--they said "that's for tourists"), then baked a cake for my son's 5th birthday the day after I came home.

At the moment I'm trying very hard to finish mastering a new album with my subharmonic works, coming out from Lovely Music. It is going very slow with all the distractions coming my way one after the other. Now with my son in a wonderful Kindergarten (where people buy real-estate to be zoned for) I have chunk of free time in the morning for the first time in like 7 years. What a change---maybe I will start to get some work done!?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

SUBHARMONICS: How the word gets spread

OK, this is the reason why I am generally staying and called a HERMIT. Which is what my French husband called me, when we first met: "Mari why do you live like an hermite?" (rhyming with "termite" with a silent 'h' French style :) I find myself to be peculiarly in self-imposed exile. I like creating and performing, but generally staying quite neutral. Combined with raising two small children and the daily chores, maybe I am not as busy as I should be. Maybe later, when my son is older.

Just a few days ago, I noticed that my YouTube entry on my interactive performance with a Guitarbot (musical robot) received 2,000 views in one day, also coinciding with various blog posts on my Subharmonic technique. I thought just responding to some of the messages in case some people might find the way over here. As I write everywhere that I first played Subharmonics in public in my solo recital debut concert in Merkin Hall, NYC 1994, the initial public interest peaked about that time. I have been expanding, improving the technique ever since, namely writing works for myself so that I would get better at it. Now all of the sudden this week, the 'buzz' is hot. Even my French sister-in-law send me a short article on yahoonews in French.
UPDATE: I found out the reason for the sudden burst of hits. The site called Noiseaddicts published a very nice article on my technique entitled "The sounds that shouldn't be" :) It generated tons of hits, thus even my sister-in-law finding a snippets on a French news :)

I find it interesting how news gets propagated and distributed. The Norwegian visit was in May 2006 when Dr. Alfred Hanssen at the University of Tromsø requested that I come there to record for his research. I gave a small concert there as well as an interview on Norwegian radio. It was never really reported at all, but later it got reported to Physics Today that year (I think it was). Then I saw several news picking them up, and I also was contacted by researchers from various countries as well. Then nothing, really, except for occasional questions from random people. So how did this 7-22-08 Subharmonic buzz started? No idea :)

To answer those who mentioned George Crumb, I had an opportunity to speak with him back in early 90s at a Kronos concert. He does notate those low notes as "pedal notes" and the principle is the same. Except that I have yet to hear a successful production of those notes. My technique is quite a bit more controlled. I do produce not only one octave below (Crumb's pedal note), but major 7th, minor 9th, major and minor 3rds, and on the good day, perfect 5th. It is combined with very controlled placement of the bow as well as the pressure---it doesn't take too much pressure as some seems to believe. It just have to be just the right amount---also the bow speed.

Some wonders why I am 'getting all the credit' for doing this, but honestly I don't think that is my fault :) There were some scholars claiming that Paganini did it first--very likely he was able to do it better than I---but please show me a piece that he wrote FOR Subharmonics--there is none. As far as I know, I am the first one to really push and use Subharmonics as the legitimate violin range, not as a mere sound effect, or a musical 'joke' that violinists have been doing for centuries it seems. I like to imagine that the first person to do it was probably an old gypsy man, a few hundred years ago, by a camp fire who was fooling around with the instrument trying to scare kids with a weird sound :) I have never claimed that I was the first one ever to do this technique---on the contrary, I was taught a variation of this technique by my old Belgium-Jewish-Russian teacher named Armand Weisbord, who was an old family friends with Heifetz. This technique derives (for me personally) from a bowing exercise called Son Filé, a slow soft sound to be played on the bow as long as possible. It is a practice to steady your bow and improve the sound production. I just took them very far, which became part of my technique for musical expression.

OK, back to my hermite life, got to put the kids to bed :)
Oh the picture is my violin, hooked up with transducer mic and some measurement viewer, by Dr. Bill Bennett Jr at his home. Before Dr. Hanssen, Dr. Bennett, the Professor Emeritus in Physics at Yale Univ., contacted me to include me in his musical acoustics book published by Princeton University Press.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Where am I from?

This summer seems to be the time to catch up to everything, as I'm in the process of upgrading everything from hardware to software. It's tedious! This is an email I sent to a friend, and I have been sending to several people about it also. It seems I should have put it up on the blog here long ago. I went to Japan to visit my family in March, and this is about a performance I saw.
"The day before I left I saw an extraordinary performance of a Kabuki actor (female character) Fukusuke Nakamura. I'm collaborating next year with one of the Shamisen master named Mojibe Tokiwazu IV, who organized the event; as I am curating the Music From Japan festival 2009 (March in NYC and DC). Mr. Tokiwazu arranged the music of Chopin for his Shamisen orchestra (!), and Mr. Nakamura danced to the music in Kabuki style wearing a full-fledged Kimono costume (they said they chose Chopin to suit their recent Paris performance). It was so shocking; I (heterosexual female) was completely convinced of his femininity, which is free of vulgarity of any kind such as 'drag queen' here. He was so feminine in all his movements and character, while projecting with a force of a male--this must be very akin to what a Castrato was. Usually Kabuki actors dance to the music of Kabuki, but the fact he danced to western Romantic music, really threw me off balance :)

Then I realized it was only me who was flipping out; no body in the audience of a full-house, both Japanese male and female, seems to flinch. Then I realized my sensibility has become completely 'Americanized', being somewhat scandalized or shocked by such a gender-bending and artistically superb display in public performance. Have I become so puritan living in the USA for too long?? I just wondered :) Seriously Mr. Nakamura would put the most convincing American drag queen to shame. They said they had a fantastic reception in Paris, but I imagined how would general American audience take this. When I went backstage, Mr. Nakamura, who was still in his costume, was still in his female character greeting people as a 'woman'. It was kind of hard to imagine him being heterosexual, but he got a wife and children, so did his father who was also a 'female' actor. I really would like to collaborate with him some day. They said he is one of the only traditional Kabuki actors who are adventurous, open-minded and willing to go avant garde like this. (dancing to western music)

Also, I saw some female audience wearing Kimono 'professionally'; i.e. professional women = Geishas. Being a Geisha also means that she has to be an accomplished dancer, singer, an instrumentalist to entertain her clients. The Geishas come to Kabuki, I was told, to LEARN HOW TO MOVE LIKE A FEMALE from the male Kabuki masters such as Mr. Nakamura. The picture is Mr. Nakamura in the costume of "Musume Dojoji".

The performance was in Tsukiji, Hama-Rikyu Hall ('beach palace residence' of the Emperor) attached to the headquarters of the Asahi News paper, very close to the fish market where tourists go to see the fish auctions at 4AM in the morning.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Life goes on--and going on!

OK, this is not good! It has been too long. Too busy, too much stuff going on. I see my last post was October (!). In late October my son had a perforated appendicitis, and the episode included my first ambulance ride, spending Halloween in a hospital, followed by not-so-easy recovery at home. My 4 year old son was a trouper, who called his very small incision "WOOF" because he didn't know the word 'wound'. It completely stopped my life most of November.

At the moment I am working on mastering my new solo album; I had finished Vitessimo, my first work for bowing sensor Augmented Violin, developed at IRCAM. The picture above is my version, called the Augmented Violin Glove, fitted with lace glove so I am completely wireless. Visit for details. In the course of it, I have been rethinking about bowing a lot, and the relationship between functional movements (bowing) and expressive movements (such as conductor's arm). Is expressive movement really necessary for the audience to 'see'? to understand music? My answer is a 'conditional' NO. Would audience need to SEE the expressive arm movement to 'understand' music? Then how do you explain Karl Böhm's miniscule batton movements generating gigantic sound out of Berlin Philharmonic? Got to go, but not finishing the thought... To be continued...