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.


Ninh said...

Hello Mari, indeed there is a big difference between using instrumental "tricks" and building a language based as a beginning on these "tricks". I experienced the same with the use of metal instruments (such as cymbals) or pine cones on my drum head. This use came both from chance and necessity. I'm sure that I wasn't not the first doing that but it was the very beginning of discovering a new world which was my own language. I think that the critics you got about your subharmonics technique come from the academic world that always studies precisely facts and history but can't "understand" the apparition of poetry... Cheers, Ninh.

Mari Kimura said...

Hi Ninh,
Thanks for visiting! Well, these critics are nothing new: In 1992 when I first did it, and the big NYTimes article came out. That morning, I got about 15 messages on my voice message from strangers saying "I did that first, not you" :) But they forget I am not claiming to be the first one to physically do it, but to use it as a musical element. Whether academic or not, I read somewhere that there are two kinds of people in this world: one who does things, and another who TALK about it :) And I and certainly you too, prefer to be the ones who DO it.

That brings to a happier quote I love: "To be, is to do"---Kant, "To do, is to be"---Sartre, then, "Do-Be-Do-Be-Do"---Frank Sinatra :):)

Stefan Maus said...

Hi Mari,

I just stumbled upon your blog. It sounds REALLY weird what you're doing with your subharmonics. But through the ages always new ways of playing have been developed - and always people got critics about this "new, funny stuff nobody needs".
That started long before Berlioz' Symphony Fantastique.
Therefore - don't worry about those people, it makes your technique even more interesting!

Cheers, Stefan

Mari Kimura said...

Thanks Stefan,
Don't worry I'm not 'bothered' by critics--what is more puzzling is that I have been doing this since 1994 (well, in private since 1992) and every once in a while there are some surge of interest :) There is a time discrepancy between what you do and what people talk about what you do. My father is one of the pioneer of Solar Energy in Japan and I grew up in a solar house he built. Back in the 70s he was considered somewhat outcast and no one was interested, that was UNTIL the oil crises hit! Then he was famous, on TV all over the place, but then got dis-famous (!) after the Reagan era when solar energy was pushed away by car lobby. My father always says there is usually a decade after things tends to catch up. But my life has evolved since, and now I'm pulled back to something I did more than 10 years ago :) That's OK though. Thanks again for visiting!

javieth said...
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kimberly said...
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