Friday, March 11, 2011

When life stops

As most of you know Japan suffered one of the biggest earthquake in history today.  I happened to wake up in the middle of the night in New York, and found someone posting on Facebook and tried to call my parents.  All phones and cellphones were out, but eventually my mother emailed me, and my family is all fine.  It turns out, internet was the lifeline.

After finding out my family's safety I tried to resume my work and life, practicing my Subharmonics again. I kept watching Japanese realtime internet TV and couldn't really focus.  But life goes on, but I am rethinking our family's preparedness; I should beef up our emergency kits....

I did practice almost 2 hours on Subharmonics, and got other work done.  It was relieving to know my parents were safe.  The disturbing thing about my last note, the one that I'm so struggling to get, is that there is almost no sign of it!  Others are getting better and better, and now I'm trying to artificially put a pressure on myself, to make sure I can produce them under any circumstances :)

Life goes on, work goes on.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Déjà vu

For the past month and a half, I'm intensely working on the new Subharmonics that I am finally getting.  A few weeks ago we took our kids on vacation but I even took my practice violin along so that I won't forget it.  If I let go for more than a day, I'm afraid I lose it.

This is purely a kinetic exercise that intellectually speaking, quite boring.  I just have to repeat my motions over, and over, and over again until I have it.   These days, every morning for solid one hour and half, I am doing only one thing and one thing only. Practicing this new Subharmonics.   It is getting quite reliable now, and as said in my previous entries I need SEVEN semitones, of which I already have six.  The last one, the open G string, is the most difficult to control.  I am "inching towards it" quite literally.  That is to say, I am putting my left hand finger very very close to the end of the fingerboard so it is almost open G, but not quite.  I am trying to get used to the feeling on my right arm how it would feel like on the open G, although I still can't do it.  I am seeing the day is coming very close.  I can already do it about 60% of the time with this "cheat mode" with stopping the left hand finger very close to the open G.

This exercise is oh so boring, so much so that I need some entertainment.  CNN these days is too disturbing about the news about Libya, so I'm watching movies that I have watched many times before, so I don't really have to watch it.   With occasional resting of my right arm, I can watch "Apollo 13", "The Young Victoria", "My Cousin Vinny". "Analyze That" (or "This"), etc.  I need to occupy my mind but not so much so that I need to pay attention to the film.  When I work, I usually need some kind of distraction.  If the TV or movie is on, I usually don't remember much, which my husband laughs about.  I can watch the same movies over and over again since I'm not really watching :)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Setting up

This morning, I went to the home of Muneko Otani, the 1st violinists of the Cassatt Quartet.  I'm writing a new work for them for quartet and interactive computer, and they just got all the gear -- programs, microphones and audio interface -- so I went there to set up and check everything.

My new pieces are in different stages of development, one in particular, in connection to my *new* Subharmonics is especially interesting to me.  I need to compose at the same time I'm just finding out how to control this new technique.   The new Subharmonics arrive to me by accident.  One day I hear something and I go, "Oh no, you've got to be kidding me!", which turns out, it isn't.  I try to repeat the *accident*, and give up when I'm unable to do so.  Then, when I do get to repeat the sound production I go "Ah ha!", try to hang onto that repeated *accident* and remember how I felt.   Then I forget.  Then I try again.   It has been like this for the last several years to get this new Subharmonics.   Finally, it is no longer an accident, but still quite unstable.   In order (for me) to use it in a composition, I have to be able to play it 200% of the time - well, 100% of the time...  i.e. I cannot afford NOT to be able to play it.  It has to be on demand, and that is the hardest thing about Subharmonics.   ANYBODY can play Subharmonics.  But to control it, you need a very precise bowing technique.

I still don't have my last, 7th note... I got six out of seven.  But I'm inching towards it.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Listening to Pictures

Right now, I'm involved intensely in several projects that are totally different.   One in particular is very different from my usual creative process.  It is an interactive graphics work, where I'm interacting with a short movie.  I started this project inspired by the complex and imaginative beauty of this visuals, created by my friend Ken Perlin at NYU.

I have worked in collaboration with the visuals in the past, but this particular one, seems to dictate the music.  I look at it, and each section or frame evoke sounds to me.  I am "listening" to the pictures.

Not much can be said at this point, and I will follow up later.

The new Subharmonics is still stalled at six out of seven notes I need.  One more note to go still, but it's still not coming.

Today is my father's 78th birthday.   His name is Ken-ichi Kimura, and he is a Professor Emeritus at Waseda University in Architecture.  He is the Japanese pioneer of Solar Energy.  If you go to his page I linked here, and see "Japanese Vernacular Houses with a focus to energy conserving technologies" you can see how Japanese old houses used natural energy to be ECO-friendly.   I grew up in a solar house, one of the first experimental house in Japan called "Kimura Solar House".   He studied at MIT where he married my mother who was at Radcliff at the time.  Both of them were on Fullbright Fellowship, and I have to say, that I know I was conceived in Boston!  :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hunting New Subharmonics in a Cave :)

So I have taken the longest hiatus on my blog in a long time, only posting once in February.   Those of you who have been reading this blog maybe wondering what has been happening :)   Well, it's multiple of things, but mainly it is my vanity that I wanted to come out with a BANG!    While ago, I hinted that I have a new Subharmonics interval; I so far have Subharmonic Octave (I play a note and I can get an octave below without changing the tuning or moving my left hand finger).   I also have Subharmonic 3rd (I play a note and I get minor third below the note I play, again without moving a finger on the fingerboard).  I have minor 2nd, which is just F#, a half semitone below open G, by slightly modifying the way I play.

For the longest time, I wished I had this new interval I'm working on, since musically it is significant.   I really don't mean to be secretive, and I WILL introduce it in my concert in May.   It has been a looooong time coming, several years in fact, that I tried, stopped, tried and come back to it yet again.  Last summer, while at IRCAM, I allocated a bit of my time trying to work on it again, quite seriously.  I have in fact, documented my progress (or non-progress... I couldn't quite do it), by video taping myself.

Just about a month+ ago, I took it up again.   This time, I have been absolutely determined to get it.  And, I DID.   I am not quite yelling out on the top of the mountain yet, since I still don't have it quite under control.  I have been practicing very hard, just doing the exercise.  It reminds me very much when I first came up with the Subharmonic Octave in 1992 (I didn't publicly introduce it in a concert until 1994, when I was absolutely solid and was good enough for performance).   In 1992, I was a student at Juilliard, and that winter, I remember it was cold like what we had this year in NYC, and I had no social life.  I didn't have a boyfriend (or maybe he was far away :)  and I had my time all to myself.   I sat in my small studio on West 70th at Broadway, practicing Subharmonics over and over again like a maniac.   I was in a CAVE :)

Now so many years later, I am finding myself in a cave again, in the same obsessive mode, with a bit more experience and knowledge about how to produce Subharmonics.  I wake up in the morning, I try for half an hour--my arm gets tired and I stop before it gets tired.   Usually my concentration is shot after 30-40 minutes anyway, so I take a break.  My children demand my attention, which is not exactly an unwelcome distraction.   ("Mommy can you peel me more apples, pleeeese, NOW?!")  Sometimes my exercise gets so boring I listen to CNN while I do it, or have Google Earth and roll the mouse so I fly over the world, like Sahara desert slowly (I know it sounds sick... :)  I repeat this in the afternoon a few times, then in the evening.  Repeat the next day.

There are seven semitones I need to get for this particular Subharmonics (if you are so inclined and so savvy and have nothing else to do, you know by now what this interval is :)   But anyway, I have SEVEN notes I need.  As of today, I have SIX.  One more to go.   And I started to use my husband as a guinea pig; I catch him when he comes from work and say, "So watch, see?" and try to play my six notes.  Of course I play a lot less better than in my privacy. Although it is *just* my husband, I do get nervous when I try to do this in front of people.   There is some attention or projection element in my violin playing that changes the way I play, so I need to practice this Subharmonics, really, in front of people.  My poor husband happens to be the most immediate "other people" I have.

Anyway, I thought I start up the blog again, since I can no longer pretend I am going to come out with a BANG!  and this blog entitled "Extended violin DIARY" should really be a diary that documents my progress, to help those who want to attempt something new, and to show the creative process (or struggle) or what I'm doing  :)

Just so that I put an extra pressure on myself, I am already writing a new piece using this new Subharmonic interval, which I am planning to premiere in May.  So it MUST be done :)  And at the same time I get to explore the way this new interval can be musically incorporated into the violin playing and phrasing, which is essentially, the ultimate purpose of my developing Subharmonics in the first place.

I am very, very close.  This is by far, the most difficult one for me to control, compared to Subharmonic Octave, 3rd or 2nd.   And I'm not quite good enough yet to officially announce it.  It is hard to imagine anyone else gets so excited about it, but in fact, from my point of view, in the history of violin playing this is pretty historic :)  Or so I tell myself :)