Saturday, March 30, 2013

Future Music Lab!

Since last year, I have hinted about a summer program.  Now it is officially announced: starting this year, I am directing Future Music Lab at Atlantic Music Festival (AMF) in Maine.  We are also an official collaborator of IRCAM in Paris, and the participants are invited to join IRCAM Forum for free as well as have access to using IRCAM's newest motion sensor system "MO" (Modular Musical Objects), which I use for the Augmented Violin System.   "MO" can be used for other instruments, dance or theater.   AMF is hosted by Colby College, situated in a beautiful part of the state (directions).

In this blog, I have been writing occasionally about rehearsing interactive compositions and working with computers and performers.   More importantly, I have also written my thoughts about creating tools vs. creating art, relating to electronic and computer music and who are active in these fields.   I thought that I would write about the background and my thoughts why I wanted to start the Future Music Lab.

Computer music mainly originated from science and research labs in places like the Bell Labs, universities such as Princeton/Columbia studios.   Main tools for the most advanced software for interactive computer music today, such as MaxMSP was originally created by mathematicians and scientists.  Some of these pioneers are musicians or composers themselves (whether they are making their living as artists or not.)   However, there are very few musicians whose vocation is mainly classical performance, who involved themselves in the early stages of the development of computer music.  And that trend has not changed much.

My first encounter with computer music was at the first summer workshop I attended that wasn't for chamber music or orchestra, held at CCRMA at Stanford University.  Until then, I did the usual; I went to summer music camps like Tanglewood.   At CCRMA, I was probably one of very few with an instrument, let alone from Juilliard; other students were composers, acousticians and other science majors (and this is off topic but I don't remember any woman in the course; this was early 1990s.)   I felt like a 'foreigner' listening to lectures I had no idea what the language was spoken in, trying to understand numbers and programming in computers.  The concept of using numbers for music felt so foreign to me since 'music' was about sound and physicality that plays the instrument.  'Music' done in numbers was strange to me.

However, at the same time, computer music intrigued me as I immediately started to try translating musical flow into numbers.   Since the early 1990s when I started to work with computers in music, my focus doesn't seem to have changed.  It maybe intrinsically a performer's approach, since those trained as composers might approach computer music more from structural or theoretical point of view.  My approach to computer music has always been the 'flow'.   Such attempts continues to this day; more recently I made an alternative to 'score following' (a tradition in computer music for the computers to follow the score to either accompany or interact with live performers) and tried creating a 'flow following'.  I would create a kind of musical common-sense agreements between a performer and computer, avoiding 'master and slave' or 'trigger and obey' mechanisms between human and the machine.  I wanted to play WITH computers.

Since 1998, I have been teaching a small class at Juilliard, a class of interactive computer music performance.  I have encountered many excellent musicians who were new to the concept of interactive performance.  With their mature musical sensibility and already-professional level of performance skills, some created their first interactive composition using their own instruments within a semester starting from zero.   At Juilliard, many students are already performing professionally outside of school, and it is very difficult for them to manage their time.   I also think that one of the reasons for the relative lack of professional performers working in interactive computer music is simply the time management problem.  It takes a lot to maintain your instrumental skills, learning and building interactive systems, advancing your career, making a living, and maybe have a personal life all at the same time.

Over the years, I learned so much from working with performers at Juilliard.  We share the similar approach to computer music, and I wanted to promote this performance-oriented computer music more.   I thought that performers can dive into computer music in more concentrated time-frame, and I could at least help jump-start them.   I also thought that performers could expand their own creativity.   Some of us can move 'back to the future', gaining back the traditional performer/composer role, rather than being only interpreters, using the technology available in our lifetime.  My ultimate hope is that these classical/jazz professional performers would help nurture the field of computer music as well (and myself :)

Future Music Lab is therefore, designed mainly for performers, as there are many workshops for composers already in existence.  We plan on more musical approach, focusing more on performance aspect of computer music and how to build an interactive performance than simply going over programming tutorials.  (although Jazz pianist friend Vijay Iyer warned me that I would be a 'walking MSP Tutorial' by the end of the summer! :)  

Please visit the Future Music Lab site, and if you are interested in applying, the deadline is April 20th. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Continuing on 'Utopia'

I got much reactions from my previous post, "What it means to be a Japanese expat today".  In the conclusion of the post, I mentioned that John Cage, in his rare talkative mood, came to talk to a small group of us students at Juilliard.   He predicted, "Money, Borders [between countries] and Politics will disappear" from the world.  I just heard this rather Utopic prediction this week again, from none other than my own father.

On Friday, I played at the 80th birthday celebration of my father, Ken-Ichi Kimura.  The gathering was held at the Architectural Institute of Japan 日本建築会館, attended by 170+ former students, former colleagues, long-time associates both personal and professional, who occupy the top tiers of Japanese architectural engineering, design, construction industry and academia.  My father is one of Japan's foremost pioneers in solar energy, and a Prof. Emeritus in Architecture at Waseda University, or the "MIT of Japan".   He also had a long history of association with TEPCO (Tokyo Electronic and Power Company), who is responsible for the Fukushima nuclear incident.  TEPCO and my father both promoted alternative energy to gas and oil in Japan.  He designed one of the first experimental solar houses in Japan, where I grew up.  During the oil crises of the 1970s, he became well-known, and as a child I remember TV cameras descending upon our home shooting a footage of my mother washing dishes with hot water that was heated by the sun.  At this very moment I'm sitting in this solar house, inside its 'half-basement', typing my last post from Japan as I'm leaving to NYC tomorrow. [my father pointed out that I said I am 'going back' to NYC :)]

During the 3+ hr event at the Architectural Institute of Japan, my father gave two speeches, both 1+ hr long.   The first talk was about his childhood and how his family's lives were turned up-side-down in the aftermath of WWII, returning from former Manchuria, which the Imperial Japan occupied.   I didn't know that 220,000+ Japanese citizens in Manchuria, many worked for the Manchurian Railroad, were effectively abandoned by their own government, more or less left to their own devices in the chaotic time while poorly educated Soviet soldiers roamed in China and Korea (Soviets had unilaterally broke a treaty and advanced to Manchuria).  These Japanese left in China were called "Ki-min" 「棄民」or 'discarded people'.   A son of a pediatrician, my father was about 12 years old at the end of the war, unaware of the atrocities Japanese military had inflicted upon other Asian countries.  He said his playmates were Chinese and Koreans.  One day in 1945, when Emperor Hirohito made the radio announcement ending the war, his Korean friend said, "Hey, YOU guys lost, WE won!".  The 12yr old boy had no idea that there was a divide between 'we' nor 'they' with his friends, which left a strong impression on him.  Many of these returning, 'pulling back' people, or "Hiki-age" 「引き揚げ」Japanese children from China, were to become pillars of the Japanese post-war society, producing CEOs, professors, politicians and major artists: those include Seiji Ozawa (son of a dentist in Manchuria) and Hanae Mori (fashion designer).  When they returned to Japan, they had to start up from zero with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and even fight discrimination against these 'discarded' people; they had the chutzpah to climb back up in society.  In fact my father was one of more fortunate children since his father was a doctor; many poorer families had to leave a young child or two behind, who were left abandoned and adopted by Chinese families who took pity on them. (just imagine the humanity of these Chinese parents, who picked up and took in these children of their 'enemy')   These toddlers were raised by their adoptive Chinese parents, grew up and married as Chinese; they started to come back in the 1980s to Japan, in search for their original families.  They pleaded to their families to come look for them, talking on TV wearing Mao suits describing smallest of memories, scars on their bodies, clothing they were found with.  Many Japanese families were guilt-ridden for abandoning the children and remained silent, or they simply had already passed away.  It was quite tragic to watch, but I couldn't really look away since one of those people could have been my father.  (many did find each other and their tearful reunions were shown on TV. Some went back to China, some decided to come to Japan and restarted their lives)  In his lecture, he did discuss what he thought of the Emperor's responsibilities in WWII.  He questions why the Emperor didn't end the war sooner, before the atomic bombs were dropped and Tokyo was flattened.  He told how the young Japanese boys like himself those days were made to blindly follow and worship the Emperor, brainwashed and taught to live and die for him.  It was probably the same in Germany with "Hitler Jugend."  These stories are told and retold, but the young Japanese are getting increasingly oblivious of it; he said he decided to tell his first-hand experience again, for us to remember what war does to people's lives, and to preventing the history repeating itself.  So, I retold his stories here on my blog again.

The second talk of my father this day was about the environment, his solar house, vernacular houses around the world adapting to each climate and environment.  Towards the end, he talked about the future of energy including the Fukushima nuclear accident.  I understand there were my father's long-time associates and even childhood friends who became CEOs of gas or nuclear/electric companies in the audience.  Even the former Vice President of TEPCO was there, who is in fact, my father's classmate from his middle school.   I thought my father did the best he could, simply to show two options; whether to continue using nuclear energy, or to stop it.  He said there is no middle ground such as 'gradual decrease'.  He showed the environmental and economic consequences of both options and choices Japan had to make in either cases.  Then he went on to end the lectures by talking about his visions and thoughts for the future.

My father is a scientist, and as scientists usually are, he is rational; his reasoning is based on gathering scientific facts and data.  After retiring from teaching, he has been continuing to gather data from his solar house where he lives, constantly improving the heating/cooling systems and documenting his processes including the efficiency and cost-effectiveness. His thoughts are usually well organized and he speaks of 'cold hard' facts.   As he neared his retirement, he started to speak more about abstract things; his 'retirement lecture' held at Waseda University more than a decade ago, was attended by hundreds, as he was a celebrated professor there.  His thesis in that lecture was what 'happiness' means, and what he thinks and hopes the world will be in the future.  However it wasn't any kind of a 'poetic' or artistic prose or imagination, but rather a result deducted from the years of experiences and gathering knowledge as a scientist.

Towards the end of his second talk this Friday at his 80th birthday celebration, my father surprised me.  He said: "I predict COUNTRIES WILL DISAPPEAR in the future", the same thing John Cage said at Juilliard.   I have now heard an artist and a scientist, from two different points of view, coming to that same conclusion.   

John Cage said, "Borders, Politics, and Money" will disappear.   As we know, borders are often disputed because of religion, and politics.  But is it really so... would it be possible that there are forces that be, directing people to disputing borders, using religion and politics?  And that of course, has to be the Money....  If we let money disappear, will there be no borders? Utopic?  Oh yes :)

My father's last words in the lecture was to suggesting people to THINK more, rather than to KNOW more.   Gathering knowledge is important, but he argued that we are now too busy gathering knowledge and barely have time to think.   In my opinion, that also goes to music creation and art in general.

By the way, as I mentioned my father's 80th birthday celebration was attended by many of his former students.  I knew many of them since I was little, and remember them as skiny, scruffy grad students.  They would come over for a home party every Xmas, and it seems I have treated them quite roughly, forcing them to play boardgames with me :)  I was probably 9-10 years old.  Now I organize home parties every Xmas, inviting friends and more importantly my students so they get to meet the professionals in the field in a relax setting.  I perhaps inherited that tradition from my parents.  It was quite impressive to see this Friday, that many of these former skinny grad students are now CEOs, professors and some even Presidents of universities.  

In my previous post, I talked about being an expat and that started from coming back from Ottawa, Canada as a child.   An old friend of my father said to me at the party following the lecture, "I saw you when you just came back from Canada [I was about 6 or 7 years old].   You said to me, 'I don't know where I belong, I don't know which nationality I am!'".  I guess that never changed!!!

And just so this long post (thank you for those who read it :)   fits into my "Extended Violin Diary", I would mentioned that while I performed between my father's two lectures, I have inflicted some serious Subharmonics at the Japanese architects, playing a short version of my "Caprice for Subharmonics".  But that was only after I decided to be good and obeyed my mother's orders, and played "Thaïs meditation":)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What it means to be a Japanese expat today

As I grow older, the question of my national identity or where I belong, is coming into question.  Where do I feel the most at home?  In Japanese we have a saying, "Where you live, is the capital" (or THE place, meaning you are comfortable anywhere you live).   「住めば都」

By now, I have lived outside of my 'native' Japan longer than the years I spent in Japan.  I live in NYC,  undoubtedly where I feel the most comfortable.  The Japanese saying above however, isn't true for me; I grew up in Japan always feeling like an outsider.  I never liked the conformism.  As a child, having to come back to Japan after spending two years in Ottawa, Canada (my father, a solar energy specialist, worked at the Canadian National Research Council) probably didn't help either.  I remember my Japanese grammar was funny and I got teased by my classmates.  I grew up thinking all my teen years, that I cannot wait to leave Japan.  This week, I'm visiting Japan, feeling nostalgic about my childhood in my house and having to miss the later years of my parents.  It seems they got old all of the sudden, which makes me sad.   The question seems more immediate; where do I belong, or do I even have a country?  I'm married to a Frenchman, having two children of mixed nationalities.   What does it mean to 'belong' to a country?  Is that where you live and pay taxes? Do I feel any 'allegiance' to any particular country?

There is something else now.  Since March 11, 2011 Fukushima nuclear incident, I hear from other Japanese expats in NYC that their sensibilities became quite different from their families back home in Japan.  We see things and think about things differently, looking in from outside.  And once you are back inside, you are confused.   It is very strange.  Now that I am back inside the country, seeing the streets and people seemingly well going about their business, despite the continuing leakage of nuclear radiation, my feeling is complex.

Japanese media seems to keep threatening the population with the inevitable great earthquake that could destroy Japan.  Recently there was another report of a huge earth-plate, which could mean the 'end of Japan' or could swallow the entire Pacific coast of Japan, if it moves.  There is the ominous threat of North Korea, that they are now getting ready for war (with South Korea, or Japan, or what...).   In Japan, journalism, in the true sense of the word, doesn't seem to quite exist except in the fringes of internet where majority of older generations, the voting public, don't access.  Mainstream media occupies daily lives of many people, and they seem to be told what to say.

I would go crazy with all the threats; who would want to live thinking that your world is about to collapse any minute, your children are being contaminated with radiation doomed for cancerous future, an earthquake of magnitude 8 or 9 can happen any minute, or Chinese or Koreans are going to bomb any minute?  That's what the media - or the government- seems to telling people.  Then the strange thing is, the infrastructures - at least some that's visible -  are steadily getting improved, progresses are being made, foods getting more and more sophisticated, and even the government wants to invite 2020 Olympic games to Tokyo.  There is the threat of the catastrophic demise of the country, and the promise of progress and bright future, co-existing side by side in people's psyche.  In the meantime, they marry, have babies, graduate: life goes on.

Japan has the cleanest and the most high-tech toilets in the world, if that's any indication of a sophisticated civilization.  Their recycling system is fierce; they separate plastic bottles and normal plastic, each assigned different days to put out.  And of course the food, although somehow clouded in the fear of contamination, is superb.  When you live here inside, it's a self-contained, seemingly almost-perfect world.  When you go outside looking back in though, there is something strange; there is a disconnect.  And it is quite impossible to explain this to Japanese people inside, when you are outside.  My Japanese / New Yorker expat friends all say, they stopped talking about their concerns, since they would get into a fight, or their families end up feeling insulted.

Japan is strategically, geographically the front-line for the USA between China.  Japan's fate very much depends on the whims of the superpowers = 'super-money'.  I am not sure what to do, only to hope that no one (on all side) does or says stupid things, ending up fueling war mongers and merchants of death.

And now back to my identity; when I lived as a housewife, a newly-wed in the beautiful southern France, I was miserable.  I was so isolated and the French countryside was too homogenous; I got tired of getting looked at as an 'asiatique', an asian, which I was accustomed to forget in NYC.  When I would come back to NYC occasionally, I would catch a snippet of a song a hispanic delivery guy on a bicycle was singing, "....Corazón..." (heart), which made me cry.  I think I am very certain now, that I feel at home in diversity, not homogeneity.

When I was a student at Juilliard, John Cage visited a class I was in, taught by Pia Gilbert about "music and dance".  That day he was in a talkative mood; I was told sometimes he didn't feel like talking at all, even at a speaking engagement.   He talked about 'living inside glass walls', where you can see everywhere.   He said, almost as a prophecy, "There will be three things that will disappear from the world eventually:  politics, borders and money." He went on to describe how his world was all over the map and borders between countries don't matter.  This was in the early 1990s and since then we have seen so many wars and killings between borders, and money and politics have no signs of disappearing.

But I still like to believe in John.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Flying with a LEGO bird

As I am about to fly to Japan this morning, leaving to the Newark airport in one hour, I have to write this.   I had the most bizarre and vivid dream :)


For some reason, I decided to pick up my son's little LEGO bird which looks like a seagull - white and gray with big wings, though small enough to fit on the palm of my hand -  which moved its wings big and fast enough to lift me up and fly.  I thought to myself, "Why don't I use this to fly to Japan, instead of flying on a United Airline plane?"   (in reality, I AM flying on United today, and had spoken to my mother in Japan who is picking me up at the airport)

So, I stood here in New York city, with a LEGO bird in my right hand; it started to move its wings lifting me up, up, up.   I started to fly pretty quickly and the strange thing is I must have fallen asleep inside my dream. The next thing I noticed, was a huge landscape below me, and for some reason, I saw that giant statue of JESUS in Brazil standing in the middle of some mountains below me.  I thought to myself, "I should take a photo of this!".  Then the weird thing, the LEGO bird had a camera embedded near its neck, and all I had to do was to push a little button to take a photo!  But we were flying very fast and moving away from the statue.  The next thing I saw was the huge ensemble of mountains, no doubt the Rocky Mountains.  (in reality I had marveled these mountains from the airplane about a week ago when I flew over on the way to California)

I took more picture thinking "I'd better have that statue AND the mountain together in the photo", so I did, but again I was moving too fast away.  Now I am in the coast of California, a big large ocean in front of me.  Suddenly the wind was getting strong and I thought to myself, well, maybe I should break to Japan and land someplace.  I picked a random hill and landed, found a dirt road.  There was some kind of a camp site, although it seemed more like a homeless and drunk people making camp fires.  I didn't feel quite comfortable there as it was getting to be in the mid afternoon.  For some reason, there was a kiosk, or a little shop which sold small things.  I asked where I was, (can't remember her answer now) and wanted to buy some extra AA batteries - oh yes, the LEGO bird is battery-powered so I wanted some extra just in case.  This occurred to me for the first time in the dream.

The shop keeper wouldn't sell me the batteries unless it's in a 7-pack for $7.99, (which is quite a good price) but I only wanted two batteries.  Although I demonstrated the homeless and drunks and the shop keeper, the little LEGO bird does fly me and I was telling the truth, that I flew there all the way from Manhattan, I started to get concerned where to spend the night...  Then magically, a long-time friend appeared, saying "Mari, what are you doing here!" (in real life, she is the daughter and the grand daughter of a family friend who lives in Montreal - I haven't seen her for quite a while.  I will call her 'A')  We hugged and I explained the situation.   I asked the shop keeper, if there is some decent camp ground around there, then she showed me on the map, that it was about 20 minutes walk from there.   While observing at our encounter, the shop keeper who wouldn't sell me two batteries, took a pity on me and called the camp site and talked to the lady there, who was a friend of hers, to expect me coming to the camp site.   It was very nice of her so I thanked her and started to walk with 'A',

We walked and reached what seemed to resemble some kind of mall or a station, where I could make a phone call.  Everyone at the previous place, including 'A', insisted that it is a really bad idea to fly over the Pacific Ocean with a LEGO bird.  It's too far, so I should fly north, but then there is Alaska, Bering Strait and all that - am I going to freeze to death?! (likely!)   So I took out my iPhone (yes I did have my cell in my pocket I suppose) and started to call United Airline, to see if they could switch my NYC <-> Tokyo flight to either San Francisco or Seattle -> Tokyo flight.  I thought I should do that before the departure time from NYC.   It took me several tries after having so much trouble connecting to the service representative.  Finally I reached someone whom I could barely hear, and the man on the line seem to think I was just confirming my flight to Tokyo, going ahead with, "All set, Ma'am, have a good flight!"  "No no!!  I need my flight switched..."  but he hang up.  I tried to dial again in hope to get someone, but with no success.

My mom is waiting in Tokyo, I obviously was missing my flight from NYC, and I am in the middle of somewhere between California and Seattle... that's when, THANKFULLY I woke up :)

The obvious analysis maybe that I was afraid of missing my plane, and we are switching to 'summer' time today.   And I am getting picked up in 45 minutes going to Newark....

Saturday, March 9, 2013

"Japanese barbecue twang" and "Funeral parlor organ" :)

As I imagined from the very first time I heard Michael Gatonska's work at Music with a View festival organized by formidable pianist Kathy Supové, Michael is one of those composers whose sound world is so crystal clear in his mind, that I could feel the sound is right in front of him; the only obstacle between him and the outside world is people like me to interpret it.     I am working on creating processing for the violin that I try to get closer to his aural vision.  Michael is also a painter as well as a composer, so his descriptions are very visual and very helpful for me, who is his interpreter as well as his programmer. This is his hand-written score, or the scheme of "Shin rin Yoku" (Forest bathing), which will be premiered at the Roulette on April 10th.  This score looks like an art in itself!

Braving the snow storm in Manhattan, Michael arrived in excellent spirits.  We worked together throughout the morning into the afternoon, punctuated by Indian food and Chianti (which I opened without telling my husband... hope it was ok... :)

We went over his score which consists of three layers basically; my violin part, the background sound-world (sound of nature), and the real time processing of the violin.  We spent most of the time figuring out what kind of processing  he had in mind and how I can get close to it by trying out different signal processing.  He was very patient as I was programming on the fly.  For me, it was SUCH A TREAT, learning about hearing music and sound from a different set of ears; this is why I still remain an interpreter playing other composers' pieces.  I don't want to become someone who only performs my own compositions, which tends to happen to many 'performer/composers'.  I so treasure the experience of getting inside others' head-space, and I learn SO MUCH from the experience.    With Michael, it was almost like a coaching or a lesson, learning the sound world I didn't know.  Above is the video of us tweaking a section where he wanted me to compete with a woodpecker sound :)

Michael's descriptions on the score are very colorful and vividly visual, but in person as well.  "Can you make it with more of those Japanese barbecue TWANG?", or "You know that William Schatner singing 'You're gonna die', that 'Funeral-parlor organ' sounds"  (??!!)  We actually listened to the Schatner song together :)

After my kids came home from school, we even worked some more while my two children had an epic fight, yelling, screaming, banging doors and crying.  Michael was so gracious and pretended it didn't faze him at all, but I'm totally embarrassed!  Now that he is gone, my kids stopped fighting, quietly reading and doing their homework.  Oh why oh why?  Actually I know, most likely they just wanted my attention...

Now I'm back to creating some patches for Kyoko Kitamura, for our "Poly-Monologue".  Oh and I'd better pack, I'm leaving to Tokyo tomorrow  :)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Rain to Slush to Snow Storm in Manhattan

And composer Michael Gatonska is braving the Metro North railroad in this weather condition!  It remains to be seen if he makes it here! It has been a looooong winter here in the USA East Coast, but compared to the midwest, I'm sure this is completely wimpy!   Last week in Orange County while visiting U.C. Irvine, a nice hotel clerk said, "Oh you are from New York, New York!  How's the weather out there?"  It was in the high 50s (20Cs) in Southern California.  So Not Fair :)

Yesterday I gave a quick introduction of MaxMSP to a young Juilliard student who is starting out.  Instead of talking about the Tutorial first, I first showed him my recent work with Max for LIVE, and how I interact with my bowing motion sensor from IRCAM, "Augmented Violin".  I also showed him my interactive audio/visual works.  I find it more useful for those who is starting out, to see what can be done with these tools which may help them imagining something new of their own.  I will never forget when I first heard Mario Davidovky's Synchronisms NO. 6 for piano, that first 'G" on the piano which gets taken over by a soft electronic sound of the same pitch.  That piece got me into all this eventually, and I ended up studying with him.  Davidovsky was in fact, creating the interactive electronics without today's technology, creating an auditory illusion using a fixed media, recorded tape.

At the Symposium at UC Irvine last week, jazz pianist/composer Vijay Iyer asked me if I have published this demo how to "flow follow" instead of 'score follow' I first started in 2010, controlling 'agogig' using the bowing expression.  I have made more improvements, especially after my collaborator formally at IRCAM, Nicolas Rasamimanana who now runs a company named Phonotonic, and I made progress in detecting bow direction last year (up and down bows).   This is a demo which I also showed my student today.  I haven't really published it except in passing, and I probably should.  What I really should do before the summer is to somehow make this more configurable, usable in many different musical context, or at least make it easier for people to calibrate.  I spend so much obsessive time redrawing this graph (the little graph on the bottom right, a black line that goes from top left somewhat down), which is the tempo-to-movement ratio :)

Other than that I am preparing for my recording next week in Japan, polishing myself (that is, I need to get my sounds and intonation clean :)  I foresee the long plane ride, seeing my family etc. so I'd better be prepared before I get there!

Aside from this, I made a major upgrade of my system, namely 'pitch shifting' system.  And it's Kyoko who forced my hands, as she is using the very latest of Max version, unlike me.  I'm usually trailing WAY behind everyone on any version upgrades, for the fear that there maybe 'bugs' in new versions.   I have been using (gasp!) the same 'pitch shifting' mechanisms since the 1990s!!  but finally things have caught up with me.  The new version of MaxMSP made my old mold impossible to continue working, so finally I was able to find a way to upgrade my core pitch shifting system which I have been dreading to do so.  But necessity is the mother of invention, or upgrade, correct? :)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Nitty-gritty :)

So I spent the most of the afternoon "debugging" :)   Is this still a popular term or am I of a previous generation?  What I am doing is too boring and too unmusical, probably no one wants to hear about it, but as a programmer who performs and composes, these are as important as bringing your instrument to the violin tuner or 'rehairing' your bow. Besides, I need to get these procedure seamless and ready to go, before my summer program starts :)

Below is a bit technical, but to give you an idea what the kind of things I have to do:
I am trying to rehearse long distance (well, Brooklyn/Manhattan LOL!) with Kyoko Kitamura.  I wanted her to test some Max patches to calibrate her voice quality leisurely so she doesn't have to come to my place, and can do this in her own time.  We are both moms and our free times are limited and fragmented :)   There is a part of MaxMSP, a collection of IRCAM objects called FTM, which requires license; I am using it for Kyoko, but in order for her to use it, I need to 'compile' them in a certain way, and this turned out not so simple.

I had to email Paris and find out what I'm doing wrong, and Frédéric Bevilacqua, the head of the Real Time Musical Interaction Team at IRCAM, has been up at 2AM Paris time, trying to solve this problem for me.  The 6-hour time difference between NYC and Paris isn't  great; oh---just as I'm typing this (now 8:14PM on Tuesday night) Fred emailed me, "We will solve this, it will work!", "24/24 service!".   With such a superb tech support, how am I allowed to fail!!?  Pressure, pressure... :)

With Michael Gatonska, with whom I'm preparing the premiere of his new work "Shin rin Yoku" (Forest bathing) on April 10th at the Roulette, (BTW I requested that they modify the website to include this title too, so they will get to it soon I hope!) here are the days' email correspondences about the work, ahead of our face-to-face meeting tomorrow: (with his permission)

Hi, Finally I'm going through your sound and have some questions:
The following environmental sounds (?) have significant background noise, or sound, which I assume is intentional and you don't intend to get it filtered?
The following instrumental sounds are pretty clean but a bit of background noise, maybe ignorable.
SS3_Bowls_Part1, and Part2

Hi Mari,
The environmental sounds are pretty raw, with only minimal high pass filtering and some limiters in use. [...] these environmental sounds were meant to 'sit' in the background, providing a soft and moving sonic 'basso continuo' type of thing rather than being at the forefront or overtaking or matching the violin/Max sounds (which should be in the foreground). I was thinking that we may be able to work these effects in as a subtle background fabric to the piece - I guess we can see what sounds good or is flat out unusable and make our decisions.  I have been approaching what I have sent to you as a sort of fluid music score, until we work out what we like and make it more concrete.

Just to get me going---the first page, when you said "Sound sample 1 rise and fall in dynamics imitating violin sound envelop"
I thought that would be a bit tough, since it's PPP for me :)   but I could actually track the pitch which seems to match the < > sometimes, or we could time it, etc. etc.   Do you want the electronic sounds to cresc. when I am NOT playing?
I have filters and you can choose what you like.  I can actually control the filters in realtime as well...  I will have it handy in case you want to try.

Hi Mari,
Yes, I thought the crescendo sounds during the first section should follow when you are not playing -- but they should also interact (weave in and out) when you are playing the longer lines, or phrases.  Essentially, it is a section that should build in sound levels, similar to a graded echo and crescendo over time. Does this make any sense? :)

Yes I understand.  I'm trying to see the ways to control the cresc. decresc.   One way 'maybe' that I count the numbers of bow change (I can do that :)  which could control the electronics.   (please don't mind me, I'm thinking aloud :)   BTW would it be OK if I publish these correspondences in my blog?    I think it is very interesting :)

Don't worry about thinking out loud, it gives me a sense of what you are doing. And please use anything in your blog that you feel appropriate or significant :)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


As I mentioned yesterday, I decided to jot down what I'm doing preparing for my April 10th concert.

However, that is not the only thing I am doing--I usually have several kind of projects in parallel, but that is the same with any artist.   In my case, as a "performer/composer", I have tasks that belong to different compartments of my life.

Aside from my major two upcoming works; one as the performer/composer (Poly-Monologue) and as Michael Gatonska's interpreter premiering his new work, "Shin rin Yoku" (Forest bathing), the most immediate task I have is as a violinist for next week in Japan, recording Japanese composer Takayuki Rai's composition written for me entitled "Active Figurations" for Fontec Japan label.  I know this piece, I premiered in 2009 at Music from Japan Festival 2009 which I curated, but this week I have to really be good (no wrong notes LOL!) for the recording.  and I must keep my chops up to sound clean (scales, scales, believe or not! :)  I also have a few other creative projects (commissions actually) that's not even on the back burner, but kind of on a side burner.  More on that later.

Kyoko Kitamura and I actually did one experimental concert back in December, and I'm deriving my ideas a lot from that experience.   The picture above is from that concert, held at the Spectrum in downtown NYC.  I'm imagining her voice follows herself, lingering thoughts, but not just a simple delay... then I imagine what harmony, what pitches she should choose, or let her choose... etc. etc.  then which MaxMSP objects I should use, then how I should construct the patch.  I'm sending her some Max patches that she needs to calibrate for her own voice, which she can only do, and she doesn't need me beside her (IF my Max patch is clean, and it is NOT so when I make patches for myself - Max users know what I mean :)

For Michael Gatonska, I have his score, his visuals and his electronic sounds that we are going to combine together.  Guessing from his score, he has very clear ideas to what the electronics and the general sound world he has in mind, which is helpful as I act as his programmer as well.   The electronics are going to be in two layers: one which provides the background, another is the interactive processing I will do using various methods including "Augmented Violin", my bowing motion sensor from IRCAM.  He is coming over on Friday, so I'm trying to organize myself and my thoughts about all this, which is like a puzzle.  I love puzzles, my father loved puzzles and I did marry someone who loves puzzles :)

Going back to the 'multitasking' I need to order some maroon-colored sweatpants for my daughter... like that's the major priority!! :)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pop the hood; an experiment

I cannot believe my last blog entry is July 2012... I have been quite busy with various projects, and while doing so possibly neglected to document or share the process.   I just came back from a Symposium held at U.C. Irvine, entitled "New Direction in Graduate Music Programs", organized by ICIT (Integrated Composition Improvisation and Technology program at UC Irvine).   There I had the fortune to perform with Jazz pianist Vijay Iyer and get to know his amazing projects, and his wonderfully socially-conscious thought processes.

In the previous post, I hinted about the 'announcement' I will be making; it is official now, that I will be inaugurating a summer program this year, which will be 'officially' announced to the press by the end of this month.  It is designed for performers of highest caliber who use/want to use interactive system to perform as well as compose.  So, a bit more patience :)

Not just because of the summer program, but I decided that it is time I must start to share and to include people witness my own creative processes, or to 'pop the hood' so to speak.  My interactive systems are very simple, but very user-specific.  I probably have one of the most useful ways to track the violin pitches, and to handle oneself on stage, that might be helpful to others.

I also decided to share more my compositional process in interactive works.   On Wednesday, April 10th, I have a performance at Roulette in Brooklyn.  The show is entitled "Poly-Monologue", premiering a work written for Kyoko Kitamura, a trilingual avant-garde and experimental singer (English, Japanese and French).   "Poly-Monologue" is an interactive audio/visual work, a part of the larger-scale work entitled "ONE" which I will premiere in June 2013 (more on that later).  The visuals of this work is done by Japanese movie maker and graphic artist, Tomoyuki Kato, who also created the visuals for my previous work "Eigenspace".  Both "Poly-Monologue" and "Eigenspace" are parts of "ONE", which just received a generous support from Commissioning USA grant.  At this very moment, I'm very much hard at work with "Poly-Monologue".

Aside for my own works, we just decided that I will be premiering a work written for me entitled "Shin Rin Yoku" (forest bathing) by American/Polish composer and painter, Michael Gatonska.    Both works will use interactive graphics and IRCAM's motion sensor, "Augmented Violin".

This Friday, Michael is coming over and we will have some composition, visuals and strategy-making session.  I will upload or even video tape some of our meetings to share what we will discuss. 

From now until the concert, I will try to document our creative processes to share with you; please mark your calender for April 10th at 8PM!