Mari Kimura’s “Kaze (The Wind)/Harmonic Constellations” Kicks up a Storm

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Mari Kimura’s concert “Kaze (The Wind)/Harmonic Constellations” turned out to be an interesting synthesis of computer visuals and experimental violin music. The concert was held on Thursday, June 9, 2016 at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, NY.

The concert was divided into two segments. The first segment, “Kaze (The Wind),” was designed to showcase µgic (mu-zhik). Mari Kimura performed the piece live. Vocals contributed by Jin-Xiang Yu and additional string instrumentals were provided by the Cassatt String Quartet. The second segment consisted of Mari Kimura performing “Harmonic Constellations” on the violin, composed by Michael Harrison.

Japanese Symbol Projection.
Japanese character for “wind” projected onto screen, with performers in the foreground. Photo by Remy.

“Kaze (The Wind)” was a spectacle to behold, with the musicians positioned in front of a large screen. Several blue dots were projected onto the screen, and their position, brightness, and concentration were remotely controlled by µgic. The µgic is a new innovation in musical motion-sensor technology created by Mari Kimura and Liubo Borissov. It is a mechanical glove that synchronizes musical notes with computer projections via motion-sensor technology. The device utilizes gyroscopes, accelerometers, and magnetometers. The µgic allows the wearer to control multimedia platforms in real time without having to compromise or interrupt their music. When Yu would flourish her hand on a high note, the dots in the background would concentrate and become brighter.

Additional features of µgic include compatibility with wifi technology, allowing for wireless synchronization to devices. The µgic is also capable of generating music in response to the music of the person wearing it. While being worn on Kimura’s bowing hand, the µgic relays the sounds of the violin to the computer and generates music to play with her. The range of sounds that can be generated by µgic is predetermined. However, µgic responds differently to the way the violinist plays, effectively ensuring that different musicians will receive different results depending on their individual musical styles.

Kimura with µgic.
Kimura wearing “µgic,” a new wearable music controller, on her bowing hand. Photo courtesy of Mari Kimura.

But it is only through a total fluid combination of the music and computer visuals that this performance comes to life. When the music was light and soft, the dots would travel wistfully around the screen, like leaves picked up by light summer breeze. When the vocalist sang the line “Kaze wa Arashi (The wind is storm),” the music became more choppy and violent, and the dots on the screen mimicked the motions of waves, crashing into one another. The technological display was impressive, and posits µgic on the precipice of new innovation in the realm of multimedia performance.

However, when displaying new technologies, the inevitable technical difficulties emerge. The concert needed to stop a minute or two in because there was a problem with speakers. The hall fell silent as the staff attempted to remedy the issue. There were subtle problems with µgic’s motion sensors as well. When Yu turned the page of her music sheets with her gloved hand, the dots on screen would move.

Jin-Xiang Yu Performing.
Dots fly across screen in a storm. Vocalist Jin-Xiang Yu directs them in the foreground. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Following “Kaze (The Wind)” came Michael Harrison’s “Harmonic Constellations,” performed by Mari Kimura on the violin. Harrison’s piece was designed to be challenging to play, as it is an experimental composition aimed at exploring the musical concept of “just intonation harmonies,” a musical tuning method that tunes frequencies of notes in relation to ratios of whole numbers, in this case 2, 3, and 7. Utilizing 13 pre-recorded violin tracks, nine constellations of just intonation harmonies, and Mari Kimura’s expertise on the violin, the result was a multi-faceted composition that could be heard in numerous different ways. The just intonation harmonies continuously evolved during the piece, and could be heard differently depending on how the listener positioned their head, or where they decided to sit.Kimura performing Harmonic Constellations.

Kimura performing Harmonic Constellations.
Kimura performing Harrison’s “Harmonic Constellations.” Photo by Remy.

“Harmonic Constellations” was composed using computer programming and mathematical techniques. It was then translated into musical score, and performed by Kimura with pre-recorded tracks that have morphing electronic sine waves. With the pre-recorded music creating constantly changing pitches, the pressure was on Kimura to play in the exact hertz frequencies on the score, otherwise critical portions of the piece would be inaudible. Kimura masterfully accepted such a challenge, and the result was a unique piece of experimental music that illustrated the concept Harrison terms “integrated proportionality.”

Overall, “Kaze (The Wind)” was an interesting multimedia performance that blended computer visuals and electronic violin music. µgic is still in development, but is set to be released commercially to the world at an affordable price in the near future. “Harmonic Constellations” was an adventure into experimental music, that challenged the listener to hear and think differently about the music they experience.