Part 1

Name: Pauline Kim Harris
Occupation: Violinist
Nationality: American
Current release: Pauline Kim Harris releases her new album Wild At Heart on Sono Luminus on October 22nd 2021. The program includes four "reincarnations" of J.S. Bach’s legendary Chaconne by Yoon-Ji Lee, Elizabeth Hoffman, Annie Gosfield and John King.
Recommendations: Arcana X: musicians on music; Fragments from a nature cult, 2087 C.E., 2019 by Inka Essenhigh

If you enjoyed this interview with Pauline Kim Harris and would like to know more about her work, visit her official homepage. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.

When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I started with piano at the age of 4 and began violin lessons soon after.

I was brought up going to church on Sundays and hearing my mom who was a soprano soloist sing on many special occasions. Her singing often moved the congregation to tears. It may be when I became aware of how music can communicate and connect people. That intimacy and shared experience of something so powerful may have drawn me to performing.

For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?

I was lucky to have had exposure and guidance to good training with some of the top instructors in the field. Looking back, one might say that I was never quite settled in one place for very long. I suppose this might have been disruptive in a sense to a more traditional career path as I was always searching for something. One could say, that I am still. This longing could attribute to much of my journeys as an artist.

A continuous sense of discovery, inspiration and enlightenment are essential to grow and create in finding your own voice. It’s equally important to develop and upkeep the necessary skill sets to accomplish the things that you want to achieve as well.

More often than not, most things don’t always pan out in the way you want it to and could feel like one failure after the next. So, the challenging part is to keep on believing in the things that motivate your creativity. Surrounding myself with artists that share a similar, positive energy has been important to me.

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?

Knowing who you are is one thing. But, to see yourself is yet another. I think it’s common to think you are the things that people say that you are. It’s necessary to resist the force that then makes you become that person.

Looking at oneself takes a lot of courage. And, it is really important to like that person that you see. It takes work. What happens though, is your identity truly becomes your own. When that energy can be channeled into things that are important to you, it becomes a very powerful source of creativity.

What were some of your main challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?

Feeling the need to be accepted and recognized is still challenging. I never quite fit in anywhere. But, over the years, I’ve tried to embrace that and continue to focus on something other than being understood.

What reveals over time is the work that was produced and the contribution made to our time in history. Everything we do has a part in the make up of the cosmos. And, our creativity serves the purpose in delivering information across time.

How that is represented shouldn’t be why we create art. But, the mere making of the art is the testament.

As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first instrument?

I’ve been focusing lately on performing electro-acoustic music. This plays an integral voice in my composing music that is purely for acoustic instruments.

My background is rooted in classical music. But, I have had the great fortune of collaborating across all genres and disciplines. This not only expanded my experience with music, but allowed for an openness to experimentation and invention.

Improvisation is also something I cherish as a tool for expression. I am infinitely intrigued by the beautiful properties of acoustic instruments and all the things they are capable of. That with the integration of new technologies open up a whole world of possibilities which is very exciting.

However, my passion still evolves around the origins of the acoustic sound. But, am tickled when my composition is described as sounding “electric.”

Tell me about your instrument, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results, including your own performance?

I have had the violin that I still play on since I was 10 or 11 years old. It’s very special because it was the first and essentially only full-sized instrument I have owned. Not sure why, but I call it Max, short for Maximillion. It’s an old Italian violin and I actually recorded both albums from Chaconne Project with it. I take special care of it, especially while traveling.

An instrument is important for many reasons. You want to be able to play it with ease and it is essentially the sound which you are associated with. Whether in a concert hall, a club hooked up to a microphone or in a recording studio, I’ve really grown to love my violin more and more over the years — even after getting to play on Strads. I always feels lucky to have Max!

How would you describe your approach to interpretation? Where do you start and how do you develop your view on a piece, what are some of your principles and what constitutes a successful interpretation for you?

As a performer, knowledge, experience and intuition play important roles in interpretation. I try to read up on the music I’m playing to understand the stylistic background and practices.

When tackling a brand new score, I’ll try to get a sense of the entire piece before deconstructing it into smaller sections. I typically will take note of the particularly difficult passages and really shred them so that I’m not “reading” it off the page anymore. Then, I’ll start putting the different sections together with goals of being able to play through them with accuracy at least three times in a row. At the same time, I will be listening for sound, articulation and intonation.

By performance time, the score is there only for navigation purposes. All of this work is so that you can have fun on stage making music!

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives?

Collaborations are so much a part of my process and inspiration in the work that I do. In most cases, it is serendipitous in how projects develop into a collaboration. You often create with artists that you cross paths with at some point or another. However, some of my favorite projects were collaborations with artists that I didn’t know beforehand.

For instance, Congregation of Drones is a new electro-acoustic project with electronic musician, Jesse Stiles who I was introduced to by Dancer / Choreographer Dylan Crossman. We really hit it off and just continued to create together. Other close collaborators like Drummer of Deerhoof Greg Saunier and Drummer/Composer Jessie Cox, are both who I met through my violin duo String Noise. And most recently, as the Music Director of Bill T. Jones Arnie Dance Company, I was connected to Vocalist/Composer Holland Andrews who I collaborated with in the making of Afterwardsness for Park Avenue Armory.

In all of the above instances, creating something with another artist crushed all expectations above and beyond. And, I feel helped me grow as an artist.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule?

Other than my first cup of coffee when I wake up, I can’t say I have much of a routine. Ideally, mornings would be reserved for me to meditate, exercise, compose and practice; afternoons for rehearsals; evenings for performances. But, most of the time, days get swallowed up by endless emailing. It is challenging to maintain such routines in every day life which is why residencies are so great.

How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

Music is very much life in all the ways. I don’t feel a need to separate them. In fact, during the pandemic, I realized how integral music really was in every way in my life. It wasn’t just the performing part. But, everything about it: Playing, performing, recording, rehearsing, composing, collaborating, producing, curating, going to concerts and shows … all of it! I really can’t live without it.

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