Revolutionizing Musicianship

Image: Profesor Mari Kimura and her MUGIC® device in action

Professor Mari Kimura and the Fusion of Music and Technology

By Chiara Guastella

A pioneer in revolutionizing the music field through incorporating technology in her violin playing, Professor Mari Kimura is a composer, business owner and much more. Kimura will take the stage for the third performance in the Music Faculty Artist Series on Friday, February 9, 2024, at Winifred Smith Hall. Kimura shared the importance of communicating through music, her impressive career as a violinist and researcher, and challenging the patterns of violin playing. 

Before moving to UCI, Kimura taught courses for the Interactive Computer Music Performance graduate program at The Juilliard School since 1998. In addition to her resume as an educator, Kimura has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Fromm Music Foundation Commission from Harvard, and she has had residencies through the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and at IRCAM – the French institute dedicated to the research of music and sound. She has also performed in over 25 countries worldwide, including Japan and Italy.

Kimura has opened up new opportunities for violin players all over the world through her research in interactive computer music, as well as the technique she calls ‘Subharmonics,’ which allows the violin player to play up to an octave below the lowest string without returning. 

Because of her affinity with combining music and technology, she decided to join UCI in 2017, teaching in the Department of Music’s Ph.D. program Integrated Composition, Improvisation, Technology, which Kimura said “perfectly aligns with the trajectory of my musical journey. The precise fit of this program was compelling enough for me to depart from New York City in 2017, my longtime residence.”

When Kimura was still a student at Juilliard, she began working with electronics, interweaving them with her musical education. In 2015, Kimura, in collaboration with media artist Dr. Liubo Borissov, developed the first MUGIC® prototype, a device that enables musicians to use their movements to control sounds and effects, generate visuals and more. 

In 2020, after working on her new and updated MUGIC® prototype at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) in collaboration with UCI, Kimura debuted her MUGIC® motion sensor commercially. Kimura’s research and musical development work allowed her to receive a nomination for the 2022 Innovator of the Year, presented by the Orange County Business Journal (OCBJ), and a Certificate of Recognition from both the US House of Representatives and the California State Assembly.

Kimura spoke on her MUGIC® motion sensor and how it is revolutionizing the music field, with more and more classical artists resorting to technology to augment their musicianship – “My musical journey was more about taking one step at a time, placing one foot in front of the other. I maintained an open mind, perhaps even more open than usual, not imposing limits on what I could or couldn’t do. Throughout history, artists have utilized whatever tools were available to create art.”

In addition to being a solo violinist, Kimura is also a composer. She anticipated that we would see some of her compositions during her performance. Her compositions “Rossby Waving” and “Pensamiento” will feature her MUGIC® motion sensor, as well as an earlier piece, “Gemini for Subharmonics,” in which she will be “employing an exceptionally challenging technique played predominantly on a single string, G.”

Kimura will be accompanied by guest pianist Suejin Jung, with whom she has established a violin and piano duo, MIMA. With this concert, Kimura intends to send her audience on a journey through time. 

“I eagerly anticipate sharing the time created through my music and performance, spanning a little over one hour,” said Kimura. “My hope is that the audience will depart with a sense of fulfillment from having shared this time together. Our goal is to explore the intersection of arts, media, and technology while also contributing to the development of the younger generation through educational initiatives, competitions, and outreach programs. In this concert, Suejin will be performing my composition ‘Pensamiento’ for piano while utilizing the MUGIC® motion sensor.”

This year, Kimura celebrates her thirtieth year performing since her debut concert in New York City in 1994. She reflected on her successes and explored the most useful thing she’s learned since entering this prestigious world of music: “My solo recital debut in New York City, accompanied by a rave review in The New York Times, played a pivotal role in launching my career… Since then, I have consistently strived to strike a balance between personal happiness and career pursuits. This endeavor would be unattainable without the unwavering support of my life partner—my husband. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to share my life with him.” 

Kimura shared that when the pandemic hit, she decided to pursue an MBA at the Paul Merage School of Business here at UCI. Successively, she founded her own company, KIMARI, LLC. Kimura talked about the biggest lessons she’s learned about running her own business. “One crucial lesson I learned was the significance of networking and trust in fostering strong business relationships. I observed that academics transitioning into the business realm sometimes prioritize their research to the detriment of other crucial aspects, such as customer segmentation, value propositions, and the overall ‘gain and pain’ associated with the product.”

During a recent session with iCorps, a market discovery program at UCI Beall Applied Innovation, Kimura received valuable advice that resonated with her: “‘Mari, don’t hug your puppy to death!’ This metaphorical expression cautioned against being overly protective of my ideas and products, emphasizing the importance of openness and receptivity in the entrepreneurial journey.”

We are excited to see Mari Kimura and her boundless talent as she makes her inventions come to life on stage this Friday. The performance begins at 8 p.m. in the Winifred Smith Hall, and tickets are available through the CTSA Box Office.

2024 Music Faculty Artist Series events: 

Jan. 27, Music Faculty Artist Series: Hossein Omoumi: Innovations in Pedagogy and Instruments Design

Feb. 2, Music Faculty Artist Series: Yuliya Minina, piano

Feb. 9, Music Faculty Artist Series: Mari Kimura, violin

March 2, Music Faculty Artist Series: Lorna Griffitt, piano

April 5, Music Faculty Artist Series: Matt Hare, double bass

May 19, Music Faculty Artist Series: Dennis Kim, violin

Posted Date: 
Thursday, February 8, 2024