VC INTERVIEW | Violinist Pauline Kim Harris Discusses Her Intriguing Chaconne Project
Pauline Kim Harris will perform pieces from the project during two concerts on Thursday, November 4, 2021, at New York's Arts on Site at the launch of her new Chaconne Project "Wild at Heart" CD
Following her 2019 album "Heroine," in the series, Pauline recently released the second album of her Chaconne Project trilogy, entitled "Wild at Heart" — a continuation of collections of contemporary Chaconnes that echo reincarnations of Bach’s iconic work.
The Violin Channel recently sat down with the New York-based Grammy-nominated violinist and composer to learn more about the unique project, which takes Bach's Chaconne and transforms it through a multitude of composers' intimate interpretations.
Tell us about your Chaconne Project?
Chaconne Project is a process of personal spiritual awakening through the Bach Chaconne — an iconic work that has been described as being like a “secret message in a bottle” from Bach to God. It really began in 2012 when I turned to the Bach Chaconne for solace during a very difficult time in my life. I played it nearly every day for a while. It would transport me into another world — a place where all the things I was feeling could be released freely. A desire to share this experience came over me and I think is what ultimately inspired me to create Chaconne Project.
You’ve lived intimately with the Chaconne for many years now. Did you always envision the scope of the project to be so protracted over three discs, multiple concerts, and so many years?
Over time, Chaconne Project has unfolded into somewhat of a timeless journey. As in life, there were many unexpected twists and turns that essentially became the essence of what embodies the work. In developing the concept, I quickly discovered that it was really only the tip of the iceberg. And, so it is no surprise that it is so many years in the making. The scope actually goes beyond the three aforementioned albums and concerts. What transpired through the various collaborations is sort of a dream project that is not only concurrent with the times we live in, but also connecting to the past and looking toward a future.
You’ve said previously this was heavily inspired by the near-death experience of one of your friends. Can you tell us how this incident initiated the project?
I was attending a concert by Anaïs Maviel (one of the commissioned composers for the next album) when she started off by saying that “music is rooted in the spirit.” It was at that moment, that I realized what the Chaconne Project was really about — the spirit. Through music, a deeper understanding of oneself can be revealed. A work like the Chaconne demands both performer and listener to engage with all your heart, body, and soul. Encountering one’s mortality exposes us to human fragility — an irreversible transition. I found that the Chaconne brought to life three essential elements that feed our soul: peace, gratitude, and optimism. This draws us to become part of the collective force that we inhabit known as the cosmos.
What is the sweeping message you are conveying to listeners through the different reincarnations of this iconic work?
In response to the Bach Chaconne, all of these contemporary chaconnes echo reincarnations of Bach’s iconic work through the unique voices of the individual composers. In Ambient Chaconne, one can experience the fantasy of “freezing time” where we play around with the concept that by stretching and layering a familiar piece of music into an open space, the sense of passing time can be altered into an infinite unknown. Part of understanding time relates to what we know comes next — the expectations or outcomes of what follows is what allows us to dream of a future which is yet to be defined.
If this global pandemic of 2020 has made anything more clear, it is that we are all connected. By simply remembering something that is not physically here on earth anymore, it is “kept alive.” By performing the original work, it connects us to the past, keeping Bach present. And, by creating new works inspired by the Chaconne, my hope is that it will facilitate a dream for a future through reproductions of the past in new lifeforms.
Tell us about some of the composers you have collaborated with so far? Who we may expect to see as part of the project in the future?
My first album "Heroine" sets the stage, so to speak. It was co-composed with sound artist, Spencer Topel, who I met at a concert in NYC. We began to collaborate soon after which led to my recording of "Violine" (yet to be released) — his fragmentation of the Chaconne for Violin and Live Processed Electronics. Currently, we are further developing a REMIX of Ambient Chaconne to include choreography by dancer/actor Matilda Sakamoto and projections by Sofy Yuditskaya using original content by various video artists made especially for Chaconne Project. In this REMIX, we improvise, adding textures to the original score with live processing of the violin and by playing a new acoustic synthesizer called “The Cicada” by Physical Synthesis. Composers Yoon-Ji Lee, Elizabeth Hoffman, Annie Gosfield, and John King on Wild At Heart (the new album in the series) are close friends and collaborators to whom I owe much gratitude in embarking on this journey with me.
In between this album and the third on Sono Luminus, is an album I will be releasing in June 2022 under the moniker “Congregation of Drones” with electronic musician, Jesse Stiles. Here the musical vocabulary from Chaconne Project manifests itself in a very different way. We created a process that sits between composition and improvisation — using electronics to explore large scale time structures that are folded upon one another to create complex compositional figures. This process is one of thoughtful preparation, listening and careful reflection — exercises which Chaconne Project have situated me nicely. Finally, Chaconne Project will continue to thrive with a new work I am composing along with commissions by Jessie Cox (African-Swiss), Ramin Heydarbeygi (Iranian), Anaïs Maviel (Haitian-French), and Carlos Quebrada (Colombian) for a future release on Sono Luminus. This album will introduce the expansion of the Chaconne. In addition to Mr. Heydarbeygi, whose music I have admired and performed for many a decade, these new works represent another perspective by some of my dearest fellow composers/improvisers/performers.
C-H-A-C-O-N-N-E by John King
What are the commonalities you have experienced between all the different re-interpretations?
Passion, humility, and transformation.
How important is Bach in your life?
Bach is fundamental — one that not only inspires, but grounds me as an artist. Time and again, I’ve turned to Bach for reset and renewal. I find that there is always something new to discover in his works. It, in return, not only brings one solace, but hope and courage to continue doing what we do as artists — and to strive for humanity.
How has this project helped you personally with your healing process?
Bach has a way of bringing you back to the basics. During the height of the pandemic, like many, I found it difficult to process meaning and purpose. In retrospect, I am glad that the release of "Wild At Heart" was pushed back to now. Healing is a process that takes time. Through the various stages of Chaconne Project, I’ve learned to accept this process. It takes a lot of trust and patience.
What are you hoping your live and recorded listeners will take away with them from the experience?
I look forward to connecting with my listeners throughout this journey and hope that along the way, we can strengthen our spiritual understanding to bring forth positive energies to humanity through these shared experiences.