Inside D.C. entertainment

Meet Yoko K., Strathmore's first electronic-music artist-in-residence

October 26, 2011 - 03:52 PM
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Yoko K.
Yoko K. (Photograph by Stephanie Potter Corwin)

As Yoko Kamitani introduced herself to Strathmore’s audience on an evening earlier this month, two men in the back of the room began playing the triangle and a rainmaker as they slowly made their way to the front to join her and a pianist.

The Japanese native who performs as Yoko K. and plays Strathmore again tonight, is one of the music center’s artists-in-residence this season.

It seemed like an odd fit at first; many people in the audience raised their hands when asked if this was their first electronic show.

Kamitani’s music is composed as it happens live. She loops, layers, and mixes her breathy voice with pre-recorded sounds as she plays. “Every song is a premiere,” she said after the show. “Because of the pre-recorded nature of the music, I feel compelled to do something different every time.”

At one point during the show, she walked around with an Akai MPD24, a box with huge buttons, pointing to different controls audience members could push and add to the song.

Six years ago, the classically trained musician turned toward the futuristic equipment and programs she now uses. After emigrating to California from Japan, by herself, when she was 19, she came to Washington in 2003 to study international affairs at George Washington University. Soon, she found herself drawn to voice training and has stayed here ever since. She’s collaborated with visual artists and dancers and has performed at the Corcoran, the Embassy of Denmark, and at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

She auditioned for the residency at the suggestion of her friends and nearly missed the submission deadline. Strathmore had before never had an electronic artist.

“I think Strathmore saw I could be the bridge between the future,” she says, where music might be going and tradition, with the type of music they normally host such as classical and jazz.”

“I think I find it more challenging but really rewarding when I play for an audience that has never heard this type of music before,” she says. “In my romantic view, I believe if music is really good, no matter the genre, it can appeal to anyone. I want to show something has a hint of universality.”

As an example of her disinterest in traditional genres, at one point during the performance, Kamitani produced a pink ukelele and sang a love song in French.

Yoko K. performs at the Strathmore Mansion again tonight at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12.

Her latest album,
Heaven’s Library, is available for purchase on Bandcamp.com. Spotify users can also check both of her albums out.

"spir" - May 7, 2011 from Yoko K. on Vimeo.

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