By Björk Óskarsdóttir
Many attempts have been made to define Ma in the English language, in aspects of philology, philosophy, poetry and other arts. It is one of those words that are rather explained than translated, resulting from a lack of parallel words in other languages. In his 2001 book The Art of Looking Sideways, Alan Fletcher had these thoughts on the subject:
“Space is substance. Cézanne painted and modeled space. Giacometti sculpted by "taking the fat off space". Mallarmé conceived poems with absences as well as words. Ralph Richardson asserted that acting lay in pauses... Isaac Stern described music as "that little bit between each note - silences which give the form"... The Japanese have a word (ma) for this interval which gives shape to the whole. In the West, we have neither word nor term. A serious omission.”
In other words, the idea of Ma, along with a traditional Japanese instrument, sho, with its Aitaké chords (the standard chords of the sho) were Karsenti's inspiration for his album Aitaké Suite for Solo Violin. Violeta Barrena performs the solo violin part and is accompanied by various instruments. The music is built on the 15 traditional chords of the sho, each existing for the 15 pieces of bamboo in it [learn more about the sho].
Mathieu Karsenti has vast experience as a composer, and notably for film and television. His repertoire includes award-winning original soundtracks for the UK's largest channels and he has received both BAFTA and John Brabourne awards. Clearly, one to associate the music with imagined or real moving images, his works carry a very cinematic atmosphere in general. His previous work Cello Prayers for cello and synths as well as the EP Ichi also put string instruments in the driver´s seat and show the composer´s taste for mixing organic string sound with computerized accompaniment where one might expect an organic background. He creates an interesting atmosphere with his instrumentation and somewhat quirky.
Aitaké Suite For Solo Violin could possibly be the long lost Asian relative of the Assassination of Jesse James original soundtrack by Nick Cave. It is fairly soundtrack-like with a steady rhythm and a violin protagonist. It is easy to envision it accompanying an indie type of film. Barrena has a romantic, soulful sound and plays in crystal clear intonation, this is particularly enjoyable on the higher notes. In the second movement, In the Vastness of the City, she shows more freedom in the change of tone and different colours of sound. In general, the music seems quite strict on metronome, though –the protagonist walking with poised steps. The last movement, Back and Forth, is the one that seemingly plays the most into the idea of space between notes but apart from that, the music is surprisingly often dense with tone -making one reflect hard on the idea of ma.