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Making The Pieces Fit

music KishiBashiViolinist and looping master Kishi Bashi to play Moe's Alley

It took the virtuosic violinist Kaoru Ishibashi—a man known for his work with indie-prog masters such as Of Montreal and Regina Spector—more than a year to get to the point where he was comfortable enough to play his solo material in front of an audience.

It wasn't writer's block, nor was it due to him being a perfectionist. To understand why it took so long before Ishibashi, who goes by the stage name Kishi Bashi, was ready to tour, one needs to simply look up his performances online. His NPR Tiny Desk Concert is a good start.

There, viewers will see Kishi Bashi sitting on a stool with an array of looping pedals at his feet and a road-worn violin tucked under his chin, creating loops of alternately plucked and bowed strings. Then he grabs a microphone, sampling a sung melody and laying down a thumping beat-box, which is just as quickly turned into a loop—and presto! Before the unacquainted listener even realizes what has happened, Ishibashi has constructed an entire backing track for himself to play songs such as "Bright Whites," which many will recognize from a Microsoft commercial, and the mournful, haunting "I am the Antichrist to You."

"I developed my set over a good year or so," he says. "It was kind of rough in the beginning, but I've gotten used to doing it. I'll always make mistakes (on stage) but it's the nature of the live show."

Born to college professor parents, Ishibashi was raised on a steady and varied diet of music in his Norfolk, Va. home. "I'm very blessed to have easy-going parents, who love music," the 37-year-old musician says, remembering how as a child he was exposed to pop and world music—"from The Beatles, to Tunisian music, to (new age Japanese musician) Kitaro, and my father loves (Japanese folk genre) Enka."

This disparate assortment of influences is apparent in Kishi Bashi's sound—in as much as his songs are wild collages of the aforementioned violin samples, crooning, yelping, and vocal "booms" and "baps." All of these sounds are frequently run through FX processors to the point that they appear more like keyboard tones than anything produced by a human voice or stringed instrument.

It also shouldn't surprise fans of the eager experimentalists Of Montreal and Spector, that Ishibashi might gravitate toward such brightly colored, kaleidoscopic pop sounds. Another possible comparison can be drawn between Ishibashi and the Brooklyn pop-tinkerers Dirty Projectors. Like that band's frontman, David Longstreth, Ishibashi is steeped in formal music knowledge. He was trained classically and dedicated a near decade to jazz violin.

In the same vein as the Projectors, Kishi Bashi finds beauty in the ragged, the roughly hewn, and the puzzle pieces that have been forced to fit in a place where they weren't meant to go. And it works.

In fact, this illustration of Ishibashi's work is more than just a metaphor. Explaining why he beat-boxes, instead of simply using a drum machine, Ishibashi says one day he simply had to make due with his own vocal percussion, and it stuck.

"I used to use a drum machine until one day it didn't show up at the airport and I was forced to use (my voice) out of necessity," he shrugs. "I like the simplicity of just the voice and violin idea too."

Although Kishi Bashi can work as a one-man show, Ishibashi says he is excited to be on tour with two additional musicians—Mike Savino from Tall Tall Trees and Elizabeth Ziman from Elizabeth and the Catapult—on his current tour, which is making a stop at Moe's Alley on Feb. 27. 


Kishi Bashi will perform at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27 at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $9/adv, $12/door. For more information, call 479-1854. Photo: Shervin Lainez

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