Chicago Philharmonic presents acclaimed guest artist Kishi Bashi on April 15, 2023 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance for a multimedia performance of Kishi Bashi’s Improvisations on EO9066.
Kishi Bashi is the pseudonym of singer, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter Kaoru Ishibashi. Born in Seattle, Washington, Ishibashi grew up in Norfolk, Virginia where both of his parents were professors at Old Dominion University. As a 1994 graduate of Matthew Fontaine Maury High School, he went on to study film scoring at Berklee College of Music before becoming a renowned violinist. Ishibashi has recorded and toured internationally as a violinist with diverse artists such as Regina Spektor, Sondre Lerche, and most recently, the Athens, Georgia-based indie rock band, of Montreal.
Kishi Bashi is also the singer and founding member of the New York electronic rock outfit, Jupiter One. In 2011, he started to record and perform as a solo artist. He composes on violin, sings and writes songs blending Japanese and English. His performances include guitar, keyboard, vocal looping, and beatboxing. His latest album, 2019’s Omoiyari, seeks to reckon with America’s use of internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II. “I didn’t want this project to be about history,” Bashi says, “but rather the importance of history, and the lessons we can learn.”
Origins of Improvisations on EO9066
“…the good thing about history is the more I study it, I see that humanity is actually progressing towards a more compassionate, empathetic state. I see my daughter, and her classmates. I see them as a kind of hope for a new generation, that we are headed in the right direction.”
⸺ Kishi Bashi in an interview with NPR
In 2017, Kishi Bashi pushed the limits of storytelling by blending live symphony, song, and film with his work, Improvisations on EO9066. This project shines a light on the dark period of Japanese-American internment during World War II under the Executive Order 9066. Improvisations is divided into six movements or “chapters,” and is performed alongside projected imagery that includes footage of Kishi Bashi improvising melodies in historical sites of Japanese internment camps. This immersive, multimedia experience with Kishi Bashi and the full Chicago Philharmonic features photography by Dorothea Lange, depicting Japanese-American families before and during their removal and the Pearl Harbor attack.
Premiering with the Nu Deco Ensemble in 2017, Improvisations on EO9066 was devised from a research trip Kishi Bashi took with fellow musician and doctoral student, Julian Saporiti. The two traveled together to internment camp sites across the United States.
“These travels…set the stage for Kishi Bashi’s remarkable transformation from, as he says, ‘a self-serving artist’ to a musician who has turned his bow, his voice, and his pen to exploring complex and largely forgotten histories which are unsettlingly reverberant today.” ⸺Julian Saporiti
Ultimately, this powerful piece stands as a testament to the resilience and creative expression of the human spirit and has shaped Kishi Bashi’s personal role as a musician forever. Critics have hailed the piece as “an uplifting documentary about a musician, but also about sympathy, compassion, and basic humanity” (Screen Zealots) and “a celebration of the diversity of America” (AU Review).
Also featured in the April 15 concert is the World Premiere of Skepticism for Saviors and Scrutiny for Saints by Donna Milanovich Composer in Residence Dr. Marcus Norris. Norris has recently orchestrated for the likes of Beyoncé, Chloe x Halle, and Will Liverman. He also recently made his film score debut at Sundance Film Festival with Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul.
For tickets to Improvisations on EO9066, click here.
Kishi Bashi’s Beginnings: A Breakout Indie Solo Career
Kishi Bashi launched his solo career in 2012 with the release of his ethereal first album, 151a. This title is a riff on the Japanese phrase “ichi-go ichi-e,” roughly translating to “one time, one place.” That’s exactly what the debut was: A singular time, an inimitable place, a launchpad for bigger and better things to come. NPR All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen listed Kishi Bashi as his favorite new artist of 2012 noting that he created “a radiant, uplifting soundscape” with songs such as Bright Whites. It’s also worth noting that the album’s emotional wellspring, I Am The Antichrist To You was reimagined in 2021 when it was featured on the animated sci-fi sitcom Rick and Morty, introducing Kishi Bashi to a new generation of awestruck fans.
“The album is a roadmap through a menagerie of hope, risk, doubt, love, and loss… It’s no wonder why it received mass critical acclaim back then and even now.” ⸺Justin Ricafort on 151a, From the Intercom
Exclusively produced and performed by Kishi Bashi, 151a was a showcase of exceptional talent and drive that didn’t go unnoticed by colleagues or fans. This sincere debut not only began Kishi Bashi’s solo career but also made him one of the most in-demand violinists in indie music. He was no longer relegated to side stage as a collaborator of Regina Spektor, Sondre Lerche, of Montreal, and more—the Kishi Bashi name could endure with its own merit.
*This article was updated on February 28, 2023 to include more accurate information on the translation of “ichi-go ichi-e”.