I’ve been discovering a lot more musicians using string instruments to make music. This music goes beyond the expected classical genres and have been exploring and composing music inside other genres. Big Violin Player is a perfect example of this.
Her use of cello as the foundation and composing jazz and funk styles is amazing. As she continues to build her discography, this is the perfect time to get inside her head and find out how she started with cello and where she sees her career heading.
Can you introduce yourself?
Hello, I’m a cellist Big Violin Player (Lisa Yihwan Lim). I compose and play various music genres, such as contemporary music, jazz, and funk. These days, I am working on a project that reinterprets traditional Korean folk songs with my cello.
How did you get started with cello and music in general?
I started playing classical music when I was five. Guess I took a step like Korean classical musicians: entrance exams, competitions, conclaves, repetitive practice… Suddenly, I’ve started to wonder about what kind of music I want to perform.
I realized it should be full of freedom, excitement style that is out of the box – out of sheet music. And I wanted to write one too, not just playing it. So I tried to reduce the gap between the music I make and the music I like. And here I am.
Most people would relate cello to classical music, but you’re using the instrument within jazz and funk genres. How did these ideas come to fruition on Big!?
Cello has strong images of tradition and classical music. When I call myself a cellist, it’s easy to conclude that I play specific music genres. However, the cello’s sound spectrum is vast. For example, it has a low-pitched range like a bass, a high-pitched range like a violin. Cello can play sad music or exciting one. I wanted to show the possibility of the cello. To make people say, “Can a cello do this for real?!”
So I’m trying to make strong and funky music that keeps the cello’s original sound, which is hard to find here in Korea.
Some of the tracks on Big! are inspired by memories like “Barcelona Saints” and “Way Home.” How did you create these tracks to accurately create these experiences through audio?
I tend to get inspired by places. The feeling coming from a unique place lingers in my mind for a long time, even when I returned to my daily space. I grab my cello and recall the feeling from that moment. I bring out the melody, harmony, or rhythm from there. This is how I record intense and special memories – by writing music.
“Nokdu Flower Loop” is a solo track with looped samples. How difficult was it to compose a track that was all built on one instrument?
In fact, all my songs are started from live looping. This experience gives me a completely different feeling when I start making a song only with MIDI. It feels like the whole process is just for the cello.
It sounds complicated, but it’s not. This is my usual songwriting method: tapping the cello to make grooves, building harmonies, making melodies on top of them. To me, it’s the most familiar and easy way.
Cello is the centerpiece to every song, but every instrument plays a role rather than just filling space. Was it difficult to balance the impact of instrumentation on the songs?
I start sketching with a single cello: play bass sound with it, tap it like a drum, and pull-off strings to make chords. After combining these layers of various sounds, I start to think of how other instruments can fill this music. It’s delightful to have such ideas.
I always have meetups with performers before recording sessions. After sharing them with a demo made of cello and simple MIDI instruments, we have a deep conversation about how my intentions are conveyed or how to share my thoughts without any misunderstanding. When performers reinterpret my stories, I put their messages together to give a story to the song.
Even though my music has no lyrics, I want it sounds like filled with words. Because we’re expressing narrative in our own way! It’s a hard job but fun to deliver instrumental music stories that do not have any lyrics.
Are there any inspirations or musicians that helped form your distinct style?
Any musicians that you’d like to collaborate with?
There’s a movie director, not a musician! I want to work with Christopher Nolan. Hahahahaha SOMEDAY!
What is the biggest challenge you have now as a musician? Is it the inability to perform live?
Yes, that’s right. I lost many live performance opportunities due to COVID-19. Although those performances are being replaced by online concerts right now. But online experiences are incomparable to those I play in front of audiences. I hope we can get our daily lives back as soon as possible.
Anything to say to readers?
Thanks for just being you all. We are all just great and beautiful. Mucho Love!