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Wednesday, March 14,2012

Take a bow

Violinist makes his own 'transitional journey'

by Rich Tupica
After playing conventional classical violin for 25 years, David “Dixon” Hammond suddenly had a life-altering revelation about music: Abandon all the rules and burn the sheet music. 

The Lansing native, who now performs under the moniker Dixon’s Violin, attended the Burning Man Festival in a Nevada desert back in 2005. It proved to be a liberating vacation. 

He now plays, what he calls, “a transformational journey through digital violin.” It’s a field that relies heavily on improvisation, digital-effects processors and looping pedals, creating an experimental blend of classical, even some rock tones. On Thursday, he brings his ingenuity to the Creole Gallery.

“It was the first time I saw a completely different way of living,” Hammond recalled of his first trip to the  Burning Man Festival.

“People were being very creative, following their hearts, creating art and doing things that were outside of the norm. Nothing fits in a box there, everything is different. Not that you need to do it that way, but realizing you can actually create your life the way you want it is huge.”

Since he ditched the rulebook, Hammond, now 42 and living in Dearborn, has opened his mind to spiritual influences, along with a few contemporary ones. He’s even performed live at the Burning Man festival.

“Musically. it’s a combination of classical and modern influences; everything from Pink Floyd to Radiohead,” he said. “But more than that, it’s about following the moment and feeling the vibe, there’s some influence from yoga and meditation. 

“And there’s a visual aspect to it as well,” he added. “At the Creole Gallery, there will be a whole computer light show that will react to the sound in real time.” 

Hammond, who has a graduate degree in computer science from Michigan State University, is now able to pursue music full time, spending ample time touring across the United States. It’s quite an accomplishment for a man who possibly invented a new genre on his violin.

“It’s very experiential, and I’ve absolutely thought, ‘You know what? I’m not going to fit into any boxes; this doesn’t fit under any genre. I’m going to do my own thing.’” 

Hammond’s avant-garde playing extends beyond effects. In the world of Dixon’s Violin, a bow is not necessarily needed to make passionate music.  

“There’s plucking, I’ll smack the bow, maybe even take the violin off my chin and put it on my knee; I’ll play the wrong parts of the strings,” Hammond explained of his techniques.

“I also use the effects pedals to get it to sound like another instrument. It’ll sound like a bass, it’ll sound like an electric guitar, or it could sound like a siren. It’s really about what is the mood trying to evoke and how to get that sound out.”

While Hammond, who began playing violin at age 10, may have a rough blueprint in his head before he walks on stage, he said he’s always willing to go off course. A far cry from his years spent starring at sheet music. 

“I have some ideas but if in the middle of it I say to myself, ‘Well, the spirit’s telling me to go in a completely different direction’ then I’m open to changing that plan,” he said. “I also use words (in between the songs) quite a bit, just as guidance. I want to guide people through a journey. 

“It’s not, ‘I thought of this song because my girlfriend dumped me’ – there’s none of that,” he added. “It’s more of, ‘Here’s some imagery for you, here’s something to think about as I’m playing this next song.’ I’ve found words can be very powerful during a performance.”

Hammond has found his personalized music is touching music lovers and some musicians, too.  

“I’m very blessed. I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘After hearing you I decided to take up the violin again,’” he said.

“This mom sent me an e-mail and said her young daughter, who is just learning the violin, was at one point slapping the bow against the strings; she said to her mom, ‘It’s just like Dixon!’ I get a tickle out of that because I frequently will play the violin the way you’re not supposed to. I do break the rules quite often.” 

Dixon´s Violin

7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 15

Creole Gallery 

1218 Turner St., Lansing

$10

www.dixonsviolin.com

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