ListN Up: Bora Yoon (April 17, 2020)

ListN Up is a series of weekly artist-curated playlists. Born from a desire to keep artists sharing and connected during times of isolation, ListN Up is sponsored by American Composers Forum/innova Recordings, with new releases every Friday on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.

Korean-American composer, vocalist, and sound artist Bora Yoon conjures immersive musical soundscapes using digital devices, voice, found objects, and instruments from a variety of cultures and historical centuries—evoking memory and association, to formulate a sensory multimedia storytelling through music, gesture, sound, and place. She has been commissioned to write new works for Alarm Will Sound, So Percussion, Voices of Ascension, Young People’s Chorus of NYC, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Modern Medieval, the Sayaka Ladies Consort of Tokyo, HERE Arts and Beth Morrison Projects, presenting her opera Sunken Cathedral released in multi-media formats as a kinetic fine art object, a graphic album (on iPad), and as a staged opera at the PROTOTYPE Opera Theater Now festival.   Her music is published by Journal of Popular Noise, Boosey & Hawkes, and MIT Press; and received awards from New Music USA, the Asian American Arts Alliance, New Jersey State Council for the Arts, Sorel Music Foundation, and New York Foundation for the Arts.

Music’s greatest ability is the power to transport, to elevate, and to transmute all the things society normally would rather stuff away, sanitize, deodorize, or deny is there at all–like grief, anger, rage, struggle, fear, vulnerability, even the vulnerability to invite in love and beauty. But precisely the reason why I chose this invisible medium as my practice is because music and art are the ONLY mediums I have found that actually transform these difficult feelings into hope, into some semblance of light, into understanding that both extremes are both ends of a snake biting its tail. Here is a playlist consisting of tracks that lift me up, feed me, and inspire me in my darkest hour, as well as a few original works and joyous works from close, dear collaborators and musicians I admire, or have had the pleasure to work with that have helped me molt and live to see the other side, as now is a time to lift up our community and build the After together. Stay safe, and be well, and may this feed your soul, or bring some levity and light into your day. Xx Bora 

Duoon by Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto

From celestial harmonics to electronic resonance that is EQ’ed to the physiological senses, this album is one I return to time and again. I am astounded by how this electroacoustic album stands the test of time—considering how quickly electronic music usually dates itself. However, the spectral balance of this duo between German producer Carsten Nicolai (Alva Noto) and Japanese minimalist pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto strike the perfect balance. Be sure to wear headphones, or broadcast on audiophile quality speakers) that allows for space to think, skies to open, and a myriad of spaces to be found within.  

Proprioception Game by Bora Yoon, performed by Courtney Orlando + Bent Duo 

Times feel very slow now in quarantine. Sand is shifting under our feet, and it is hard to plan for the future with so much change on the horizon. “Proprioception,” by definition, is “the unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself.” Proprioception Game was devised as a chance operation piece, where the three performers become limbs of a collective body—where the only fixed gestures in the score are hammered piano figures about a third of the way in. Otherwise, the e-bows (magnetic resonators for electric guitars, used with pressure on the open piano strings) resonate a dyad of random harmonics, and the violinist makes sense of the chance harmony by responding with a line.  The percussion is like a lighting designer, providing light and shadow to the “found” phrases. This feels very akin to now, and was written to show off the unique and multi-faceted talents of violinist/vocalist Courtney Orlando (concertmaster of Alarm Will Sound) and new music maverick percussion duo, Bent Duo

Home of the Brave by Laurie Anderson

This gem, and national treasure, is incredulously up in its entirety on YouTube. Not only does it contain hits from her album Big Science, and bits of United States 1-4, it is a unique glimpse into her creative process, and larger meditation and multimedia work in conversation with her country and evolving ethos—just as we are, with our current times. I recently discovered that the entire version of Laurie Anderson’s “Home of the Brave” from 1986 was uploaded online while on an artist residency and in a period of needing to “feed” inspirationally, and was astounded by how utterly original and amazing it is, 24 years on. Not only is this still astonishingly original, but Anderson’s ability to zero in on a (technological, gestural, lingual) phenomenon and exploit it to its fullest to become poetic, symbolic, and narrative is a skill I admire greatly, and informs my practice. I later learned from Laurie that it was stitched together in post-production since there was no way this could have been executed onstage with transitions, but even still—this is a national treasure. Enjoy! 

the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart by Bora Yoon, performed by Courtney Orlando + Bent Duo

This is a new original song I composed to feature the incredible and multi-dimensional talents of Courtney Orlando for her forthcoming solo record on New Amsterdam Records (stay tuned!). It is a setting of a most heartwarming poem  and sacred text to her and her family by e.e. cummings—one of my favorite poets. I’m glad to share the songwriter side of my practice, as I am a songwriter at heart, with an entire past musical life as a folk singer-songwriter.

Shout Out by Sekou Sundiata

Shout out to the late Harlem-born citizen poet Sekou Sundiata—mentor, friend, colleague, trickster, and spiritual friend, even on the other side of life, which I believe to be proof of “spooky action at a distance.” From his Grammy-award winning album The Blue Oneness of Dreams, this poem speaks from a place like no other.  

data.matrix by Ryoji Ikeda

This hard-hitting track is by Japanese producer Ryoji Ikeda, whose musical language comprises sounds of data, glitchy sounds, and heavy solar-plexus resonating bass. Its purity is like no other, and this track in particular makes my kidneys gurgle (in the best way possible). If people ever wondered where Drum and Bass went, it morphed into the amazingness that is THIS.  

April 4th by Luke DuBois

Brilliant data artist, composer, programmer, and live visualist R. Luke DuBois has resurrected his 365 days of new music project—this time, with a series of modular synth works generated daily for your aural pleasure. He did a similar series with time-stretching Billboard chart-topping hits across the years about a decade ago, and continually manipulates time to illuminate new facets of what we believe we know. Check out the ongoing, and accruing series of modular works here.

Light Will Some Day Split You Open by Bora Yoon, performed and commissioned by Voices of Ascension (Dr. Dennis Keene, conductor) 

Light Will Some Day Split You Open is a choral and electronics work I wrote featuring the haunting poetry of 11th century mystic and Persian poet Hafiz. As an electroacoustic composer who is classically trained with a penchant for sound design and the associative language of sound, my aim was to bring together my love of choral music with the textural sensibility of spatial audio. The driving philosophy of my music is to innovate and break form–to create hybrid interdisciplinary amalgams of unexpected elements and genres in a type of sonic paradox. My aim was to honor the deeply spiritual ancient text of Hafiz while creating a transportive, celestial, subconscious space with the modern technology of processed breath, reverb, wind, for environment and atmosphere. Primarily, I do this through the meshing of sound and space, whether employing an actual acoustical/architectural space, a sonic cultural space, or evoking a sonic space that activates metaphor and memory in the mind. Amid this environment of sound design, I sought to fully exploit the full musical and dynamic range of the unaccompanied SATB choir–from the softest glow of an all-male choral sound (at the start and ending); the flourishing glory of the full choral sound (found in the three sonic blooms at the climax of the work); as well as the texture and sibilance of white sounds (phasing whispered text of ‘Lux’, Latin for ‘light’) to personify the pixels and sparkling points of infinite light imagery found in the poem (at the work’s start and end). Inspired by the axiom in physics that all matter and energy is never lost–simply transfigured into new forms–this work was visualized and inspired by images of the celestial formations and star clusters (as seen on the cover of the score)–bringing together the poetry of how within the Self, is also a portal and connection to the Divine.

Light will someday split you open
Even if your life is now a cage.
Little by little, You will turn into stars.
Little by little, You will turn into the whole sweet, amorous Universe. Love will surely burst you wide open into an unfettered, booming new galaxy.
You will become so free In a wonderful, secret and pure love that flows
From a conscious, One-pointed, Infinite Light.
Even then, my dear, The Beloved will have fulfilled
Just a fraction, Just a fraction!
Of a promise He wrote upon your heart.
For a divine seed, the crown of destiny,
Is hidden and sown on an ancient, fertile plain
you hold the title to.
O look again within yourself,
For I know you were once the elegant host
To all the marvels in creation.
When your soul begins
To ever bloom and laugh
And spin in Eternal Ecstasy-
O little by little, You will turn into God.

Lovefingers by Silver Apples

I recently discovered this band when I stumbled upon this amazing documentary from fellow experimental composer Sxip Shirey. I had always heard of Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples on the Moon,  a seminal modular synth work, but this namesake corollary was a lid-flipping discovery that strikes a balance of using post-war oscillators as actually integral parts of the music (not just weird Halloween sounding theremin filler here and there).    

Sk(etch) by Leah Reid

I first heard this astounding music concrete piece by UVA professor and electroacoustic composer Leah Reid as the finale of Virginia Tech’s 2019 CubeFest, a three-day festival featuring “The Cube,” a spatial audio research facility tricked out with a 124.4.1 surround-sound speaker array in a four-story blackbox theater space.  The narrative of this work is delightful, tactile, and textural.

Islas Resonantes by Eliane Radigue

An epic synthesis work by French electronic music composer and pioneer Eliane Radigue, created on the ARP 2500. Swoon. Pour a glass of wine and settle in to an exploration of deep listening, an aural journey encompassing of many, many worlds.  

Crucifixus by Antonio Lotti

In honor of the Easter season we are in, this lush beautiful choral motet is traditionally sung on Maundy Thursday, and is a gorgeous work of heart-aching harmony. My love of music began in choral music, and I’ve included this here as we traverse the 50 days of the Easter season, God’s finest example of creation/destruction dynamics, at its best—as we learn to make sense of these ashes, to rise. Performed by the Grammy-nominated Voices of Ascension (which I have been grateful to be a vocalist for over the last decade) directed by Dr. Dennis Keene, this work is presented in part of an ongoing series of daily choral moments, Voices of Connection.  

Casting Down The Middle by Jeff Snyder and Ellen Fullman, performed by the Princeton Laptop Orchestra and Ellen Fullman

I had the great pleasure of hosting the Guggenheim fellow, sonic sculptor, composer, and creator of the Long String Instrument (LSI) Ellen Fullman at Princeton University. In this 10-day residency, Princeton composers helped build this 50-foot long instrument and composed time-based works to premiere with Fullman and the LSI, tuned in Just Intonation. The title, Casting Down the Middle, comes from the name of one of the scales in ancient Hurrian music. Hurrian music notation, written in cuneiform, is the oldest mostly complete music notation that has ever been found–from around 1400BC in an area that is now part of Syria. Performed by Ellen Fullman on the Long String Instrument and PLOrk. Which leads me to invite you all to >>  PLOrk in Quarantine!  

On Monday, April 20th, PLOrk will stream a live, free concert on their YouTube channel at 8pm! Two pieces will be performed, both of which were designed for online collaborative performance. The first piece is by Jess Rowland (current Lewis Arts Center Fellow), and has the performers manipulating a Google Spreadsheet to collaboratively create a soundscape over the internet. The second piece, Interference, is by Matt Wang, PLOrk’s Assistant Director, and is built using a game engine for multiplayer collaboration. Listen in for some great bleeps and bloops made together over a distance.

Want More from Bora Yoon?

Learn more about her album Sunken Cathedral via innova Recordings.

Read Jennifer Stock’s review of the album on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.

Read Rebecca Lentjes’ review of Sunken Cathedral at PROTOTYPE Festival on I CARE IF YOU LISTEN.