Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Playfully Rapturous Duo Performance by Bora Yoon and Florent Ghys

While enigmatic, surrealistic multi-instrumentalist and singer Bora Yoon is known for her eclectic improvisations, it’s obvious that she puts a great deal of thought into how she stages them. It could be said that she personifies Stravinsky’s old comment about composition simply being improvisation written down. So the funniest moment at her duo performance last week at Greenwich House Music School in the West Village with bassist Florent Ghys might well have been scripted. But maybe it wasn’t. Midway through an atmospheric, magically otherworldly number, Ghys – who had been supplying wispy atmospherics – playfully took a couple of steps over to Yoon’s mixing board and fiddled with it. If this was a joke, she took it in stride. If it wasn’t, she deserves an Oscar for her split-second “Don’t. You. Dare. Do. That. Again.” glance in Ghys’ direction. It’s the kind of moment you can expect at the venue’s currently weekly Uncharted festival of avant garde sounds. The installment this Thursday, May 5 at 7:30 PM features deviously fun cabaret/chamber pop chanteuse Grace McLean singing selections from her forthcoming Hildegard Von Bingen opera In the Green. $15 cover includes open bar – which last week amounted to a couple of beers before the show, although McLean draws a boisterous young crowd who might indulge more than they did at the raptly ethereal performance by Yoon and Ghys.

The bassist had the good sense to leave centerstage to his counterpart. His signature trope is loopmusic, a very difficult act to pull off live. Ghys displayed great timing and a perfect memory, deftly layering his usual blend of atmospheric washes and balletesque pulse, employing lots of effects and extended technique. Yoon debuted a lot of new material, spicing it with a couple of ethereal, celestial Hildegard choral works from her magical 2015 album Sunken Cathedral. Methodically and mysteriously, she moved from violin, to Stroh violin, piano, and eventually her eerily keening collection of singing bowls, which she used to recreate the haunting microtonal ambience of an earlier work from about fifteen years ago.

What was most striking was how much fun Yoon was having. While much of her material has a puckish sense of humor, her larger-scale, site-specific performances tend to be heavy on the gravitas. Empowerment, and an uneasy relationship with the more traditional aspects of her roots as a Korean-American woman artist, are recurrent themes in her work. Left to her instruments and mixer in a relatively unfamiliar space, without working its nooks and crannies to max out the reverb and resonance and decay, she concentrated on tunes, tersely and somewhat minimalistically, rising to a final cathedral-like coda She’d finally brought the mighty edifice above the surface.

May 3, 2016 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bora Yoon Holds the Crowd Spellbound at La MaMa

Bora Yoon is a connoisseur of high, ringing sounds, and the things that make them. Wednesday night at La MaMa, in the first of a four-day run of her new program Sunken Cathedral, she employed her signature instrument, singing bowls, in addition to rattles, chimes, a music box, pizzicato violin and several items typically found on the stove or in the cupboard. She also played piano, tersely and evocatively, in a thoroughly opiated Erik Satie-meets-Cab Calloway vein, acting out a surrealistic, shadowy, existential one-woman play of sorts against a shapeshifting prerecorded backdrop incorporating both electronic atmospherics and snatches of material from her enveloping, enigmatic new album from which the production takes its name.

Onstage, the exit and re-entry point was the grandfather clock in the corner, giving Yoon the chance to change costumes – and also allow for flitting appearances by a male dancer dressed in traditional Korean garb, complete with twirling tassel atop his colorful cap. Yoon bookended the performance with pre-renaissance vocal works augmented by atmospherics: she has a crystalline chorister’s voice and held the sold-out crowd rapt along with her. In between, she took brief detours into brooding art-rock, lengthy, nebulous vocalese sculptures and a couple of horror-film interludes complete with scary shadow puppetry and projections. Early on, she got an almost imperceptible doppler effect going with what looked like a crystal on a spinning turntable, a more subtle take on an old Andrew Bird shtick.

The theme of the album – recently reviewed here – and the show are something along the lines of “if you don’t make your life happen, it’ll happen to you.” Despite the pretty relentlessly moody ambience, what was most striking was how absolutely hilarious Yoon can be. A couple of momentary appearances by Yoon’s mom speaking animated Koreanglish into her voicemail drew predictable chuckles. But the funniest sequence involved a countertop, an oven and the things around it. The sight gags were priceless, and it wouldn’t be fair to spoil them – suffice it to say that Yoon is hardly the first person to peel and then munch on a carrot while singing, but she didn’t let it throw her off, pitchwise or otherwise, no small achievement. The rest of the La MaMa run, continuing through tomorrow night as part of this year’s Prototype Festival, is sold out, but there is a wait list and several people on that list made it into Wednesday’s show.

January 16, 2015 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, drama, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bora Yoon Brings Her Magically Enveloping Sonics to the Prototype Festival

Bora Yoon‘s music is ethereal yet deeply resonant. The Korean-American composer-performer’s first love was choral music, but her work also encompasses ambient soundscapes and tinges of pan-Asian folk themes. She has a penchant for site-specific works and a track record for artful manipulation of sonically diverse spaces: McCarren Pool, the Park Avenue Armory and city rooftops among them. While her signature sound is rapt and otherworldly, she spices that with a quirky, charming sense of humor. She’ll be airing out pieces from her latest album Sunken Cathedral – streaming at Spotify – throughout a four-night stand from Jan 14 through 17 at 7:30 PM (with a 10 PM show on Jan 15 and a 2 PM show on the 17th in addition) at LaMama, 74A E 4th St. at the ground floor theatre there as part of this year’s Prototype Festival. Tix are $25.

Knowing Yoon’s music for what it is, it’s hard to tell how much of the album is looped and processed and how much of it is organic, though to Yoon’s credit, it seems to be almost completely the latter: her electronic touches are deft and subtle. She opens it with her own arrangement of a Hildegard von Bingen antiphon, her crystalline voice rising over subtly shifting organ drones and dizzyingly hypnotic counterrythms. And then, out of nowhere, birdsong! It sets the stage for pretty much everything else to come.

Clamoring churchbells give way to ethereally ringing singing bowls and stately long-tone vocalese throughout Father Time, the second track. She follows that with the somber, achingly crescendoing piano ballad Finite Infinity. She radically reinvents the renaissance standard In Paradisum as an echoey tone poem, moving up from a tense more-or-less solo intro with a dog barking in the background, to a duet of sorts with four-piece choir New York Polyphony. After that, there’s a pricelessly funny, hynotically dancing vocalese-and-percussion piece featuring Yoon’s irrepressible mom via voicemail.

More churchbells, waterside sounds and windy ambience mingle with Yoon’s vocals, taking the medieval plainchant of O Pastor Animarum into the here and now. She does much the same with Speratus, interpolating a lively loop by chamber ensemble Sympho. Then she shifts gears with the increasingly agitated Little Box of Horrors, a spoken-word-and-loops piece.

Weights & Balances adds noir cabaret-tinged piano beneath Yoon’s New York angst-fueled existentialist contemplation of posterity and self-doubt: “Fate is what happens to you when you do absolutely nothing,” she asserts, seemingly as much a message to herself as to the world. The closest thing to traditional renaissance polyphony here is Semaphore Conductus, the choir’s precise sonics peppered with blippy percussive bits a la Radiohead.

In New American Theatre, Sekou Sundiata narrates his understatedly corrosive portrait of our post-9/11 New York surveillance state over sarcastically dreamy loops. The album winds up with the very subtly mutating, mesmerizingly circular Doppler Dreams. It’ll be interesting to see how much sonic magic Yoon can coax out of the dry black-box theatre space at LaMama: this may call for more of the onstage theatrics that she typically incorporates into her show.

January 8, 2015 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment