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

The NYFA Collection – Best Album of 2010?

The new NYFA Collection, just out on Innova, aims to be the Rosetta Stone of cutting-edge new music in New York, a goal that may be as impossible to achieve as it is admirable to shoot for. But by any standard, this massive five-cd set is extraordinary, a genuine classic. It’s the new music equivalent of the Harry Smith albums. In over six hours of recordings, 52 composers are represented, most of them not more than once, the well-known outnumbered by those who deserve to be. Stylistically, it runs the gamut: vocal, chamber and large-scale works, the avant garde alongside the Romantic. Very impressively, the compilation does not ignore jazz – there’s a whole cd’s worth, and it’s choice. On the other hand, rock is represented only once, and maybe just as well, because the lone rock/pop song here is a dud. Nor is there a lot that falls into a non-western tradition, nor any hip-hop at all. But any perceived shortcomings are literally dwarfed by the collection’s strengths: it’s a brain-warping, provocative feast for the ears, a triumph of smart curating and reason for absolute optimism for this generation’s composers. Not everything here is genius, but a lot of it is.

The premise of the collection is new(er) works by composers who’ve been on the receiving end of NYFA music fellowships since the grants were established in 1983 (talk about taxpayer money put to good use!). CD one is has an emphasis on percussion, and various flutes feature prominently. It’s the most hypnotic, and best-suited one for sleeping or thinking about it. The second emphasizes slightly larger-scale pieces; the third is jazz, the fourth wins hands-down for scary intensity, and the fifth is mostly large ensembles. Although this is all over the map stylistically, the compilers have very cleverly juxtaposed similar works as sort of mini-suites, to the point where it’s sometimes difficult to tell when one ends and another begins.

The collection opens with a playfully warped, percussive waltz by Annie Gosfield. The rest of the cd includes a gamelanesque miniature by David van Tieghem; gamelan interludes on the factory floor by Joseph Bertolozzi; a shakuhachi tone poem by Bruce Germo; ambience versus bustle assembled by Lukas Ligeti; a mystery movie in space for theremin by Jed Chadabe; and an acidically crescendoing chamber-metal piece by Iconoclast.

The highlight of cd two is a work for solo faucet by Eric John Eigner. It’s pretty amazing – who knew how many eerie textures a simple plumbing fixture could create, whether bowed like a cello, used as percussion or for the groan of the pipes as the water runs? Other points of interest here include pianist Anthony de Mare’s elegant arrangement of Meredith Monk’s Urban March; a John Morton music box piece deftly processed to mimic a gamelan; a brooding, tangoish string duo by Monteith McCollum; Daniel Goode’s Tuba Thrush, done by Flexible Orchestra with effectively jarring switches between warm Romanticism and boisterously playful noise; and a texturally ingenious version of an apprehensive Annea Lockwood piano piece played both on and inside the piano by Sarah Cahill.

Diverse jazz styles, both traditional and modern, are represented on cd three: a revolutionary suite by Fred Ho and ensemble dedicated to the survivors of the Golden Venture immigrant smuggling ship; a brief and very funny foghorn piece called Blob, by Robust Bog; a balmy yet boisterous ballad by Rudresh Mahanthappa; a brightly lyrical romp by Laura Kahle featuring Jeff “Tain” Watts, JD Allen and Yosvany Terry; a wistful, carillonesque piano work by Angela Read Thomas played by Nicola Melville; a jaggedly funky late 60s style small combo piece by Howard Prince featuring the late John Stubblefield; and a bracing New Orleans second line drum solo by Newman Taylor Baker.

CD four is a feast of ominous melodies, motifs and tonalities. Andy Tierstein conducts the Interschools String Orchestra of NY in a horror movie soundtrack for boys’ voices and strings, then Bora Yoon evinces some deliciously creepy sounds out of singing bowls in a performance recorded live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Mary Jane Leach’s Night Blossoms, performed a-cappella by Eileen Clark, Karen Goldfeder, Gregory Davidson and Jared Stamm offers distantly operatic, sarcastic menace. The highlight of the entire collection is the University of Wisconsin River Falls Concert Choir and Percussion Quartet’s sepulchrally disembodied, absolutely macabre performance of Pauline Oliveros’ Sound Pattern and Tropes for mixed chorus and percussion, a feeling echoed with slightly less intensity by the chamber choir Volti’s eerily shifting version of Aaron Jay Kernis’ Ecstatic Meditation. With a nod to David Gilmour, guitarist Joel Harrison virtuosically evokes a wrenching anguish in a duet with percussionist Paul Motian plus string quartet. There are also a couple of vivid nocturnes, a rich, chromatically charged one by Judith Sainte Croix played by Oren Fader on guitar plus Andrew Bolotowsky on flute, plus an absolutely beautiful one by Ray Leslee played by Ashley Horne on violin and Barbara Bilach on piano, a black-and-white early 30s sound movie.

The final cd reaches majestic, epic proportions. Raphael Mostel’s Night and Dawn effectively signals a bad summer day about to begin. Far more aggressive than Erik Satie, George Tsontakis’s own Gymnopedies range from bubbly, Bernard Herrmann-esque tension to Debussy-style austerity. Randall Woolf’s Romantically-tinged Franz Schubert is less homage than cleverly rhythmic, circular mood piece; Jay Anthony Gach’s concerto La Vita Autumnale offers darkly dramatic Rachmaninovian ripples and intensity, followed by Peter Golub’s aptly titled, tense Less Than a Week before Xmas featuring choir and orchestra. The collection winds up with the astringent circularity of The Gathering, from Neil Rolnick’s Extended Family suite; the uneasy atmospherics of Lisa Bielawa’s Trojan Women, and Joan Tower’s towering, magnificent Tambor, ablaze with thundering, ominously portentous percussion. There are literally dozens of other artists here who at this moment in time may be somewhat less known, but whose work is no less important or captivating. Thankfully, this collection represents them. It wouldn’t be a difficult choice for best album of 2010: check back with us in about a month and see where it ends up on our list.

November 17, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, experimental music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments