bora yoon
bora yoon
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RECORDING ( (( PHONATION )) ) (2008)

PHONATION (Swirl Records, 2008)There’s a kind of boom and bust cycle in modern music (kind of like there is in modern everything) in which certain varieties of music — especially popular and “new” music — are periodically characterized as “dying” or “already dead,” only to then be miraculously resurrected by one or another savior figure/band/composer/whatever, which starts the whole process over again. As with the boom and bust cycle in economics, there also seems to be a law of diminishing returns with each reiteration. Each new claimant to this imaginary musical throne is just “not quite as good” as X was in 19YY. In a strange way, these proclamations of doom and ever less successful comebacks are absolutely right, and over the last century or so of music, many musics have died. Or rather, many notions of how and what music is and how and what music should be have disappeared. And efforts made to magically recreate the past will inevitably be disappointing — desperate attempts at mining long-depleted ore out of the withering veins of nostalgia. In short, sometimes death can be a good thing.As musics (varieties of rock music, classical music, dance music, and so on) have faded or passed their glory years, music itself has become a much freer place. There was a time when choice in rock music, for example, was characterized by the not so terribly wide gulf between the Beatles and the Stones—one group of mopey white males playing the blues vs. another. But as the free digital distribution of music has made practically everyone a connoisseur of all genres and a partisan of none, music has found that it can be simultaneously niche and uncategorizable.

Today no one bats an eyelash at the world’s most popular rock band releasing record after record of experimental electronica or at an international pop singer releasing a record of nothing but largely unaccompanied vocal samples. The idea of limiting music to traditional production units like the power trio or even the orchestra has long since been supplanted by a content-dictates-form paradigm wherein many straight-forward pop records are permeated with orchestral, electronic, or even noise and avant-garde sounds. The notion that jazz musicians once actually fought quite vigorously (some still do) against the idea of “fusion” music seems now as quaint and silly as many of the records that fusion produced. The idea of seeing a post-punk noise band headline an evening at Carnegie Hall alongside string quartets, turntablists or fully orchestrated folk singers no longer sounds like little more than a nice plot for a Frank Zappa film.

The music of Bora Yoon fits into this time of collapsing genres and styles, a time when the cycle might be, if not broken, at least momentarily transcended — or, perhaps in a less dramatic fashion, simply ignored. In many ways, her music exemplifies the move away from genre boundaries and into embracing the new freedom in music to juxtapose the avant-garde with the melodic, to explore the depths of possibility in acoustic sound only to let it all dissolve in a squall of electronic noise, to place, without the slightest hint of self-consciousness or pretension, a “simple song” in the midst of all these other experiments and explorations — not because of some perverse need to contrast, or to transgress for the sake of transgression, but rather out of the conviction that this is precisely where it belongs.

.This record you have in your hands is entitled (( ( PHONATION )) ) and more than anything else it is both an exploration of, and a love letter to, that very activity — the process of giving voice to the sounds floating about in our heads. And those sounds intuitively dictate the wide-ranging approach to instrumentation and production, and even the structure of the music itself, from completely formless or non-linear passages to the most traditional verse-chorus-verse compositions.

Part of this engaging with music as music, and not as part of a genre, is the ability to break form and coalesce mediums and approaches. (( ( PHONATION )) ) takes the means to one end (e.g. filling up a concert venue or intimately occupying one’s headphones) and uses it for another — in the same way that Yoon might take a violin and play it like a guitar, tilt water in a Tibetan bowl to emulate a talking drum, or see the cell phone as a keyboard. In every case, a particular sonic geography is evoked that might be inspired by a simple, found-sound in the world, or an expression of a sonic paradox bouncing around only in the mind.

Even the cover of the record is an image of sound transposed into a new format, from sonic to biological: it’s a photograph of a crystalline structure that was produced by exposing a sample of water to the frequencies and vibrations of the record’s first track.

Sons Nouveaux in frozen formThere is a commitment here to the idea that songwriting and composition can still be narrative or topical or conceptual without necessarily being verbal. “Sons Nouveaux” is quite literally its translation: “new sounds,” an introduction to a new way of thinking about music and a way to break out of what one expects from music. Whether drowning the most harmonic set of calculator-like sine waves in a sea of glockenspiel, or, like the best folk music, deceiving you with simplicity, the record invites you into intimate encounters in a variety of sound spaces; in rooms so real, they feel like you could measure their dimensions, guess their architects, imagine who might live there, and why they bought that odd bit of furniture.

There’s something about records like this that says exciting things about music in general. Perhaps with the explosion of musics of juxtaposition, musics that appeal to particular audiences without being defined by any, the boom and bust cycle of modern music can actually become a realm of — if you don’t mind me pushing the metaphor just a bit further — sustainable artistic development. Any ecologist will tell you that sometimes you need a good forest fire to make way for new trees to grow. Even at this very moment, when surely some hip-and-with-it music rag is anointing some young hip-and-with-it band of rock ‘n roll brothers as the next best thing, we can laugh a bit and realize that they’ll inevitably be a bit disappointed. They are, after all, chasing ghosts.

Of course, there is great new rock, and great new traditional jazz and great country, hip-hop and every genre you can imagine. But the greatest of these today are those who have realized the natural affinity of pop melodrama with classical opera; noise amidst organized rhythms; orchestration surrounding three-chord rockers. Tradition tweaked just enough to be recognizable and yet unheimlich — or, uneasy in the familiar, at home in homelessness. Bora Yoon fits right in there, in good company, transgressing in the act of creation and refashioning tradition rather than being imprisoned by it. Sometimes death can be a good thing. Sometimes you need the forest fire so that evolution (in its tiny, incremental way) can go on. Thank God for random flashes of lightning.

Ajay Singh Chaudhary
Brooklyn, NY
October 2008


( (( PHONATION )) )

01 Sons Nouveaux
violin, voice, glockenspiel, synth, electronics

02 Mercy
guitar, bass, voice, words

cellphones, voice, handclaps, glockenspiel, electronics

04 simplesong
violin, voice, words

05 // { Live at Brooklyn Academy of Music }
musicbox, water, Tibetan singing bowls, bike bells, live electronics

06 g i f t { Live at Brooklyn Academy of Music }
Tibetan singing bowl, voice, chimes, live electronics

vinyl only bonus track
07 Doppler Dreams: an aerial suite in two parts
for seven sopranos singing on bicycles, bike bells, glockenspiel, and loop


All tracks performed, composed, and produced by Bora Yoon.
Featuring Todd Sickafoose on upright bass in Track 2.

Doppler Dreams originally created as part of Agora II – a site-specific performance in the 55,000 sq. foot empty McCarren Park Pool, Brooklyn NY. A Sens Production.

Recorded and engineered by Stefano Zazzera at Moody Mammoth Studios, Brooklyn NY
//, gift, portions of Sons Nouveau and PLINKO captured live at Brooklyn Academy of Music, NEXT Festival 2007, by D Carlton Bright.
Mixed and messed with alongside Matt Saccucimorano at Electric Wilburland Studios, Ithaca NY
Doppler Dreams mixed with Stefano Zazzera at Moody Mammoth Studios, Brooklyn NY
Mastered by Will Russell at Electric Wilburland, Ithaca NY

Designed by Nikolay Saveliev
Logo evolved from “breeze” by Richard Mai
Photography by Leslie Van Stelten

Crystal photography from experiment conducted at IHM Labs, Tokyo Japan. #|OME080904715. Photos reflect water’s sonic frequency response to “Sons Nouveaux”.

Dedicated to Sekou Sundiata, and Kacie Moon.

Sunken Cathedral

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