BORA YOON: “Sunken Cathedral” = O viridissima virga; Father Time; Finite Infinity; In paradisum; Jansori Pansori; O Pastor Animarum; Speratus; Little Box of Horrors; Weights and Balances; Semaphone Conductus; New American Theater; Doppler Dreams – Bora Yoon, artist & composer/Sympho ensemble/New York Polyphony /Sekou Sundiata, Chris Eddleton, and Peter Scherer, performers – Innova 880 CD or Innova 881 audiophile double-vinyl [Distr. by Naxos] (4/29/14) **1/2:
In describing this collection of works by New York-based composer/performance artist Bora Yoon, I don’t know where to begin. From her own website, Korean-American composer, vocalist, and sound artist Bora Yoon creates immersive audiovisual soundscapes using digital devices, voice and found objects and instruments from a variety of cultures and historical centuries – evoking memory and association, to formulate a cinematic storytelling through sound design. A site-specific and architectural composer, Yoon writes for a wide spectrum of spaces ranging from an abandoned pool, a Frank Gehry building, to galleries and black box theaters. [Too bad this album isn’t in hi-res surround…Ed.]
Performance art of this sort, being what it is; it seems to me that so much of the feel and one’s reaction to it depends on the visual or maybe the location; the live immersion, and that a recording just does not do justice fully to the work. It starts promisingly with a serene, if not a bit unsettling, paean to the work of Hildegard von Bingen (O viridissima virgina) with some medieval chant (In paradisum.) I feel that part of the effect is in the source material though. Finite Infinity is a very spooky take on what could be Debussy’s Cathedrale engloutie (but isn’t) including Yoon’s eery vocalizations.
The set really takes a turn toward the surreal with the Asian inspired – but ultimately annoying – Jansori Pansori with its singing bowls and snippets from Bora’s own voice mail from some friends’ calls. Little Box of Horrors is equally hard to listen to for what I took as some “faux profound” spoken utterances and industrial machine-like rhythms. I had a similar feel for New American Theater with its interesting readings by poet/lecturer Sekou Sundiata on urban themes against some “new-agey” vocalizations. (Be ready for some social-political slant within the readings that you may or may not find symbiosis with.)
From a technical point of view, I did kind of enjoy the vocal work of the New York Polyphony in Semaphore Conductus. In fact, I thought this was a very pretty piece but was I reacting again to the medieval source material? The collection concludes with the vocal work Doppler Dreams which is very interesting and relies a lot on Yoon’s solo vocalizations and hand-held percussion from what I can tell.
My net reaction to this is that these works are just too hard (occasionally a bit nerve jangling) to simply listen to. I recognize and appreciate the nearly wild creativity that Bora Yoon brings to her work and its reliance on the sounds and symbolism of a number of sources including her own culture. I think she is a very creative spirit almost in the John Cage and Meredith Monk vein. Maybe (probably?) live performance in the intended settings would leave a different impression. For me, it just didn’t resonate as entertainment or as pleasant listening. It was just too weird.
The dual format release is an interesting choice for Innova. The sound quality of the CD is quite good but the four-sided audiophile vinyl set does bring some of the spatial aspects and delicacies out a bit more and is well done, to be sure. I still think maybe you have to be there.
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