Although composers are always constructing new sonic worlds, Bora Yoon is super-charging that idea through her multimedia and site-specific works. She performs using her voice, her violin, an array of sound-making objects of assorted shapes and sizes, and live electronics, as well as with video projections to create immersive environments that, as she puts it, “transport people somewhere, and return them, hopefully changed from the experience.”
Her latest project, Sunken Cathedral, is not site-specific in the traditional sense, but rather involves the creation of a multi-dimensional artistic structure in a four-part, year-long rollout process from blueprint (audio CD) to finished structure in the form of a fully staged multimedia production that will premiere in January 2015 at the Prototype Festival. In between those two bookends are planned releases of a vinyl double album on the Innova label, created as a limited edition fine art piece, and a trilogy of interactive music videos designed for the iPad in collaboration with the Gralbum Collective. The idea is that each form of media will build upon the previous one, adding additional sensory input and engaging listeners and audience members in a different context, providing specific views of the project that can be experienced individually, or as a whole, in the same way that one might stroll around a space to take in different aspects of a performance. Sonically, Sunken Cathedral references a vast range of musical styles, from early music to industrial electronic to music concrète, speaking both to Yoon’s diverse musical identity and to the quickly shifting time we live in.
Yoon wanted to use the title Sunken Cathedral—already famously employed by Debussy, as well as by graphic artist M. C. Escher—because, like those other works, she says, “It offers the language to speak about the invisible—the architectural context, the idea of reflections in a binary world. That there are the actual things of reality, and there are the things that lie beneath the surface…and the idea of how we separate our worlds in that way, whether it’s day and night, or conscious and subconscious, or the physical world and the metaphysical world…and what happens when you explore the full circle of that.”
Yoon comes by her fascination with architectural sonic experience and cathedrals through direct personal exposure; since 2007 she has been a member of the choir at The Church of Ascension in New York City, and she cites her time spent singing in that space as a primary force of inspiration. “The more I sang at Ascension,” she explains, “the more I started to look up, and to realize that the church really is a metaphor for the body. That the arches are the rib cage, and the swells of the organ are lungs, and the idea that the invisible that we don’t see in the church, the Holy Spirit, is the idea of breath that’s inside us.” The sense of transport created with the combined horizontal and vertical nature of choral music, and the sense of ritual imbued in music intended for particular purposes and/or times of day and night, are concepts that have deeply affected her creative process.
The interdependence of conscious and subconscious is always on Yoon’s mind as she creates her musical worlds. She is entranced by sonic associations and triggers, often questioning why exactly a sound is interesting to her, what associations it might evoke, both for herself and for others, and the effects of layering sonic material from disparate contexts and of varying tempos. Her performances employ a large array of sound-making objects—in addition to violin and keyboard—such as bowls and assorted kitchen utensils, pieces of glass, small drums, glockenspiel, and cell phones. She feels strongly that as part of the performance experience the audience should be able to see where exactly the sound they are hearing is coming from and how it is being made, in order to take in the full sensory impression of the moment at hand. During performances, Yoon moves around the space, triggering sounds that are then sustained by looping electronics; starting a record player, kneeling to strike a metal bowl, reaching for an old flip phone that she amplifies through her vocal mic, all while singing melodies that build upon one another into a layered chorus atop cyclical musical twinkles, scratches, and violin tones.
“It does mean that I carry around the kitchen sink,” she admits, laughing at the image. “But I do feel that for as much as that is a huge pain in the ass, that’s also the same measure of how it will be magical, and why it will be otherworldly, and something people will remember. So I always tell myself when I am dragging around 400 pounds of gear, ‘This is the weight of magic!’”
Indeed, through her insightful working process and captivating performances, Bora Yoon is building a world of her own, one that speaks clearly to her identity, but that also invites others in to discover what they will. She creates an overarching sense of both the personal and the universal through the transformation of a space, and through the sensation of time spent within it.