Bora Yoon and Luke DuBois at Roulette
Bora Yoon is a sound architect/conjurer who stirs into her acoustical cauldron circuit boards, hand-cranked emergency-frequency radios, turntables, feedback loops, oodles of wires, metronomes, windup toys, and whispers. She is aided in her alchemical spells by Luke DuBois, whose Max/MSP/Jitter patches and tiny-eyed video cameras heighten the thrall. In performance at Roulette on May 9, Yoon dove into her work squatting on the floor while rolling metal wind chime tubes, then slunk over her piano like a cat rubbing up against your leg. DuBois methodically tracked her every gesture, mixing it into his visual pot of MacBook Pro patches and reverberations.
Many Rail readers may be familiar with Yoon’s work from Noémie Lafrance’s seminal dance piece “Agora II” in the 55,000-square-foot McCarren Pool in 2006. Her stereophonic sound mural “Doppler Dreams” was written for seven sopranos who rolled through the cavernous space on bicycles.
Yoon coined the word “phonation” (the title of one of her works) to refer to the way sound connects to the subliminal through timbres, languages of voice, found sounds, new and antiquated instruments, and electronic devices to form a spatial sound geography. Using John Cage’s dictum that anything can be a source of music, Yoon overlays processed sound with haunting throttling of her larynx. There is an unmistakable sense of memory and poignancy in her performance, whether she uses Tibetan singing bowls filled with water, a needle on a scratchy LP, or her alternately soft and husky breath. She is acutely attuned to timbre, pacing, and echo, a very different approach from the fashionable recursive feedback loops of the electronic music world. Her use of elements like tings, clicks, and even gas escaping from a seltzer bottle conjures images of the weird sounds at Grandma’s house in the middle of the night that one remembers from one’s childhood. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a ghost myth or two hanging around in her ancestral background.
At Roulette, Yoon described one of her pieces as “a wind of a dark purple evening breeze in Thailand.” Watching her and DuBois go at their collaboration is an extremely intimate experience, as they admit you into the private confines of their laboratory to explore along with them what the nature of sound can be. This is in contrast to the usual nature of a concert experience in new media, where “Bigger! Louder! Flashier! More sensory impact!” seems to be the order of the day.