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.