A Conversation with Bora Yoon and TEDxNavesink’s David Spelman

Bora Yoon, the award-wining Korean/American vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and sound artist (and 2014 TED Fellow) talks with TEDxNavesink’s David Spelman about her inspirations, hobbies, dream collaborators, the immersive audiovisual soundscapes she creates with both traditional and unconventional instruments, and her plans for her April 11th appearance at TEDxNavesink at Monmouth University.


David Spelman: What has been most interesting about performing at previous TED conferences?

Bora Yoon: The range of people in the audience. The people that gather, the interdisciplinary synergy of minds in the room—which then, as a result, creates the varied and diverse responses in the room, since every person experiences and notices something different within the performance, to walk away with. It’s always an insightful and illuminating experience.

David: Your 2014 TED Talk in Vancouver concerned performing in a wide spectrum of spaces. What does it mean to be a “site-specific” and “architectural” composer?

Bora: I compose music by also considering and taking into account the architectural and acoustical detail of a place. Spatially resonant sites, whether cathedrals, or military drill halls, or warehouse structures, or historic spaces, all have a unique and special energy to them. I try to alter my set list, to be relevant/resonant with the space, by picking a certain performance approach that is tailored to that layout, acoustic, architectural aesthetic, and sense of time.

I also mean “architectural” composer, in the sense that I build loops and soundscapes, stacking layers upon layers, to create a structure and environment of sound.

David: Can you tell us about the performance you’re planning for TEDxNavesink 2015?

Bora: In keeping with the themes of Heal / Prosper / Invent / Reframe, I am tailoring soundscapes created from different instruments, rhythms, and tones, to illuminate, animate, and implicate these very ideas and states of mind. The instruments I am using will include voice, viola, Tibetan singing bowls, radios, turntables, water, keyboards, Bible pages, and musical pick-up sticks.

David: What current or future projects are you most excited about?

Bora: Having finished the enormous multimedia release and staged production/memory play “Sunken Cathedral” earlier this year, I’m meditating right now on a project to do in conversation with Nam June Paik’s video and sculptural work. Perhaps an opera, touching on his work with Fluxus, John Cage, and durational time-based work, something narrated through the forces and principles of the I Ching.

In the far future, I am fascinated to do a cultural anthropology/musical study, of what pansori (Korean folkloric traditional opera) sounds like performed in South Korea today vs. North Korea today. I hope to discover what 60 years of aesthetic political upbringing has done to the expression of this art form, which shares a common root origin.

David: What are some of your favorite instruments you’re currently exploring?

Bora: A Stroh violin, which is a horned violin from the turn of the century. I’m also currently working on building a “wind” box instrument that is played by gestures. It would utilize motion sensing to generate music and white noise, to create a sense of environment, viscosity, and musical weather.

David: If you could play with one living person, who would it be?

Bora: The visual artist James Turrell and his Sky Room installations. I’d like to create generative music that is a direct musical reaction to his light sources, colors, hues, and intensity.

David: If you could play with one person no longer alive, who would it be?

Bora: The Korean video art pioneer, and Fluxus artist Nam June Paik.

David: Were you no longer able to perform music, what would you most like to do?

Bora: Create a gender-neutral fashion clothing line, design unique jewelry, or practice some form of acupuncture/energy/spiritual healing work.

David: Do you have any special hobbies outside of music?

Bora: Bike riding (it’s God’s closest gift to mankind, the closest to flying) and cooking – it uses the same principles of good music-making (what, how much, when. . . ) in action, but in a nutritious and functional and enjoyable way!

David: What was your most memorable Eureka moment in a performance context?

Bora: I was deep into the 4-week run of Agora II, a site-specific dance piece at the bottom of a 55,000 square foot abandoned pool in Brooklyn. It was the Friday night of closing weekend, and we had all been living, breathing, and dreaming the same thing for weeks at this point. There is a very special magic that happens when that kind of mass, density, and collection of people, in a city as intense as New York, starts to synchronize.

However many of us, 50 or 60 dancers, artists, circus people, sonic-squad members, lighting designers, technicians and musicians, cyclists, performance artists were in such synchronicity–I remember this Friday night was particularly buoyant and seemingly weightless. It was as if the performance was flying itself, and we were really moving within this current of the larger flow.

It showed me the tremendous power of community, performance, and scale. How, together, we can create something larger than the sum of its parts–just like when forces mobilize, birds wheel, or there is a swell in a grassroots movement. This communal synergy is the root of the experience we are all a part of, which is what I think is the change-agent, the way we transform one another.

.  .  .

To learn more about Bora Yoon, please visit her website at: www.borayoon.com

Want to see Bora perform at TEDxNavesink: Accelerators 2015? Click here for tickets, which are going quickly so don’t wait.

David Spelman is TEDxNavaesink’s artistic advisor, a music producer, founder of the New York Guitar Festival, and Ocean Grove resident. He enjoys cycling, yoga, coffee, and generally encouraging creative dialogue across disciplines and barstools. His website is: www.davidspelman.com

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