Works by Women

Supporting creative work by women

Interview: Bora Yoon

There are many reasons to check out this year’s Culturemart at HERE. Bora Yoon is definitely one of them. Her ultracool sonic portraits explode the nexus of performance and technology.  I have been lucky enough to see some of her more intimate performances, and there are not enough adjectives to describe her transcendent performances.

I’m not the only fan. Bora’s work has been hailed “exquisite” by The New York Times, “a weird road to wonderful” by The Times (UK) and “totally unique” by KoreAM Journal. And, she’s got some of the best merchandise on the planet. I swear. Her albums and sweatshirts are as gorgeously produced as her musical compositions.

You’ve got two chances to check out her latest work in progress, Weights and Balances, Wednesday, February 6th and Thursday, February 7th. Weights and Balances is described on the HERE website as “a new music opera that is part radio-theater, sound-cinema, and musical performance art.”

Bora Yoon










Bora spoke to Works by Women about the process of creating Weights and Balances and how technology is influencing her upcoming work.

WORKS BY WOMEN: Your new music performance Weights and Balances will be performed as part of HERE’s Culturemart.  What was the inspiration or the first germination of this piece?

BORA YOON: The inspiration for “Weights” stemmed from the need and desire to give further dimension to my existing performance of music, objects, and sound — with the (re-integration of prose, and poetry. I actually have an entire career as a folk singer songwriter, a poet, and a writer, before all this experimental music/sound work, which has not expressed itself in full, in nearly 10 years. “Weights” is in a way, a challenge to myself, of how to synthesize all the various voices I have (as a writer, as a poet, as a lyricist, as a sound artist, as a singer) to culminate everything I have learned from the disciplines of all these parts, into a larger master-work.

WBW: What is your process like on a piece like Weights and Balances? How did you build it?

BORA: The process for this piece, has been very illuminating because I don’t think I was ever fully aware of my creative process, until forced to face this challenge I had laid out for myself.   It’s certainly flawed, and I’m working on it, but in essence, here’s what it’s been so far:

chaining yourself to the desk long enough to get over the fear of it all
creative vomiting  (getting everything OUT of you, instead of spinning in your head) onto index cards
(i.e. couplets, quatrains, images, passages, scenes, title punch moment, drawings of set ideas, insights, synapse points, visions you keep seeing, fragments or meaningful “piths” of poetry ‘pearls’)
laying out the junkyard of thoughts/ideas/fragments before you.
sorting them into appropriate arenas  (what belongs in: show, post show q&a, what is process vs. product)
discerning what is said / shared vs. embodied (nonverbal, design) vs. intrinsic to your process

Taking a stab at a first assembly, sequence – even if it’s totally wrong
fleshing passages and moments out  / saying out loud /
trying things on for size / Discerning what feels wrong / right at a gut level.

Pinning the originally imagined map / outline / skeleton / architecture  (grant application / project summary, usually) onto the wall

comparing / contrasting :
cutting, shaving, tweaking, turning,  (crosschecking w/ original map)

Create a 2nd draft.  even if it’s totally different.
Comparing side by side, seeing how to braid various drafts together

Examine cutting room floor, and how things may be reassembled, reconstituted, into another realm (design, text, music)  i.e.  ‘turning’ the draft around, to view it from all sides, whether the idea is executed in the best manner.  (too heavy-handed?  too literal?)

Convincing yourself not to throw everything out, even when you want to
Making sure you are surrounded by good energy, support systems, avenues of venting
Making sure to take good care of yourself: ample naps, meal breaks, and walks outside.
Running out of time

Forcing yourself to present what you have, and keep it together
Polishing / Plating
Sharing / Doing
Journaling analysis, feelings, thoughts
Sleeping on it, getting distance from it
watching the DVD
Journaling, and figuring more what you want to keep / change / further..
< rinse / repeat as desired >

My director Alice Reagan has been hugely helpful in pulling this creative process apart, and utilizing my approach as a composer, who finds things from improvisational tactics, into how this can work in the realm of poetry, passages, insights, and the tandem of these two ‘voices’ (poetic / musical).

WBW: What is the optimal space/place for Weights and Balances to be performed or is it adaptable to multiple spaces. When creating it, where did you imagine it being performed?

BORA: “Weights” is being produced at HERE Arts, so I have designed it for the main blackbox theater performance space.  (“Weights” is slated premiere for premiere at HERE Arts, during APAP 2014).

As a site-specific composer however, I have always performed in galleries, churches, or unusual spaces (i.e. Brooklyn’s 55,000 square foot McCarren Pool, the Park Avenue Armory drill hall, Frank Gehry’s building at Bard College, the Church of Ascension cathedral space, Ann Hamilton’s 80-ft tall concrete spiral tower) because I find great synergy in the blurring of proscenium, to create an immersive sonic or audiovisual experience.   In this scenario, the spaces have somewhat defined and governed the ultimate performance within them:  making sure to fold in or utilize architectural features, reference a site’s history, incorporate some way of illuminating an exhibit theme, and utilize repertoire that might make sense in this type of space).

For “Weights”, the tables are turned, being in a blackbox theater space — where projection designer Adam Larsen, interface controller custom designer R. Luke DuBois, and I are figuring ways in which these environments can become portable, but still keeping to the aesthetic of simple / elegant / dynamic.  We are utilizing video as environment design, and finding ways between the virtual (video) and real (blackbox) and inner world (Kinect body sensor) to induce this telescoping effect of scale.

Threading these seemingly disparate worlds, and finding resonating currents that run through them all, is the aim and goal of “Weights and Balances” — to illuminate how our world is hinged, and may be held together by invisible knots.

WBW: Everything at Culturemart looks amazing. Are there any shows you are dying to see during the festival?

BORA: I’m really looking forward to checking out all Hai-Ting Chinn’s Science Fair, puppet productions the Pigeoning, Send for the Million Men, and Kristin Marting’s Trade Practices — which are all up this week.

I’m exited to support and see all my fellow resident artist colleagues’ work in action.  The HERE Arts Residency Program (HARP) is really a unique kind of performance grad-school degree in which you can develop your performance work over 3 years, and get the chance to learn how to do everything from the ground up.   It’s exciting to know you are watching the work as it incubates, as the act of witnessing and publishing intrisically develops a show further (since art doesn’t grow living in a vacuum until the circle is completed, by the act of sharing it with others).

WBW: Your work embraces technology.  Where do you see your work going or charting in the next few years? Say with new innovations or new possibilities?

BORA: Programmer and interdisciplinary artist R. Luke DuBois and I have been developing a performance controller device called ‘the Body Electric’ which tracks the movements of your kinetic skeleton via infrared censoring — by hacking the device released with the Xbox 360, the Kinect.

We’re essentially 3D body-mapping audio / visual / video controls to certain gestures, which can have exciting meanings and juxtapositions, but it is still in the works.  Through these controls, I’m most interested in where poetry and music can dynamically serve technology’s integration into the theatrical tangible world, and vice verse — to create a very seamless and poetic whole, of how gestures and body movement as empathetically felt in the dance world sensibility — can be something that has theatrical and musical value as well.

There are lots of exciting possibilities of how we can integrate this technology beyond “Weights”.   I can see my work evolving into the idea of site specific sound installations, with occasional musical performances which animate the installation into a performance experience, for special events like opening / closings — but always following the ideal goal of not getting too wrapped up on one facet, and keeping the larger aesthetic balance of:  simple / elegant / dynamic.


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This entry was posted on February 4, 2013 by in Theater, Women and tagged , , .

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