Found Sound

Everything is music to Bora Yoon ’02.

By Scott Livingston Beemer

For Bora Yoon ’02, music is everywhere, from the honk of a car horn to the whisper of a Bible page.

“Everything comes to me in pitches,” she says. “So that means everything can be music. It’s within the cracks that I find really interesting things.”

This unique appreciation for sound has given Yoon the ability to create elaborate audiovisual compositions. She compares her work to that of a sound designer on a film. “It is very much a type of storytelling through sound,” she explains.

Yoon’s most recent project was a theatrical adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. She and the sound designer composed the score and sound effects. During the performance, Yoon was a one-woman orchestra, providing the music and effects in real time. She played various traditional and nontraditional instruments and sound-making devices — everything from viola and steel drums to walkie-talkies and bicycle bells — and performed vocals.

“When you perform any instrument, whether it’s a violin or a metronome or a turntable, there is an inherent interface with how you interact with the instrument,” she explains. “How you play it is very much a gestural language, which creates a visual effect. What I’m doing resonates with what the actors are doing.”


Sound and Noise

Growing up, Yoon studied voice, piano, and violin, but her exposure to musical genres was limited. Her life at Ithaca College greatly expanded her horizons.

During college, Yoon spent time outside of the conservatory as a singer-songwriter before deciding to take her music in a different direction in New York City. Combining her classical training, interest in electronic music, and appreciation for everyday sounds, Yoon set about creating her own style, which typically features a wide variety of traditional instruments, electronic elements, and found sounds.

“As a musician, I don’t distinguish between music and sound, and sound versus noise — I think they’re all one large continuum,” she says. “Sound and noise to me expand music’s ability to tell a story by adding visceral, tactile, and associative elements.”

Audio Feast

Yoon’s groundbreaking use of cell phones has earned her much acclaim and was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Last year, Yoon was awarded a fellowship in music and sound from the New York Foundation for the Arts. With this funding, she was able to set up her home studio to engineer her own work, increasing the variety of things she can do electronically and creatively.

“The grant has been integral in helping me molt to the next level,” she says. One development is a custom body sensor suit based on Microsoft Kinect technology, which she calls the “body electric.” The device assigns sonic and visual controls to the physical gestures created in a musical performance for a multimedia effect.

Yoon is developing a one-woman show called “Weights and Balances,” slated to open in two to three years, which she describes as the culmination of a 10-year cycle that began when she was an IC student.

“I think about performance like an audio cooking show,” she says of her music. “I see all the ingredients that are laid before me on tables, and there are phases at which things start. You get things going first with the simmering, then you start to add the melodic information, the rhythm. I feel that a lot of the same principles that are used in cooking — what to put in, when, and how much — are very analogous to making music.”