New York Times: A Diversity of Instruments for a Diversity of Styles

By ALLAN KOZINN
Published: June 29, 2010
Jennifer Taylor for The New York Times

Jennifer Taylor for The New York Times

Frank Oteri, the writer and critic who runs the 21st Century Schizoid Music concerts at the Cornelia Street Café, has found an unusual but timely niche. His series, which draws its name from a 1969 song (“21st Century Schizoid Man”) by the progressive rock band King Crimson, is focused on musicians whose work straddles several pop and classical styles and who take on different musical personalities, depending on the setting where their work is to be heard.

Mr. Oteri explored this concept at great length in a 2006 essay in the Internet publication World Literature Today. But he could just as easily have pointed to the composer Du Yun as its defining spirit.

This past season, Ms. Du’s calling cards in New York concert halls have included the New Juilliard Ensemble’s reading of “Vicissitudes No. 3,” an energetic but traditional orchestral score; several scores for silent films by Alice Guy Blaché, in which Ms. Du played synthesizer with a jazz-rock ensemble; “Air Glow,” a complex work for the International Contemporary Ensemble and electronics; and a freewheeling collaboration with the cellist Matt Haimovitz. Each inhabited its own musical world.

For her Monday evening performance, Ms. Du played the piano, a metallic percussion instrument and some electronic instruments (including a computer), and she both sang and recited texts. She was joined by Gareth Flowers, a trumpeter, and Phil Moffa, who presided over a laptop and contributed abstract electronic sound and hip-hop beats.

The trio offered two short sets, each essentially a suite of five pieces, played without pause. Given the breadth of Ms. Du’s imagination, it made compelling, even mesmerizing listening. But for the most part, the performance seemed to put a spotlight on only one version of Ms. Du: the inventive, outgoing, quirky indie pop diva with an avant-garde edge. If Ms. Du embraced the Schizoid series’s mandate, she did so subtly.

Part of her program was given to experimental iconoclasm, by way of improvisations on other composers’ works. Each set included a movement from Satie’s “Sonneries de la Rose + Croix” (1891), and though she preserved the essential elements of these simple piano pieces, Ms. Du’s reconfigurations were considerable.

In the “Air of the Grand Master,” she shared the work’s graceful melody with Mr. Flowers (who played it with a muted sound and alluring vibrato) and in “Air of the Head Prior,” she handed him the theme at the start, focusing instead on an expansion of Satie’s harmonies. The second set included an even flightier improvisation on “O Crux Benedicta,” by the 16th-century composer Francisco Guerrero.

Perhaps the Satie and Guerrero glosses were meant to show Ms. Du’s more restrained side. Her own works were assertive and colorful. In “choanoflagellates” and “Angel’s Bone,” Mr. Moffa’s beats and sound washes and Mr. Flowers’s wide-ranging trumpet lines supported Ms. Du’s idiosyncratic vocal performances. Her style takes in throaty whispers, groans and shouts; at times she seems to be evoking Leonard Cohen or Yoko Ono. But mostly, Ms. Du is in a world of her own, and the confident, high-energy theatricality that she brings to her vocal music is woven through her instrumental works just as vividly.

New York Times Article