The New Yorker—Du Yun: “A Cockroach’s Tarantella”

August 24, 2020
by Steve Smith, for “Goings on About Town” in The New Yorker

The irrepressible, idiosyncratic composer Du Yun not only recorded a new album in late June—with the reliably commanding JACK Quartet—but also fast-tracked its release, in streaming and downloadable formats, on the Chinese label Modern Sky. The 2010 piece that lends its title to the collection appears in two versions, one narrated by the composer in English and another in Chinese. The text, also by Du Yun, wrings poignancy from the musings of a pregnant cockroach who desires resurrection as a human, pondering the expectations and the strictures imposed by society and gender. In “Tattooed in Snow,” written, in 2015, for distanced players, ghostly melodies coalesce from jagged turbulence. The fragile opening improvisation, “Epilogue,” includes sounds recorded at a Wuhan market in March, the day after the city’s lockdown ended. That music is echoed in “Prologue,” which concludes this vivid collection like a fading memory.