Who owns Asian culture? Who can be its ambassador? I don’t really know what Asian culture is. Culture is an ever-evolving state of mind. My name and my background don’t give me an automatic claim to ownership or authority. I am not interested in import or export, but instead want to encourage deep collaborations — cross regional ones.
— Du Yun
Too often, Western presentations of Asian artists focus exclusively on ancient cultural traditions, leaving the impression that Asian artists are trapped in the past, endlessly re-iterating static, unchanging forms. Initiated by composer and performer Du Yun, the Pan Asia Sounding festival explodes this biased lens by presenting new works on the cutting edge of contemporary performance, focusing on the ever-evolving nature of its present and future.
Watch Pan Asia Sounding Festival 2019 covered on New York TV Channel 1:
Highlights from 2018 & 2019
Watch The Joyous String Ensemble from Pan Asia Sounding Festival ed. 2
“I am writing this note from Jerusalem, a place of ever-growing confluence, conflict, assimilation and clash. Land has been lost and gained: someone else’s land. People migrate homes; people migrate countries and nations. People were born into refugee camps. And yet our cultural memory is persistently thriving and not easily erased.
Why Pan Asia now? I think I am interested in our collective future. What you are hearing and seeing is exactly the heritage of a future. What we are making is a lineage for the present. And this present, however challenging, with splendor and with agony, is our honor for many generations to come.”
— Du Yun Old City, Jerusalem, March 13, 2019
2019 Ed 2. Programs
The 2019 festival opened with acclaimed vocal artist Samita Sinha deconstructing the nature of female embodiment and representations of the South Asian female form on stage, and continued with fascinating composer and librettist Yuka C Honda’s powerful multimedia opera about artificial intelligence and surviving the apocalypse. Joyous Strings offered a vision of international collaboration and harmony with a string quartet comprising both Korean and Chinese students, and the festival concludes with a captivating performance from Ali Sethi’s deeply syncretic qawwali band. Each performance featured an excerpt from Sony Devabhaktuni’s Hills as Tall as Towers, a haunting exploration of dense city living in the most populous region of the world. Together, these five artists offered an expansive vision of Asian modernity, cut free from reductive Western perspectives to reveal the continent on its own terms.
Composer Du Yun rocketed to national fame last year when she won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her opera, “Angel’s Bone.” Combining traditional classical techniques with cabaret, rock, and non-operatic voices, the opera presented new musical possibilities for the art form; as a parable for human trafficking, it traversed new social and philosophical territory. But for Du Yun, who has claimed that “if you buy into other people’s ideas of genre, you’re going to die – you’re going to not be able to do anything,” this open approach to composing – her tendency to treat musical forms as fertile ground for whatever may be stirring her curiosities at the time – is par for the course.
After all, Du Yun is herself no stranger to restrictive ideas. As a young music student at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, she remembers “being told repeatedly, again and again, ‘Oh, composition is not for you. Composition is too difficult, too challenging. As a woman, you should not be doing composition.’” Still, she persevered, eventually winning over a visa agency for permission to come to the United States to study music at Oberlin Conservatory.
Du Yun’s background is partly what made her such a meaningful curator at National Sawdust’s recent “Spring Revolution” festival. Every year, the iconic Brooklyn venue honors the “revolutionary” spirit behind Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” This year, the festival focused on celebrating the voices of women from all over the world. As artist-in-residence and curator for the entire season, Du Yun decided to embed her own mini-festival within the program: the “Pan-Asia Sounding Festival.”
With her audience, Du Yun was light and unpretentious, explaining, “I don’t really know what ‘Pan-Asia’ means either. I think that’s why we’re here, to figure out and explore together.” Later, she explained what the term meant to her. Wanting to rebel against “tourist culture,” wherein a collective of Asian artists would perform for a non-Asian audience, she instead wanted to “open up this topic of who owns Asian culture” – a question that audiences were meant to engage in, rather than passively observe. Thus, not every show within the festival had to deal with content about Asia; not every artist had to be of Asian descent. Du Yun’s own band, OK Miss, was just there to perform Du Yun’s music, whether it engaged with traditional forms – as in the punk reinvention of a Mongolian folk song whose title Du Yun Google-translated to “Dating in a Mongolian Yurt” – or not.
What was important to Du Yun was that each artist present new material. The New York City-based Balinese gamelan ensemble Gamelan Dharma Swara performed commissions by living composers alongside centuries-old standards. Filmmaker Zhou Hongbo screened his documentary “Lotus Ferry” as part of a program that also included samples of his filmography from the years 2000 to 2015. A concert of electroacoustic music brought together compositions by Ji Dongyong, Chen Qiangbin and Li Lei.
As someone who triumphed against narrow categorizations in her own life, Du Yun is hopeful about the impact that shows like this can make in our culture. She explains: “When we talk about diversity, we should be interested in the content. We need to have different perspectives in this society. And I think art, and music, is a living experience, and that’s why it’s so powerful. It’s a non-replica, ongoing, living experience – just like how we live this life.”
National Sawdust Festival Showcases Contemporary Asian Works & Emerging Artists
Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Du Yun, wanted to find performers who span genres, regions of Asia and age for the upcoming Pan Asian Sounding Festival that she’s curating. And she did.
Twelve-year-olds Justin Yu and Kalyn Yung perform as part of “Joyous Strings.” This NYC based group has appeared on TV and around the world.
“We like practice a lot and we surprise people cause they don’t expect what they actually see.” Yu said. “They always compliment us after we perform, saying we did a very good job,” Yung added.
That element of surprise is what Yun is going for. She believes too often American celebrations of Asian art focus on ancient cultural traditions, not contemporary works.
“Asia the nation has always been evolving throughout the history throughout the heritages. And I want to exam those talking points through music through, through art, through people’s collaboration works,” Yun said.
Yun selected a variety of contemporary Asian and Asian-American musicians for this festival to show the diversity within Asian arts. Many are from NYC and enjoyed seeing each other when we stopped by the venue.
“I’ve taken the tradition apart into its elements to reinvent a language through my body. And enact different visions of what it means to be a female, what it means to look any certain way,” said Indian-American Vocalist Samita Sinha of Jackson Heights.
This Festival fits with the mission of National Sawdust a non-profit music venue with a mission to give emerging artists a place to perform and established artists a venue to try something new.
Japanese musician Yuka C. Honda is best known for her groundbreaking work with synthesizers and her alt pop group Cibo Matto. Here she’s presenting a new experimental opera about the future.
“I think apocalypse is the easy answer that everything is going to end. Hit the reset button. All the apocalypse movie everybody survives it’s not really the end. I wanted to do something new,” Honda said.
These new works will be performed at The Pan Asian Sounding festival March 19th through the 23rd. Visit nationalsawdust.org for tickets.
Creator and curator: Composer and musician Du Yun has programmed six performances of Pan-Asian music
She’s leading the Revolution.
A Pulitzer-winning composer will bring female and Asian voices to the front of the annual Spring Revolution Festival of music, starting on March 2 at National Sawdust in Williamsburg. Musician and festival co-curator Du Yun has programmed a line-up of performances from all over Asia that she hopes will make people examine their ideas about culture on that continent.
“When they approached me do this festival I had the idea of doing something like a Pan-Asian festival — to investigate ‘What is Asia?’ and also challenge the status quo within that as well,” said Du Yun, who won a Pulitzer for her 2017 opera “Angel’s Bone.”
Du Yun, born and raised in Shanghai, China before immigrating to the United States at age 20, said that she chose performers who will convey the richness of Asian cultures as more than a collection of tourist destinations and exotic locales.
“I especially want to focus on new works — because in my mind, new cultures cannot exist without new works — because otherwise it’s just tourist culture,” she said. “I’m hoping to really challenge people’s idea of what it means to be Asian. If you really care what we’re thinking and doing, you can come in and get an immense body of work and practices, that serves as window to what we thinking and it’s sort of like a more poignant understanding.”
The evening titled “The Shanghai You Don’t Know,” on March 10, will feature a screening of the documentary “Lotus Ferry,” about a neighborhood in Shanghai, followed by three performances of distinctively Shanghai theater, dance, and music styles. Other evenings will feature the Balinese music and dance ensemble Gamelan Dharma Swara, and Bhutanese, Japanese, and Indian musicians.
Du Yun will also take the stage on March 9, playing piano and singing with her band OK Miss. The four-piece, which also includes a drummer, saxophonist, and a clarinetist, will play funk, pop, and rock and roll music, along with traditional music from China and Mongolia. Du Yun said the eclectic set-list will give the audience a taste of her versatility as a performer.
“I wanted to showcase not only being a performer but also the different type of music sensibilities that I can do as well,” she said. “And I’m going to be covering a Mongolian folk song, and morph that into something psychedelic.”
Every night of the festival features female curators and female artists, but Du Yun said that adding Asian culture complicates the discussion of women’s empowerment in a necessary way.
“I’m a woman, and I’m also Chinese. If you were to ask any woman who they really are, the answer will be chaotic, not orderly, and layered,” said Du Yun. “I think in society everything is so rigid and black and white, and I want my art to breathe through that. I want to have art and music to shatter that.”
“Spring Revolution Festival” at National Sawdust [80 N. Sixth St. at Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg, (646) 779–8455, www.nationalsawdust.org]. March 2–11 at various times.Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bali-wood: The Balinese music-and-dance ensemble Gamelan Dharma Swara will perform on March 9 as part of the Spring Revolution festival at National Sawdust.Gordon R. Wenzel
National Sawdust to Launch Live@NationalSawdust, featuring Du Yun’s “Pan Asia Sounding Festival,” and more.
March 26, 2020 by BWW Newsdesk
National Sawdust, the non-profit arts institution based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, will launch Live@NationalSawdust, a free digital platform that will release weekly videos of concerts from the past five seasons, as well as professional development programming, and will include fundraising efforts for the institution and the artists involved. National Sawdust further plans to work with NYC Department of Education to offer content to teachers and school children at this time of remote learning.
The Live@NationalSawdust initial releases will focus on the very first concert in the venue from October 2015, including performances by Philip Glass, Foday Musa Suso, Tanya Tagaq, Chris Thile, Nico Muhly, Nadia Sirota, Jeffrey Zeigler, Eve Gigliotti, Paola Prestini, Nels Cline, Glenn Kotche, Theo Bleckmann, ACME and more. Future releases will draw from an extensive digital archive of more than 1,200 live performances, including highlights like Terry Riley’s Archangels featuring the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, Du Yun’s Pan Asia Sounding Festival, and more.
In addition to performances, Live@NationalSawdust will offer digital content from National Sawdust’s artist mentorship programs, including personal development forums with leading artists such as Renée Fleming and Meredith Monk on topics such as mental health and music, improvisation and movement, publishing, and more. Workshops will continue digitally with The Blueprint Fellowship commissioning program in partnership with The Juilliard School, featuring mentors Prestini, Reena Esmail, Claire Chase and more. The Hildegard Competition (funded by the Toulmin Foundation) continues its mentorship digitally with the three winners sharing their commissioned work with mentors such as Angélica Negrón and conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya, with concerts for both programs moved to the Fall.
National Sawdust will pause live venue operations until fall 2020 in order to protect audiences, performers, and staff from the ongoing virus pandemic. Half of the NS operational staff will remain on, working to raise money and plan for the future until circumstances allow for reconstituting the full team. Composer/Co-founder & Artistic Director Paola Prestini and Managing Director Brian Berkopec will forgo salary during this challenging period.
Prestini states: “We are committed to reopening in the fall, and we firmly believe that these challenges will only strengthen the resolve and resiliency of our artistic community, and New Yorkers at large. More than ever, our city will need a home for discovery, one that welcomes and celebrates new music in all its forms and vibrancy. We look forward to greeting this next chapter, and to working together to build a more inclusive and compassionate future.”
2019 Ed. 2: PROGRAM
2018 Ed 1. Artistic Statement
“I am honored to use my platform as a National Sawdust curator to present the Pan-Asia Sounding Festival as part of Spring Revolution. My goal is to demystify and question the ownership of Asian Culture — a culture viewed too often through a lens of exoticism.
Who owns Asian Culture? Who can be its ambassador? I don’t really know what Asian Culture is. Culture is an ever-evolving state of mind. My name and my background don’t give me an automatic claim to ownership or authority. I am not interested in import and export, but instead want to encourage deep collaborations — cross regional ones.
Through six performances and one film screening, the festival encourages new ways of writing and performing music. Without these new possibilities of gathering people together, catalyzing ideas — and without new works — we have no hope of ending division. Without questioning market taglines and off-the-rack labels, we won’t have true and poignant content that resonates with our individual memories. This is not consuming, but culture as self-reflection and self-questioning, about being curious and empathetic.
It is my hope that our audiences come away more engaged and with fewer assumptions — also with a deeper, more intertwined understanding of the region which I call my native land.”