Jon Yu (b. 1988) is a Taiwanese-American composer and guitarist whose music explores ways in which modes of behavior can be recontextualized and/or juxtaposed to articulate poetic frameworks. He has received fellowships from festivals such as the June in Buffalo Festival and the Walden School Creative Musicians Retreat. His works have been performed throughout the United States by ensembles and soloists such as Ensemble Signal, Wet Ink Ensemble, Brien Henderson, Chad Goodman, and Jarring Sounds. Recent projects include a commissioned piece for poet and flutist Wayla J. Chambo. He received his B.A. in Music from University of California, Santa Cruz, studying under Hi-Kyung Kim, John Sackett, and Ben Leeds Carson; and his M.A. in Music Composition from San Francisco State University, studying under Richard Festinger and Benjamin Sabey. He has also participated in master classes and private lessons with composers Joshua Fineberg, Eve Beglarian, Josh Levine, Hilda Paredes, among others. Jon currently resides in San Francisco, California, where he composes and teaches while working as production manager for the Center for New Music and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players.Mini-interview with Jon Yu
Where are you from? Does that have any influence on your music? If so, how?
I was born in Taiwan and moved to the United States when I was 10. My mother used to be a guqin player, so I have a lot of early memories of the qin sound and its ritualistic and passive qualities. Having lived in California for the last 17 years, I also have a strong connection to the American experimentalist tradition, which is something I'm constantly surrounded by and has resonated with me at various important points of my life so far. I'm not sure how these two streams of influence actually manifest in my music right now, but they're often in the back of my mind.
When did you start composing and why?
I started writing music on guitar throughout high school and started writing things down on paper during my senior year of college. I didn't learn how to read music until I was 20, so spent a lot of time playing catch-up. I started composing because it is part of a community that highly values critical discourse. I felt that there was a lot I could learn through this practice.
What, if any, was the most inspirational experience you have had as a composer? (It could be a lesson, a piece, a concert, a sound, a walk, a bus trip, an image, etc.)
One of the most inspirational experiences I've had as a composer was hearing a performance of Edgard Varèse's Ionization during my undergrad study. At the time, I was just beginning to dig into the idea of composition, and hearing that piece was a big revelation. I hadn't heard anything before with such clarity, effectiveness, and freshness, while also preserving an aura of mystery. It became something that I hoped to achieve in my music. I'm also constantly inspired by my colleagues and peers, and the DIY culture that I believe is at the heart of new music.
What is most important to you when writing a piece?
I find myself increasingly wanting music to have a strong connection to life—whether in affirmation, critique, or denial. It's important for me that a piece of music becomes an artifact that has a certain friction with its surrounding, reflecting or engaging with both the transcendental and mundane aspects of life.
What's the title of your new work?
Describe in a few sentences what your new work is about.
Putrēfact attempts to render an object by obfuscating it in an act of reverse-archaeology. Instead of discovering a sonic object (brushing off its blemish to reveal its underlying features), the piece presents an object in its crude and impure state, where its role and function are not readily discernible. In this lack of understanding, certain assumptions, relationships, and rituals begin to emerge.
Jon Yu's Putrēfact along with 8 other works by young composers from around the globe will be premiered by the Trio SurPlus at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory's Orchestra Hall on 12 July 2015 at 7:30pm.