Photo: Paul Phung (Flora Yin-Wong)
Flora Yin-Wong’s musical preferences are “very, very specific,” she says and her mix for our Groove podcast fully confirms this. “Fluctuating in emotional and mental energy,” it navigates through tense ambient sounds, abstract beats and straightforward club cuts without ever losing momentum or lacking coherence throughout its 55 minutes. While at times sounding quite different from the music she has released on compilations like Co-Op or PAN’s now-famous Mono No Aware, her own Bandcamp page and, recently, her debut album Holy Palm for UK label Modern Love, the different facets of the DJ and composer-producer’s work all share a certain curiosity for sound, its cultural implications and what happens when it clashes with vastly different material. Currently preparing the release of her first book after working as a journalist and writer for years, Yin-Wong clearly isn’t finished turning her very, very specific preferences into equally unique works of art.
First off, how have you been doing this past year?
10,000 images flashed by in half an hour.
Your family has ties to the opera, you have been taught to play the violin and the guitar as a child and in fact still like to work with string instruments in your work today, but you’ve said that you “dislike many acoustic sounds” in an interview a few years back. How then do you use them in your compositional process?
My preferences are just very, very specific – but in a general sense having entirely rinsed certain genres growing up, I made myself tired of certain sounds, e.g. the typical band set-up of drum kit, guitars and bass, etc. In my process, I’m just obviously taking the sounds I like individually.
Your debut album Holy Palm drew heavily on field recordings that you had collected in the six years prior to finishing the album, many of them were recorded while you were travelling. Why do you like to record your environments in the first place?
It’s the same reason why people take photos of places I guess – it’s just a different way of keeping a token of somewhere you think you might never see or be again. Asides from just being drawn to a random sound I hear, or to retrospectively “Shazam” something, I’m a very nostalgic and sentimental person, and tend to carry every little memory with me.
The two last pieces, “Loci I” and “Loci II,” collage the raw material and make it clear that many of those field recordings already involve music. As the titles suggest, they are also very site-specific. How do you approach recording these situations, do you prepare for them or do you go about it spontaneously? And what exactly is it, when you are in a field, that makes you want to start recording?
That terminology is used very loosely for this record and my work in general. Sometimes you’re in a shopping mall and hear an absolute banger or something funny comes on the radio in the back of a cab… I’ve just been lucky enough to travel a lot for work – as a journalist previously and then as a DJ – to be exposed to and excited by everyday sounds that might appear more unusual or “exotic” to me. Some of the ones that might sound more “musical” if of a piano or organ or violin is actually just me playing the instrument recorded with my iPhone – ironically sitting in a studio with £3000 microphones or in an abandoned space or something because it’s more “natural” or instant – but then does that make it a “field recording” if it’s me? It’s just a recording, right?
There is still an on-going debate within the field recording community what the “proper” approach is – while some argue that it should be fully documentary and as objective as possible, while others refute that and say that field recording is an inherently subjective endeavour. How would you characterise your approach in the context of these two points of view?
Again, I don’t see myself as a field recordist and although I can respect the field, I don’t feel inspired as such by any except maybe on a very visceral sense such as Francisco López or Jana Winderen, who I think have made wholly consuming records based on one very singular yet complex sound like the former’s 57-minute recording of wind in Patagonia.
A thematic thread of the field recordings used on Holy Palm would be that of the ritual – whether it’s religious ceremonies or clubbing. How does this tie in with the general concept, or the overarching themes behind Holy Palm?
Rituality, be it in religion, superstition, or psychological disorders, e.g. forms of belief systems, is something I’ve always been drawn to. Being around a lot of mental illness as a child, seeing humans using false logic to reach conclusions and unreal scenarios, I want to understand how certain beliefs come to be and how they’re sustained. Rituals are embedded in everything, we’re all looking for signs. These ideas might also translate to “states of trance” or as a “cathartic release,” etc., which is obviously often used in music, but I guess it’s a bit less literal for me.
You’re not only a composer, producer and DJ, but have also been active as a journalist and writer. 2021 will see the release of your first book, Liturgy. According to the publisher, it is “a journey into the uncanny realm of the senses that dives into histories of healing and intuition” and you said that you were writing it while working on the album. What topics do you explore in Liturgy? Again there seems to be an emphasis on religion or spirituality.
Everything from abandoned villages, riddles, ancestry, cults, hallucinations, paranoia, dreams, memories, sound phenomena, supernatural phenomena, portals to hell, conspiracies… I’m not a spiritual person, so it’s more of an interpretation of these elements.
What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?
It’s a culmination of things that might indicate a little of what’s been going on internally… quite hectic at times but also contemplative, fluctuating in emotional and mental energy.
Last but not least: What are your plans for the future?
Looking for a plot of isolated farmland.
Stream: Flora Yin-Wong – Groove Podcast 289
01. Ceili – Intro
02. Riar Rizaldi – Istana
03. Henzo – Not Like That, Not Like You
04. Holsten – 5150
05. Arexibo – Small Love
06. Morah – Voltage#2
07. LCY – 2020
08. E-Saggila – Mantis Print
09. D.Dan – Sun Over I5 South
10. Priori – Infinity
11. xpedient – E0004
12. Blessed Are The Hearts – Kaal
13. Shamos – Advert 1
14. Brian Bennett – The Swan