Du Yun: Dinosaur Scar

, composer


Pulitzer Prize winner Du Yun's collaboration with the International Contemporary Ensemble traces back to the group's formation at Oberlin Conservatory. This new release on ICE's Tundra imprint chronicles that fruitful relationship with dynamic ensemble works, solos with and without electronics, and improvisations. Dinosaur Scar captures the synergy of musicians who have spoken a composer's language over many years, and a composer writing for the virtuosity of specific performers. 


Pulitzer Prize winning composer Du Yun cannot be contained -- her compositional voice consistently pushes past genre boundaries and rises above stylistic conventions. Du Yun’s music is vigorously gestural, painting in broad strokes that are guided by her finely tuned sense of structural pacing. “Dinosaur Scar” chronicles one of the most important collaborative relationships of Du Yun’s trajectory, her long standing working relationship with ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble), of which she was a founding member. The performances and pieces themselves are the byproduct of the kind of synergistic relationship that comes from a lengthy partnership, where composer and performer alike understand the music beyond the notation, those essential nuances that bring a composer’s personality to life. The recording opens with the large ensemble work, Impeccable Quake, an explosion of energetic percussion, swooping passagework in the strings and bass clarinet, wah-wah electric guitar, and strident punctuations in the winds. The piece vacillates between frenzied through-composed material that displays influences of free improvisation to ethereal, otherworldly passages featuring alternating phrases for individual soloists. At the culmination of the work, whispers in the ensemble build to a full throated shout to articulate a final cathartic arrival. Dreams Bend for narrator, violin, cello, and clarinet, is in line with other works by Du Yun for narrator with ensemble, as she paints a cryptic, opaque text with otherworldly instrumental gestures (see an encounter if at noon, a summer off her experimental pop release “Shark in You” FCR118, for a similar setting).

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The two improvisations included on the program serve as connecting material between notated works, and capture Du Yun’s performing relationship with the ensemble in a spontaneous setting, one in which musical ideas arise from the shared vocabulary that she and the group had developed together. Dinosaur Scar, performed by ICE’s virtuoso saxophonist Ryan Muncy, is an early work by Du Yun, but in its expressive exploration of extended techniques, it displays a characteristic gestural energy overflowing conventional limits. Air Glow has existed in several versions (a hallmark of Du Yun’s practical versatility is her ability to adapt works for multiple performance settings, preserving the core of the piece while showing different colors and sides of the composition) and is heard here in a version for four trumpets, flugelhorn, and electric guitar/bass. Harmon mutes and slithering lines in the trumpets paint a hazy picture in the earlier sections of the piece. The electric guitar enters later with structured improvised material, coloring the increasingly extroverted music in the trumpets, before an electronic drum track further intensifies the texture. While modal material throughout in the trumpet parts lends the piece a ritualistic flair, pitch and gestural irregularity eventually wins the day, sending it over the edge into satisfying disorder. Vicissitudes Alone is an extraction of the pointed steel-string guitar solo from Du Yun’s ensemble work, Vicissitudes #1 (recorded by ICE on “Abandoned Time” FCR104), adding pre-recorded zheng (a Chinese zither) and electric guitar as an accompanimental electronic track, with an improvised coda. Run in a Graveyard was composed for founder and former artistic and executive director of ICE, unparalleled flutist Claire Chase, and was originally released on Chase’s recording “Aliento” (FCR109). The electro-acoustic work is written perfectly for Chase’s combination of technical prowess, expressive power, and interpretative flair. Du Yun’s Pulitzer Prize winning opera Angel’s Bone includes many featured moments for various instruments — among them is a duet for oboe and tam-tam. James Austin Smith channels an ancient snake charmer and Ross Karre the wily creature in their powerful performance of this unique piece. The final work on the recording, by, of…Lethean, features Du Yun as a performer on zheng. Microtonal inflections color vocal inflected phrasing in the instruments, as the zheng weaves in and out of the texture. We hear Du Yun’s connection to the music of her native China most clearly in the closing section of this piece, but the influence is felt primarily as an expressive color, a tool in the arsenal of an artist who defies expectation at every turn. This collection of works both documents important pieces of Du Yun’s concert music, but also reaffirms her powerful artistic voice that asserts itself in all the diverse settings in which she works.

– D. Lippel

Producers: Du Yun, Jacob Greenberg, Kivie Cahn-Lipman
Editing Producers: Jacob Greenberg (1, 2, 10), Du Yun (3, 4, 5, 8, 9), Daniel Lippel (5, 6), Claire Chase (7)
Session Producers: Joshua Rubin (1, 10) Du Yun (4, 5, 6, 7, 8)

Recorded and engineereed: Tracks, 1, 2, 3, 7, 9, 10 by Ryan Streber @ Sweeney Concert Hall, Smith College, 2009
Tracks 4, 5, 6 by Ryan Streber @ Oktaven Audio, 2018
Track 8 by Theo Metz @ Shea Center for Performing Arts, William Paterson University, 2014

All tracks mixed by Jonathan Jetter @ Right Angle Productions, June 2018
All tracks mastered by Ryan Streber @ Oktaven Audio, July 2018, oktavenaudio.com
2018 recording session assistant: Qin Zhen

Album Design by Kim Mai Tran
Album Photography by Spa Theory 2017, Angela Fan, Olivia Obin & Kim Mai Tran, spatheory.co

Du Yun

Pulitzer-prize winner Du Yun, born and raised in Shanghai, China, currently based in New York City, is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, performance artist, activist and curator for new music, working at the intersection of orchestral, opera, chamber music, theatre, cabaret, musical, oral tradition, public performances, sound installation, electronics, visual arts and noise. Hailed by the New York Times as a leading figure in China’s new generation of composers and often cited as a key activist in New York’s “new movement in new music,’ Du Yun’s music is championed by some of today’s finest performing artists, ensembles, orchestras and organizations.

Known as “protean” and “chameleonic,” the National Public Radio voted her as one of 100 composers under 40 in 2011; The Washington Post listed her as one of top 35 female composers in classical music. In 2017, she won the Pulitzer Prize in Music for her opera, Angel’s Bone. She is a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow.

Du Yun’s music can be heard on VIA, New Focus, Deutsche Grammophon, Pentatone, Oxingale and ATMA Classique. Education: The PreCollege of Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Oberlin Conservatory (BM), Harvard University (PhD). Du Yun is currently on the composition faculty at the Peabody Institute and the artist-in-residence at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. She was a founding member of ICE, in 2014-2018 the artistic director of MATA Festival. In order to champion more cross-regional collaborations, she spearheaded the inaugural Pan Asia Sounding Festival in 2018 in New York City, future iterations in Hong Kong, London and Norway.

As an avid performer, she has appeared in many assorted holes and halls, sites and museums. Her onstage persona has been described by the New York Times as “an indie pop diva with an avant-garde edge.” She also leads her band, Ok Miss.

As a performance artist, solo engagements include the 2012 Guangzhou Art Triennial at the Guangzhou Opera House, the National Academy Museum (USA), the inaugural Shanghai Project and Contemporary Arts Center Córdoba (Spain). Her ongoing collaboration works with the Pakistani-American visual artist Shahzia Sikander have shown around the world, and as permanent collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.

Du Yun has also worked in the theatre. Credit: original music for Kung Fu by David Henry Hwang; composer of the musical Dim Sum Warriors by Yenyen Woo and Colin Goh, on tour in China in 25 major cities in 2018.

10 Dec, 2018

New Focus Titles on 2018 Year End Lists

We're always honored to see our albums make it onto year-end best of lists, and we'll compile all of them on this page as they come in. Sequenza21 - Best Instrumental and Recital CDs of 2018: Jacob Greenberg's "Hanging Gardens" with Tony Arnold and Josh Modney's "Engage" both made the list 5 Against 4 - Best Albums of 2018: Christopher Trapani's "Waterlines" made the list at #33 National …

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07 Dec, 2018

Grammy Nominations for Du Yun/ICE and Missy Mazzoli/Olivia De Prato!

Congratulations to Du Yun and Missy Mazzoli on both being nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Contemporary Classical Composition! Du Yun is nominated for Air Glow, performed by International Contemporary Ensemble, off her album "Dinosaur Scar" on the TUNDRA imprint Missy Mazzoli is nominated for Vespers for Violin, performed by Olivia De Prato, off De Prato's album …

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21 Oct, 2018

New Focus titles on the 2018 Grammy Ballot

Several New Focus releases are listed under various categories on the 2018 Grammy's ballot. Voting for the first round is open now, and goes until October 31st. If you are a voting member, thank you for considering these recordings: TUN011: Du Yun: Dinosaur Scar Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance: #88 Best Contemporary Composition: #49 for Air …

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02 Oct, 2018

Du Yun Portrait Concert at Miller Theatre @ Columbia University

Miller Theatre at Columbia University is honoring Du Yun with one of their prestigious Portrait Concerts, happening on November 15th at 8pm. The concert will be featuring two works from her recent album, "Dinosaur Scar": Air Glow, and Impeccable Quake, performed by members of the International Contemporary Ensemble, alongside other works written with and for the group. Tickets are available at …

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An Earful

I'm one of those slightly clueless types who actually needed Du Yun to win the Pulitzer Prize (as she did last year for Angel's Bone, her second opera) for me to become fully aware of her music. Seeing her furious concentration as a performer at the MATA Festival last spring was only a reiteration of her talents. Now we have this album, which is probably the most complete overview of her shorter works to date. I could be churlish and point out that six of the ten tracks have been in the can since 2009 - almost a decade, which is far too long for an artist as protean as Du Yun.

But there are many wonders within "Dinosaur Scar", such as Air Glow, which combines five brass players with electric guitar and bass for a sinuous, atmospheric experience that goes on for nearly 11 glorious minutes. The performers are all from the International Contemporary Ensemble, a testament to their 20-year working relationship with Du Yun and an assurance that they are all at the top of their field. Special note must by paid to guitarist Dan Lippel, whose does stunning work all over the record. Claire Chase is also here and in full effect on Run in a Graveyard, which she first included on her debut solo album in 2011. Pitting her alto flute against Du Yun's gnarly electronics creates a unique blend indeed, its strong narrative drive keeping you in suspense throughout.

The title track is the oldest piece, written for solo saxophone in 1999 when Du Yun was a sophomore in college, and played like it was hot off the sheet music by Ryan Muncy. This well-rounded collection also includes two scintillating improvisations, one which features Du Yun on kazoo, toy harmonica and phone, showing her humor. The electrifying and episodic by, of...Lethean ends the album, effectively soundtracking a movie I made up in my mind as I listened. What stories will Du Yun tell you?

P.S. A number of the works on "Dinosaur Scar" will be performed as part of Du Yun's Composer Portrait at the Miller Theater on November 15th. Perhaps I will see you there!

-Jeremy Shatan, 10.7.2018, An Earful


I Care If You Listen 2018 Editor's Picks

Dinosaur Scar (Tundra) is the International Contemporary Ensemble’s first portrait album dedicated to the works of composer Du Yun. Dinosaur Scar features ensemble works Impeccable Quake, dreams-bend, Air Glow, by, of … Lethean, and an excerpt from Angel’s Bone; solos Dinosaur Scar, Vicissitudes Alone, and Run in a Graveyard; and improvisations with the composer joining the ensemble as a performer.

Du Yun’s writing is explosive and complex, combining a disparate palette of timbres in compelling and innovative ways–and what a palette she has available to her in the musicians of the International Contemporary Ensemble. ICE’s relationship with Du Yun stretches back to the days of the ensemble’s inception, and the performances on Dinosaur Scar demonstrate a level of intrinsic mutual understanding that only comes from years of close collaboration. A particular highlight on Dinosaur Scar is Air Glow, which has received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Contemporary Classical Composition.

-Amanda Cook, 12.21.18, I Care If You Listen


Midwest Record

When is a 40 year old art chick not a 40 year old art chick? How about when she wins a Pulitzer and takes pots and pans music to the next level of the game making it sound like a tribute to Lou Reed with actual, scary music instead of feedback as the driving force. Often, this feels like the sound of your brain on drugs and often it feels like one of the greatest film noir/new wave soundtracks ever made. Diversity! Wild stuff that calls on you to be up for the task.

-Chris Spector, 9.26.2018, Midwest Record


In On The Corner

Du Yun is a Pulitzer Prize winning composer and a founding collaborator with the International Contemporary Ensemble and Dinosaur Scar is a retrospective of sorts released on ICE’s own Tundra imprint documenting her time working closely with ICE the past decade or so. Characteristics that have become hallmarks of ICE are all present on DS: masterful execution, stagnation-averse, extended techniques, fearless expressivity, improvisatory, and aesthetically exceptional.

While there is so much to digest with DS, a few highlights, coincidentally, of the release’s lengthiest pieces, follow: “Air Glow”, here adapted for four trumpets, flugelhorn, and electric guitar/bass is irrefutably majestic, like some demented ritual music; “by, of … Lethean” is also stunning, presenting a confounding-ly woven tapestry, perhaps of forgetfulness – Lethean was the river in Greek mythology that caused those who drank from it oblivion – and features Du Yun performing on zheng; “Run in a Graveyard” features flautist and founder / former artistic / executive director of ICE, Claire Chase, at first skipping, then, um, running, through a slowly detonating landmine of electronics, and is a tense dynamo!

The most accurate description these unqualified ears can conjure of Du Yun’s music is “subtlety edgy”: it is no hurry to make its point, but it will bite you if necessary. Much more exploring of her work is undoubtedly forthcoming.

-Kevin Coultas, 1.6.19, In On The Corner


Limelight Magazine

Born and raised in Shanghai, New York-based composer Du Yun (b. 1977) holds a PhD in composition from Harvard. Her opera Angel’s Bone won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2017, and she is a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow.

Dinosaur Scar brings together ten works composed between 1999 and 2009 that might be described as experimental chamber music and demonstrative of her association with the 35-member International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). Of this relationship, Du Yun notes, “For me, ICE and I are like that flowing river, from the streaming start, the dramatic gorges, and to the currents that flood into the ocean.” With the exception of the two full-ensemble works, Impeccable Quake (2004) and By, of… Lethean (2007), these works are for smaller groupings of players.

The titular Dinosaur Scar (1999) is for solo alto saxophone, Run in a Graveyard (2009) for solo alto flute, and in general the works are characterised by a strong brass/wind presence with occasional electronic augmentation. Throughout, Du Yun explores sonic textures, using gesture in conjunction with the strengths of her instrumental collaborators to produce disquieting soundscapes: Air Glow (2006/2018) with its slippery brass configuration is a particularly interesting highlight. Sympathetically recorded and beautifully presented, Dinosaur Scar finds Du Yun at the forefront of contemporary compositional developments.

-Lisa MacKinney, 2.27.19, Limelight Magazine


Gapplegate Classical-Modern Review

Du Yun was born in Shanghai, grew up in China and currently makes her home in New York. She is a composer of some renown these days. The Pulitzer Prize was hers in 2017 for her opera Angel's Bone. An album of select chamber works, Dinosaur Scar (Tundra New Focus TUN011), came out last year and I am giving it my ears this summer. It is good.

The fabulous International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) performs the music throughout. Ms. Yun and ICE have a symbiotic creative collaborative relationship, with mutually productive interchanges and friendships intersecting her and many of the individual members' lives going back now some 20 years. The closeness shows in the effective and knowing dedication ICE devote to the some ten works on the program at hand.

The music is varied, challenging and instrumentally diverse with a kind of unmistakable blend of ultra-contemporary High Modernist dynamics and space-pacing, Chinese roots deep down in its placing and dramatic impact, and a kind of brilliant torque in its presence and scoring. As you listen you hear Avant Jazz and Rock elements, a Chinese folk motif now and again and at times New Music-meets-Avant- Improv spontaneity. It is probably the case that everything ICE does is worth hearing but it is also true that Du Yun is one of our most satisfyingly adventurous voices composing today, an ultra-musicianly voice for our existence in time right now.

Happily recommended.

-Grego Applegate Edwards, 8.2.19, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Review


An Earful: Best of the 2010s

This protean performer and composer is almost too good for a Pulitzer Prize. Based on this blazingly brilliant collection as well as recent concerts at the MATA Festival, Miller Theatre, and Carnegie Hall, I predict that award will be forgotten in the light of the astounding achievements yet to come.

— Jeremy Shatan, 4.24.2020

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