Yi-Ting Lu: An Unopened Seashell

, composer


Composer Yi-Ting Lu releases her debut album, An Unopened Seashell, a collection of five solo works that demonstrates her capacity for using musical materials to explore extra-musical phenomena. Featuring performances by bassoonist Ben Roidl-Ward, harpist Ben Melsky, pianist Lam Wong, saxophonist Thomas Giles, and guitarist Daniel Lippel, An Unopened Seashell is an exciting first release from a composer with a captivating balance between her management of development and structure, creative approach to instrumental writing, and a flair for expressive character.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 49:15
01Slimy Tracks
Slimy Tracks
Daniel Lippel, guitar9:23
Ben Roidl-Ward, bassoon6:53
03Half Decorations
Half Decorations
Ben Melsky, harp10:48
04Sewing in Thin Air
Sewing in Thin Air
Lam Wong, piano7:51
05An Unopened Seashell
An Unopened Seashell
Thomas Giles, alto saxophone14:20

Yi Ting-Lu’s compositional voice is grounded in her observations; she contemplates scenes and experiences and extrapolates them into sound. She shares a deconstructive quality with the painter, seeing/hearing beneath the superficial presentation of an object to its obscured qualities. Complementing her creative observational bent is a finely cultivated discipline in how she develops ideas. Motives evolve in a transparent way that binds the composition together, supporting a cohesive structure even in the freest works.

Slimy Tracks for classical guitar, performed by Daniel Lippel, focuses not on the snail’s speed, or lack thereof, but instead on the tracks it leaves behind on the road. A radio tuned to white noise acts as the foundation from which the piece springs from and ultimately returns. Glissandi, with and without a bottleneck slide, tapping techniques, and pizzicato lend the work a fluid, tactile quality that evokes a small creature. The musical ideas in Slimy Tracks tend to undergo diminution over time, as Yi-Ting Lu compresses material after it has been introduced, interspersing it with other motives to intensify the texture as it heads towards structural arrivals.

Taxidermy for solo bassoon, performed by Ben Roidl-Ward, is the title work in a series of pieces that explore the instrument. The piece is oriented around linear passages that are interrupted by various timbral irregularities. In this way, Yi-Ting Lu establishes a duality between the conventional persona of the bassoon and a darker alter-ego that is steadily infiltrating and imposing its will. As the structure enfolds, the alter-ego comes to the fore as the primary character, painting with a rough, multihued brush.

Half Decorations for harp, played by Ben Melsky, opens with a delicate, tinkling texture (the byproduct of playing the high strings with harp tuning keys) accompanied by airy harmonics. An assertive moto perpetuo figure emerges with accented bursts that increase in frequency, and expand in register. A rhythmically free section follows, establishing a counterpoint between obscured pitches played on prepared strings and the resultant non-pitched artifacts from the preparations. By allowing the sonic vocabulary to include these textures, Lu brings our attention to the physicality of the harp itself, the strings, the soundboard, and the mechanics of sound production. In performances, the harp is decorated by Christmas ornaments steadily throughout the piece, adding a theatrical element.

Yi-Ting Lu studied piano as a child. The process of composing Sewing in Thin Air brought memories back of her school days growing up in Taiwan, and specifically her father’s patient sewing of her school uniform. One can hear the threads in the repeated ostinato figure in the right hand in the piece’s opening, and the way in which it is interwoven with the contrasting line in the middle register. A flowing moderato section follows, in which an implied melody emerges from subtle accents that pop out of the regular texture. Brilliant arpeggio figures and ornamented scale bursts are pit against ominous low register tremolos, all primarily articulating one central harmony. Pianist Lam Wong is heard on this recording.

In An Unopened Seashell, performed by Thomas Giles, Yi-Ting Lu imagines the sound world inside of a seashell, using fragile extended techniques on the saxophone to conjure this unique resonant space. Breath is at the core of the work, specifically notating inhalation and exhalation sounds and inviting the listener inside the respiration process of the performer. Subtle slap tongueing, altissimo, and multiphonics are combined in modular cells that embody the breathless quality of trying to express an idea faster than one can get the words out. Contrast is achieved through extroverted music that boils over the simmering surface of the prevailing delicate texture that has been established. The work closes with an extended passage of elemental breaths, a poignant moment of collective ritual.

These five solo pieces offer an excellent introduction to Yi-Ting Lu’s craft, as we listen to her approach to timbre and gesture under the microscope of the limitations of a single instrument. There is an understated joy in how she expresses phenomenon in sound, never hitting the listener over the head with the “program” of the music, but instead subtly engaging with it as a catalyst for sophisticated play.

— Dan Lippel

Executive producers: Yi-Ting Lu and Daniel Lippel

Recording engineers: Ryan Streber (#1 and #5), Dan Nichols (#2 and #3), Frank McKearn IV (#4)

Recording locations: Oktaven Audio, Mount Vernon, NY, 2023 (#1 and #5); Northwestern University Galvin Recital Hall, Evanston, IL, 2023 (#2 and #3); Northwestern University Regenstein Master Class Room, Evanston, IL, 2023 (#4)

Session producers: Daniel Lippel/Ryan Streber/Yi-Ting Lu (#1), Ryan Streber/ Yi-Ting Lu (#5), Yi-Ting Lu (all other tracks)

Editing producers: Daniel Lippel/Yi-Ting Lu (#1), Ben Roidl-Ward/Yi-Ting Lu (#2), Yi-Ting Lu (all other tracks)

Editing, mixing, and mastering: Ryan Streber and Charles Mueller, Oktaven Audio

Design and layout: Ray Weng

Photography: Ian Liu

Yi-Ting Lu

Yi-Ting Lu, born and raised in Taiwan and currently based in Chicago, is a composer whose works often reflect and reshape live scenes or experiences through fragmented acoustic sounds. Concepts of transcultural exchanges and collectivity can be discovered
within her compositions.

She is a recipient of the Carl Kanter Prize for orchestral composition, the William T. Faricy Award for creative music, Nief-Norf Summer Festival International Call for Score Winner, and Transient Canvas Composition Fellowship. Other honors include being chosen as a representative of Taiwan at the 66th International Rostrum of Composers in Argentina, recognized for honorable mention at the DeGaetano Composition Institute, and selected as a finalist in the Talea Ensemble Emerging Composer Commissioning Program, National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra Competition, and the Young Composers’ Competition of Rudolph Award. Her work has also been the 2019 Ilsuono Contemporary Music Academy’s Choice to be published by AltrEdizioni Casa Editrice.

Her music has been featured in Time:Span Festival (USA), Gaudeamus Festival (NL), Ilsuono Contemporary Music Academy (IT), Musiikin Aiko Time of Music (FI), Musikinstitut Darmstadt (GR), Sound of Wander (IT), Voix Nouvelles Academy in Royaumont (FR), International Double Reed Society (USA), Thailand New Music and Arts Symposium (TL), Nanhua Ethnomusicology International Symposium (TW), Asian Classical Music Initiative Conference (USA), and others; has been performed, and/or commissioned by the Arditti Quartet, Ensemble Suono Giallo, Ensemble vocal Les Métaboles, Ensemble Mise-en, Mdi Ensemble, Mivos Quartet, Orkest De Ereprijs, PushBack Collective, Quatuor Tana, Yarn/Wire, 3 People Music, Clarinetist Vasko Dukovski, MSM Orchestra (under the baton of George Manahan), National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra, among others.

Yi-Ting is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in composition and music technology at Northwestern University under the tutelage of Hans Thomalla, Jay Alan Yim, and Alex Mincek. She completed a Master’s degree in Music Composition at Manhattan School of Music, where she studied with Reiko Füting and Susan Botti. Prior to her graduate studies in the United States, she studied with Tsung-Hsien Yang and Wan-Jen Huang and received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Composition and Theory at Taipei National University of the Arts.