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Yunyu in 2011

Yunyu in 2011 anime inspired musician talks to Nalini Haynes of Dark Matter


I interviewed Yunyu again in 2012, this time in MP3 (podcast) format.  On 6 June 2012 I posted Yunyu’s recent news.  This interview is only available in text format.

Yunyu’s information on Facebook includes the following:

Yunyu makes music that sounds like the musical extract of Kate Bush, Isaac Asimov and Edgar Allan Poe — if they plonked their DNA in a particle accelerator.

Her musical career started when her mom named her Yunyu (beautiful rhythms) and auditioned her into a classical music concentration camp when she was 3. Like all misfits, she found the classical environment a little lacking in humour. After countless, merciless tortures she finally tunnelled to freedom using nothing but a very blunt, leadless, eye pencil at aged 9. The trauma of the near death experience caused Yunyu to connect with Zombies and the Spirit world on a deep, personal level.

Yunyu’s weapons of choice are keyboards and piano and also the Gu Zheng — An age old oriental instrument. Yunyu won Australia’s Triple J Unearthed with ‘You Are Expendable’ and subsequently made the 4 minute wonder music video. ‘You are expendable’ topped the Canadian college Charts for a month peaking at No.6.

Lenore’s Song is Yunyu’s most requested song at gigs. It is a reply letter to Edgar Allen Poe’s – ‘The Raven’. Writing dead people love letters is Yunyu’s idea of romance.

Together with award winning producer, Matt Carter, and borrowing crew talents from Lord of the Rings and Superman Returns, a music video of Lenore’s Song was made. An ambitious stop motion film, consisting of 17000 digital stills, Lenore’s Song video achieved over 42000 views and counting on youtube.com

Yunyu likes her anime. Resoundingly influenced by Neon Genesis – Evangelion, Rurouni Kenshin and a steady diet of Hayao Miyazaki films (see Fireflies) mean that songs come off as sounding a little cute and J Pop influenced. She, however, worships literature from the dark side. So the music industry says she makes cute, morbid pop.

Since her escape from the classical realms, Yunyu has lived in mortal fear that her classical past might come a-hunting. As a result, she’s always armed, overly paranoid and hears voices which she calls the muses.

“Whatever,” say the muses. “Play our music, or face our wrath from beyond….”

Twisted Tales – Yunyu’s 2nd album comes out in 2012.

For more information go to Yunyu’s website and facebook.

Nalini: Hello. Thank you for talking to Dark Matter.

Yunyu: You’re welcome.

Nalini: I’m fascinated by your bio; would you like to add anything to what you’ve got on Facebook?

Yunyu: My initial training was classical but I couldn’t sight read to save my life. When you’re in a conservative classical environment and you can’t sight read you’re like the musical equivalent of a leper. In a really classical and traditional environment that is a no-go zone. Needless to say I just didn’t stay in that environment for very much longer. I started when I was three and quit when I was ten.

Nalini: Most children in Australia can’t read English when they’re three, let alone music. Did they expect you to sight read by the time you were three?

Yunyu: Oh no, I started learning the piano when I was three. I would just memorise what was being played and I’d pretend I was sight-reading. Every musical lesson was a Mortal Kombat session. Basically someone was in pain at the end of it. Usually it was me. In the end I told my folks that I hate music, please bury the piano, burn it, I don’t care, go away music, I don’t ever want to see it again. This combined with the fact that folks were buying bad piano cover songs to “inspire” (think cheesy 70s love songs) I figure that I didn’t really have much to lose by cutting music out of my life.

I think the musical standoff lasted for a couple of years until I heard some songs I really liked on the radio. I remember getting to the piano and realising that I could still play by ear. It was nice, returning to music, but on my own terms.The rest, as they say is some kind of history.

Nalini: You say your weapons of choice are keyboards and piano, so you stayed with the keyboard and piano since then?

Yunyu: Yes, but on my own terms. I also do play the Chinese zither, the Gu Zheng. It’s a 21 string instrument, quite long, as long as your average 88 key keyboard. It’s really fun to play, a pentatonic scale thing, typical of chinese instruments.

Nalini: When did you start playing that?

Yunyu: I picked it up in high school as an extra-curricular activity. It wasn’t very cool when I started though: by default, when you’re a kid, if you have an instrument that is bigger than yourself with a case about the size of a coffin, it’s very hard to be cool when you’re travelling with the school band and trying to haul this coffin thing up the stairs*Yunyu makes verbal tripping, crashing sounds*

Nalini: You’ve won Australia’s triple J Unearthed competition: how did you come to enter the competition?

Yunyu: Serrendipity. At that point I had come from Singapore and I was still halfway through uni. I’d just got into song writing and discovering that I could write. It was probably six months after I first started writing. A friend of mine told me about the radio competition. At that point I was so new in the country I didn’t even know what Triple J was, so I just entered because it looked like a bit of fun. The next minute I got this call saying I won Triple J Unearthed. It was a bit embarrassing because I think at one point I asked Caroline Tran who she was. That was bad. I didn’t know the scale of it, the enormity of it until a little bit after.

Nalini: When you started to realise the enormity of it, what was that like?

Yunyu: Very honoured. Being so new in the art of song writing, you don’t sort of expect to win anything or get anything from it. It was a hobby, I did it for me. So when that happened it was a bit of ‘oh my god, how can I ever top that?’

Nalini: It says that you made the four-minute wonder music video: was that like a prize for the competition?

Yunyu: Yeah, I think South Australia film commission put out $10,000 to any animator who could successfully pitch for the bands who won Unearthed that year, so of course my song, along with the rest of the other winners, were put up on a website. People could download it and make animations to it. Luke Gibbs won the animation. I like that he had met violent death bear which was what you’re expendable video was. It’s like a killer Ken doll evil existentialist doll video.

Nalini: It says here you topped the Canadian college charts for a month. You were in Singapore, you moved to Australia – why did you move to Australia?

Yunyu: To do my university. I was doing my information technology and systems degree, nothing to do with the arts. I was staying by myself so I have more free time then you intend to, so that’s how I got back into music as well. When I got the album recorded I put one of two tracks – they didn’t have My Space at that point so I ended up going up and down the college radio list. I didn’t care where they were based, I e-mailed everyone. Some of the music directors in Canada really liked the track and put it on, and the next minute I’m charting.

Nalini: So you’re an international phenomenon.

Yunyu: Somewhat, isn’t any online musician?…comes with the beauty of the internet really. I didn’t really plan for that, I just sort of dropped it into some stations and next minute it happened. Pretty cool, because I was charting next to Jane’s Addiction and stuff on 2 of the stations in Canada. After that, it also helped that my graphic novel heroes Warren Ellis and Neil Gaiman mentioned my music on their blogs.

Nalini: I think I read somewhere that you haven’t been signed up yet: have you signed with anyone yet?

Yunyu: I’m signed to a management company but not signed to a label yet. I haven’t really been convinced enough to be since the concept of most labels are in the doldrums now.

Nalini: You’re producing songs that are available on the Internet and are available to buy; are you producing CDs as well?

Yunyu: My first album has sold out now. I think there are a couple of copies left but that’s all. My next album, Twisted Tales comes out sometime in 2012. It’s an episodic collaboration with an award winning manga artist; Queenie Chan. She’s done this horror trilogy called The Dreaming and has worked with Dean Koontz as well.We’ve become friends through attending Science Fiction Conventions: I got to know her work and herself as well. So in 2012 the release will be a result of a collaboration along with an animation company from Thailand called The Communist. We’re releasing the singles that are stories and they’re all in episodic nature. Check out the trailer for the first single.

 Nalini: You have a history of enjoying anime and being inspired by anime. Does that come from your Singaporean upbringing?

Yunyu: I’m not sure. Perhaps. I don’t even remember a time without anime. Anime is something you’re born into when you’re in Asia I suppose. (It’s called Dong Hwa Pian) where I’m from. I remember watching Osamu Tezuka’s Kimba dubbed into Cantonese and later Mandarin. I don’t remember a time without Anime.

Nalini: It’s just part of who you are.

Yunyu: Yeah, it’s a huge part. When I came to Australia it was like oh, you guys are into it as well. I think it was pretty fresh at that point. That was I think when Dragon Ball Z was still showing.

Nalini: It was certainly seen to be more for the younger generation. My son was really into it.

Yunyu: Dragon Ball was around for the longest time for me so when I came here I was watching this anime that is 10 years old just airing in Australia. Good to see the growth of Anime in Australia though, it’s all caught up now.

Nalini: Do you have any personal favourites in the anime media?

Yunyu: Hard to pick. Different favourites for different moods I think. I think Mushishi would be one of my top five. It’s based on a guy who is basically some kind of worm expert. A lot of the spiritual events or the ghost like events in the universe are explained by these wormlike or parasites things causing a disturbance, but presented in a really Zen-like way. So it’s a really hard series to describe. There’s also Mononoke.

Nalini: I love Princess Mononoke.

Yunyu: Ah, the other one.

Nalini: Are there two?

Yunyu: Princess Mononoke is the Hayao Miyazaki one which is good but you should check out Mononoke as well. It features an exorcist of sorts working in a world where good and evil aren’t quite so well defined. Trouble making spirits aren’t all evil, there isn’t always flat out exorcism but a kind of negotiation, an understanding of the why and how of a spiritual event. Exorcism of a spirit is almost a last resort: Mononoke has very beautiful artwork, you’d like it.

Mushishi and Mononoke are my favourites. Then Paprika, I don’t know if you know Paprika.  It is the original Inception. Inception copied Paprika, in my opinion.

Nalini: That’s not really unusual. I saw the most amazing flick on the Internet recently showing how the Matrix copied a number of Asian martial arts films and anime. There were scene for scene comparisons, it was pretty amazing,  so it doesn’t really surprise me that Inception isn’t original. That sounds great, I mean, I love Inception.

Yunyu: Inception was awesome, beautiful. I watched Inception first. Paprika was always something I’d say I’d watch but then I just never got around to it. Glad I did, wonderful work, great music. Inception seemed so obviously inspired by it – especially the lobby scene.

(If you want to know, I’m a bit of a martial artist nerd, quite a few of the clips mentioned in the vimeo clip you linked to all share the same Martial Arts choreographer as Matrix – Yuen Woo Ping. That man’s a legend, I grew up on his films, I also lost my front tooth as a kid trying to copy his stunts. He’s so well versed in so many styles of martial arts, since he’s trained since he was a foetus. Neo’s style is predominantly Wing Chun, nose rubs and OTT acting while fighting are tributes…not a copy IMHO. – for those who are interested)

Nalini: It’s really good to pick someone’s brains to get an idea of what to watch. I’ve watched a little bit of anime but not a lot; I want to get hold of the good stuff.

Yunyu: Where do I start? There is a huge variety. It depends on what you’re looking for. There’s the awesome fantasy stuff I mentioned earlier then there’s stuff catered for the salary man (Planetes). There’s also the really crazy stuff, like I can’t believe this is on TV sort of anime. There’s one called Health and Physical Education for 30-Year-Olds (30 sai no Hoken Taiiku). This is like an educational anime to teach people how to date etc. The anime starts from the guy’s perspective, then the girls. They have these fairy god fathers and mothers who then teach them to be romantic and talk properly and not do weird faux pas that will never land them another date again.

Nalini: That sounds hilarious.

Yunyu: The show is wrong, wrong and wronger. Especially the fairy godfather. It depends on what you’re looking for, that’s why you really can’t not get into anime when It’s got everything for everyone.

Nalini: I was talking to someone at Armageddon who said anime isn’t a genre it’s a medium.

Yunyu: Yeah. He said it so rightly, that’s probably the best way to put it. It is so not a genre. You can’t put a genre to this thing; it’s like calling film a genre. It hardly makes sense.

Nalini: How do you think anime has impacted on your music?

Yunyu: A lot of my relationship with music comes from visual mediums. That’s how I see music, with moving pictures. When I started discovering my song writing abilities and experimenting with different styles, I realised I just wanted to create the sort of music that told a very visual story. I’m a very visual person, but I’m trapped by my inability to draw. So I compensate with music and try to paint pictures with sound. The challenge for myself was always to tell a story or capture an image in 4 minutes, the length of a conventional pop song. Okay, maybe Anime stories would do it in 20-40minutes, but I’m going to try to do it in 4 minutes. I’ve watched many varied anime with musical styles that are always different and I learn from them, and I come across all these amazing composers like Susumu Hirasawa (Berserk, Paprika) and Yuki Kajiura (Noir) who basically do really varied genres for one film. I kind of aspire to be that, so I don’t just stick to one genre for all my music. I traversed the entire music territory because I think I should, because the characters in the stories I want to tell demand that to happen. That episodic nature in anime is what I wanted to capture in my music as well, especially in the creation of the new album Twisted Tales.

Nalini: That’s incredibly ambitious.

Yunyu: I try. [Laughter] Never hurts to try. I have this morbid fear that I’ll make songs that sound similar to one another. That’s why I keep learning and keep trying to write tracks that are very different. Also I have a very short attention span I don’t think I could work on one genre for a whole album. I’ll never make it, my brain won’t let me. With the upcoming album I found myself having to play a role somewhat akin to a voice actor, learning to sing a different style as the different songs demanded.

Nalini: So you find you need to move on and find something fresh to stay inspired.

Yunyu: Yeah, definitely.

Nalini: You worked with Marianne de Pierres on a book trailer. 

Yunyu: We worked on 2 tracks. One was Angel Arias and one was Bluebeard. With the song Angel Arias, working with Marianne was interesting as she gave me this whole new visual terrain to work on. Marianne wasn’t too specific at that point in time about what the reference cultures would be except that it’s a whole new alien culture. She hadn’t given me at that point of time any cultural references at all, but when I was reading it, the story opened with quite traditionalist figures, the women being covered up and all that, my first thought was I hadn’t written anything that was Middle Eastern-old Orient-Persian-type stuff, but I was going to try. Marianne’s world presented that new challenge which is fun. It meant I had to start researching that sort of music which I enjoyed.

Nalini: So Marianne gave you the book and asked you to create a soundtrack for the book trailer.

Yunyu: Yes, it was like: make stuff!

Nalini: Did the visuals come later for the book trailer?

Yunyu: The book trailer came last. I was talking about the first book which is Burn Bright. That was the composing style. Then the second track was for the second book called Angel Arias. It was a much faster paced one and it was quite good timing on her end because I had just been working on my last tracks for my album in 2012. She was like: come up with a second one. I said, ‘You know what? This thing I’m working on called Bluebeard is going to suit what you have because it is so fast paced’; it dances in a similar vein but it doesn’t tell much of the story. Angel Arias has to give a lot away. So I gave her Bluebeard, and the way Bluebeard was done it is actually a Morse code signal. If you listen to the opening of Bluebeard and you know your Morse code, you’d actually hear a Morse code on repeat.

Nalini: What is the Morse code transmitting?

Yunyu: It’s SOS. Dit dit dit dah dah dah dit dit dit. Listen closely, you’ll hear it in the rhythm of the verses for Bluebeard.

Nalini: And they were actually talking in the book about codes in the music. Wow.

Yunyu: Yes. Bluebeard to me was the person that needs help because he’s just mental and wants to be the judge and jury and hurt people. So I put SOS codes into the music. When I read Marianne’s book I was like: ‘you and I are talking about the same thing’, so that worked out really well. Some of my songs are based on codes, random numbers in phonebooks and mathematical formulas.  Bluebeard ended up being one of the hardest songs to write, which is why it took so long as well. To do that meant it was a song in multiple time signatures. I hadn’t really done anything much with multiple time signatures so that was a bit of fun and a bit disorienting.

Nalini: It’s a bit unusual isn’t it, to change time signatures part way through?

Yunyu: No, A couple of people have done it. I just don’t know of many people who have done it with Morse code, which I thought was fun. Led Zeppelin have got a couple of songs that change time signatures, a lot of heavy metal bands do time signature changes as well. Makes for quite a bit of interestingness. I always wanted to do a song with multiple changes of time signature but I never had the right motivation for it.

Nalini: Along with all this creativity do you need to have a day job or is this paying the bills?

Yunyu: I do have day jobs that I’m working very hard to get rid of. Eventually I hope next year I will never have to look at another piece of programming crap again.

Nalini: Do you think being in the IT industry has had an impact on your music apart from taking up too much time?

Yunyu: Not really. That may be a lie – it probably does. I was realising the other day when you start creating you use many aspects of yourself. In my case I’ve always thought of music as a purely artistic endeavour and it’s all going to be really fun and creative and everything.

I realise that as my craft developed, more of myself actually leaks into it. There is a mathematical/ science loving part of my brain that I’ve ended up using a lot more than I consciously intended to throughout the creation of my new album as well.
I mean, there’s a song about a lost cosmonaut in there. Then there’s this other song that involves me writing all the notes out in a manuscript, and seeing if I could create a catchy pop song where the notes would mirror each other when the manuscript was folded twice. Like musical origami.

Nalini: It does? Does this mean you’ve learnt to sight read now?

Yunyu: Hell no. No, I kind of had the song in my head and tested it out on the manuscript very slowly. And then I had somebody who could actually read check it, because I don’t have much musical theory left in my brain now. I’ve had to relearn just enough to do it, just enough to get by. Nothing more, my brain is stupendously lazy like that.

Nalini: That’s a really interesting way of looking at it because sometimes I think we can get bogged down in the rules and there are so many rules in music.

Yunyu: There are so many rules in music. I can tell you that it’s amazing how much you forget when you haven’t touched musical theory for a while. In the making of Bluebeard, I forgot how long a bar was supposed to be. So when I was calculating and telling people what the time signature was I came up with something really frighteningly ridiculous like 33 quavers in a bar. A bar is not supposed to be that long. So stuff like that you get corrected for but hey, they are fun mistakes….to me anyways. Thing is, I don’t really break rules out of defiance, mostly I just forgot they were there in the first place. Too many rules to track.

Nalini: I can hear what you’re saying and I can relate to it so well in writing. I think if I tried to write a novel 10 years ago it would have been a lot better than what I’m struggling with at the moment.

Y: It’s pretty liberating when you don’t know what you’re not supposed to do. That’s an advantage of not knowing the rulebook or having a very short memory when rules are concerned.

Nalini: Things can always be patched up afterwards once you’ve had these amazing flights of imagination.

Yunyu: I think so, and that’s when you hopefully break new ground in interesting ways as well.

Nalini: Yes. I’ve also had 10 years of academic studies, during which I’ve had most of my adjectives drummed out of me.

Yunyu: Is that a good thing?

Nalini: No. It’s not. But I’m slowly unlearning. So you’re working with a team of people in developing your music. How has this team of people come together?

Yunyu: Twisted Tales is more than just a music album. It has music, manga and animation – a huge collaboration. On the manga side of it is Queenie Chan, we’ve been long time friends so I was really happy when she said yes to the collaboration. We are working with a few animation companies but one of them is “The Communist”.

Music wise I’ve had the pleasure of working with very versatile musicians through my manager. Twisted Tales is very musically diverse and challenging and working with great musicians who were well versed in a variety musical genres was imperitive.

Nalini: Apart from this one album coming up in 2012, do you have any other plans that you can share with people?

Yunyu: That’s pretty much it. It’s a mountain of work there. Closer to the time you will hear news of the album. It is quite an ambitious project because it is quite heavily multimedia. I mentioned we’re working with a manga artist Queenie Chan, and animator company The Communist. It’s going to be a multimedia collaboration where the same story is going to be told from three different perspectives in three different mediums. So the very nature of it is really full on next year, and we’ll see where that takes us.

Nalini: Do you have plans for the launch yet?

Yunyu: We’re looking at the early 2012 for the single, then touring.

Nalini: Where are you touring?

Yunyu: At the moment along the eastern seaboard, so Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane.

Nalini: How are fans going to find out about the tour dates and stuff like that?

Yunyu: I’ll be really noisy on Facebook near the time, get on my mailing list definitely. My mailing list will have heaps of updates and heaps of freebies as well.

Nalini: How do people get onto the mailing list?

Yunyu: Go to yunyu.com.au. There is a mailing list signup there. 

Nalini: Is there any hope of an international tour or are you just keeping it Australian at the moment?

Yunyu: Keeping it Australian at the moment, but I’d definitely like to, depending on how the album is received next year, we’ll start planning. My publicist is working on all the stuff that needs to be done. It depends on how it is received and if people overseas are making a lot of noise then I will go where the noise takes me, which would be awesome. I’m still looking for a reason to tour on the other hemisphere.

Nalini: That would be great. With the local scene do you do the conventions like Armageddon and Manifest and Supanova?

Yunyu: There are plans to. It makes sense as Madman Entertainment is our distributor. I have done a couple of other anime conventions in Sydney. I haven’t done that in 2011 because of gearing up for next year and getting the show prepped for next year. The new album overhauled the show’s old-style as well, so a bit of work goes into that. I guess we are looking to try and hit all these conventions again in 2012.

Nalini: Is there anything you’d like to say to fans?

Yunyu: You are my awesome awesome spiderlings and I look forward to sharing this wonderful album.

Nalini: That sounds very exciting.

Yunyu: We’re all very excited and holding our breath. But it’s going to be fun. Thank you very much for having me.

Nalini: Thank you for talking to Dark Matter.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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