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With an MFA in time-based studio art and an MA in sound studies, I have two academic goals. One is to expand my interdisciplinary research and creation that intersect my art, music and technology practices to the next level. Another is to be qualified for tenure-track teaching and research positions at post-secondary institutions. I believe the Ph.D. program in Music and Multimedia Composition at Brown University can help me with these goals.

I’ve heard for a long time about the radical and open academic atmosphere at Brown University, and I resonated with the local art and music culture fostered by Brown’s longstanding partnership with RISD and the history of noise rock in Providence. During my MFA research in digital poetics, I studied the projects made in the groundbreaking CAVE system at Brown, which supports creative digital arts through immersive and interactive 3D-stereo audiovisual environments. I have always had a yearning for Brown.

Brown’s MMC program looms large in my mind, mainly because of its outstanding faculty and interdisciplinary approach to music and multimedia production. When I visited the music department and met with Professor Butch this fall, I was reassured by the department’s openness — how it encourages inter-departmental research with supports and facilities shared across the Brown network, including RISD and the other Ivy League schools. I have received welcoming, generous and thoughtful feedback after talking to MMC alums Professor Freida Abtan and a closer conversation with Professor Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, current student Bonnie Jones and Kamari Carter in the open house.

All of these convince me that the MMC program at Brown is the ideal setting for realizing my two academic goals. With the dedicated time, funding and resources, studying in the MMC program will be the catalyzing experience for what I hope will be a fulfilling career in academia and art practices.

My research-creation coheres to the relationship between embodied experience and media technologies. My divergent lived experiences inform this interest and my methodology as a frequent migrator and practitioner in music, art, design, technology, and education. As a result, my creative practice is rooted in mindful and relational listening, the improvisational and conceptual nature of avant-garde sound-making, and the systemic thinking of computation. I work weaving worldviews emerging from multiple cultural and knowledge production modes into topological and malleable assemblages.

An assemblage is, as Anna Tsing encapsulates, “an open-ended entanglement of ways of being… where varied trajectories gain a hold on each other, but interdeterminancy matters.” Along with this line of thinking, I compose multimedia or multi-sensory (textual/visual/sonic/kinetic) installations and performances, remixing a wide variety of media, including but not limited to found materials and time-based and computational media. My most current research-based practices investigate the poetics and politics of human-machine coupling through the lens of feminist science and technology studies. From the primary entry points of language, speech, voice and code, my works respond to the emerging problems in planetary-scale computation.

To unfold the background of my creative practice, I need to reflect on how my ever-changing perceptions of music (or acoustics in a broader sense) have profoundly influenced me as a person and an artist. I sense and perceive the world through the imperative lens of acoustics as a vibratory force, signal or signal chain, narrative, and knowledge. My worldview is consistently inspired and challenged by listening and encountering auditory events, through which I form the tendency to interrogate the mediation of existing systems and paradigms.

I was born in 1989 in a small town in China. The year 1989 is considered a turning point of significant global political transitions. It was in this historical backdrop that my story started.

My parents were amongst the early generations of the working class who took the oath to dedicate their youth to the greater development of the country. When I was almost one year old, I moved to an underdeveloped fishing village with my parents for their state-allocated jobs. I spent my childhood in a small, remote, isolated community of around 3000 people, where everyone lived on a planned economy, socialist collectivism and its ideological consequences. The place was so remote that no English teacher could teach there. As a result, I did not study English in elementary school even though English was part of the national mandatory education policy. It is hard to imagine that now I oscillate between bilingualism and the inability to anchor.

My mother loves music and has an excellent talent for music. However, like most people in her generation, who grew up through famine and cultural revolution, she could never pursue music even as a hobby. It was perhaps why albeit not wealthy, my family was one of the first piano owners in our small community. It was a spacetime when we had no personal computers or Internet and only had access to five state-owned television channels because of the state regulations enforced upon the community. I remember how only through listening and studying piano was I able to be exposed to the outside world.

My mother would take me to piano lessons every weekend in bigger cities nearby for six years. With no highway systems at the time, it usually took us at least 4 hours single trip on dirt roads to commute to the teachers, summer camps, piano competitions, and master classes. By the time I was ten, I had passed the highest rank in piano performance and music theory, certified by the Chinese Musician’s Association.

On the other hand, the radio was also an outlet where I could draw information. In the early 90s, radio was less regulated than television in our community. In the vocational classes 劳动课 in 5th Grade, we learnt how to solder circuits and build shortwave radios out of household objects. Since then, I was able to occasionally tune in to international radio stations and first learnt about western pop music.

The year I graduated from elementary school, the state abolished the only local junior high school. I had no choice due to the restricted enrollment policy around school districts. At eleven, I moved to Xiamen City alone and studied in a boarding school on Gulangyu Island (known as the Piano Island) on loan for my musical talents. It was only after that, through competitive educational and work opportunities, that I was able to mobilize to bigger cities. For this reason, music somehow changed the trajectory of my destiny.

In my six years living in Xiamen City, my perceptions of music/sound have drastically expanded. Xiamen City is a peninsular island less than 6 kilometres from Taiwan. Due to its ecosystem diversity, the city bans car horns as noise. Due to the city’s proximity to Taiwan and the ongoing political tensions, seismic bass frequencies from the military manoeuvres in the sea and sky regularly lurk into the bustling everyday streetscape. Once an international settlement after the first Opium War, Piano Island is a pedestrian-only island off the coast of Xiamen, it is known for colonial architecture and for hosting China’s only piano museum, which explains its fondness for classical music. Western canons are looped through outdoor speakers that are camouflaged as part of nature, accompanied by the white noises of ocean waves and without any everyday industrial noises. The soundscape of Xiamen, in my memory, is such an intriguing composition that carries many layers of aesthetic, ecological, social and political implications.

From a young age, I was intrigued to wonder what music is, what noise is, who gets to determine what noise is, who gets to voice and to be heard, and who has access to sounds permitted. This lived experience has fed into one of my current practice’s critical insights and inquiries.

After completing my studies on Piano Island, I took a break from studying and performing classical music. It was because it was expensive to pursue this career in China but also because I discovered that my sonic interests no longer aligned with the singular reality that this specific type of classical music education affords, as I was exposed more to the rising of pop music in China and, later on, the booming of music subcultures. However, years of rigorous training in classical music have transformed into bodily residues that vibrate in the back of my consciousness, which builds into one of my most recognizable qualities – perseverance.

Although I went for the main-stream choice of STEM education through high school and undergraduate, I never stopped exploring music, especially through voicing. I was in talent shows covering R&B and hip-hop classics, I played in an all-girl punk band and developed a following online as a singer-songwriter producing Bob-Dylan-like folk songs. Upon graduation from college, I worked as a bar singer and moved to Yunnan, a border province in southwest China where I tested the waters in free improvisation with musicians from various music cultures from Central and Southeast Asia. All these experiences led me to pursue sound studies at New York University.

When I moved to New York City, I started practicing experimental music. Throughout my studies at NYU, I intentionally selected various classes. I was exposed extensively to disciplines and ideas that were new to me, including media and performance theories, the history and philosophy of sound, etc. Many reasons led to my unsatisfying academic performance at NYU, including language and cultural barriers and working outside campus to afford to subsist in New York City as an international student. However, just the opportunity to live in New York City was overwhelmingly life-changing, and I discovered my academic strengths, which laid the groundwork for me to identify and position my practice and my decision to pursue a practiced-based master’s degree in time-based media.

For two years, I was engaged in Brooklyn’s “underground” scenes, where I worked as a founding member in a teahouse-based art space next door to 285 KENT. I was very fortunate to have worked with many curators and artists from various disciplines, including visual art, music, dance, theatre, film and many other undefined practices. I learnt recording and production by myself and working with backlines in the venue. I started experimenting with various means of sound-making, developing my extended techniques and improvising with these tools, including but not limited to voice and body movement, prepared piano and guitar, found objects (materiality of sounds), DIY electronics, etc.

After relocating to Toronto, in addition to an active art practice and finishing my MFA at York, I worked as a web engineer for eight years to sustain life, thanks to my STEM background. The lived experience working in the technology industry has opened a wormhole in the nebulae of my creativity. I started to consider computer language a poetic form of writing, and I practice coding as a mindset of worldbuilding. As a user and administrator, I’ve gained insights and criticisms about the industry. To better articulate my creative ideas through the logic of computation, I self-taught technical skills in computational media, including Max/MSP, VR/AR, Touchdesigner, etc.

Since my MFA, through several projects, I have gradually developed a methodology that merges my interests and practices in sonic somatics and computational media. My MFA thesis Et Cetera (2018) draws a philosophical framework from N. Katherine Hayles’ seminal text My Mother Was a Computer, where she claims that the worldviews (presuppositions, premises, and implications) of writing, speech, and code create distinctive signification interact with each other (pp 16 & 39). From this entry point, my project researched digital poetics through immersive multi-sensory installations and was funded by Canada’s National Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The Oral Logic (2019) contemplates our dialectic relationships with technology through the metaphor of cannibalism, investigating the embodiment of machine voicing. It Takes Spirals to Feed the Spiral & the Spire Choir (2021 – 22) weaves a network by connecting nodes amongst various forms of worldbuilding through layers of transcoding between writing, voice, visuals and space.

As Sara Constant describes on Musicworks in 2020, “much of Ye’s work is concerned with breaking codes — both digital and cultural — and with unlearning certain ways of being.” In my current research creation, I consider the sonic-somatic as a vessel to connect with the more-than-human, as the acoustics, in Brandon LaBelle’s words, are “the material-energetic constructs of life-worlds, the ecological-embodied threadings and their particular entrenchment within given histories of struggle, and the persistent, enduring tenderness and tact of what it means to empathize and sympathize.” I consider sound-informed improvisation as a method to disentangle embodied experiences from the bio-political oppression imposed by socio-cultural-technological mediation. I consider hacking-informed strategies, while inextricably entwined with the technological conditions, can facilitate foregrounding the agency of our sensorium. And it is this research focus that I aspire to develop further on a larger scale.

My practices are also reflected in other forms, including education and involvement in the community-oriented initiative. For instance, I was on the development team of Dark Matters, a Mozilla Foundation-awarded webVR project that spotlights the absence of Black speech in datasets that train voice assistants. Currently, I am an adjunct faculty member in the program of Digital Futures at OCAD university in Canada, where I imbue studio work with non-eurocentric critical theories situated in intersectional and positional thinking. However, my lack of doctoral-level research prevents me from fully developing my capacities in post-secondary education. It has become integral to my decision to pursue a doctoral degree.

Situated in the music department, the MMC program embraces interdisciplinary research and creation through the studies of sound and multimedia technologies. Should I be admitted, I would like to keep working around the aesthetics of computational media that intersect my practices in art, music and technology by focusing on making multimedia installations, real-time and interactive sound performances, and researching in the field of feminist science and technology studies.

Within the music department, my practice would benefit tremendously from studio courses such as MUSC 1210 Real-Time Systems, MUSC 1260 Advanced Audio Techniques and MUSC 2210 Digital Performance. I must upgrade my autodidactic knowledge and technical skills through systematic learning. The facilities provided through the Brown Arts Institute, such as immersive audiovisual environments similar to the CAVE system, would also be significant opportunities for me to conceptualize my work in a larger picture. Theoretical courses such as MUSC 1240S Feminist Sonic Futures and MUSC 2080I The Question of Voice: Sound, Style, Ideology are also integral to my current research. I am interested in pursuing a graduate certificate in science, technology and society, especially studying the intersections of digital futures and the feminist praxis.

It is undoubtful to me that pursuing a Ph.D. in the MMC program at Brown would facilitate the fulfillment of my academic and artistic interests as an interdisciplinary artist who aspires to expand their practice and career to larger scales, as well as an educator who deepens scholarship in critical sound and computational media studies. My current directions of research and creation make me an ideal candidate for the MMC program. Therefore, I hope you will allow me to continue my studies in the Music Department at Brown University.