Yes/No Duo Percussion and Fashion

Yes/No Duo is Jenny Lai ( and Mike Truesdell ( - skating through the intersection of fashion and performance using the arts of clothing design and percussion!

This October, I had the incredible opportunity to spend a week at Avaloch Music Farm with percussionist Mike Truesdell, working on a project combining percussion and fashion - a debut collaboration for Yes/No Duo. Although Mike and I began brainstorming this project a year ago, it was the residency at Avaloch that gave us the time to step away from our hectic schedules and focus on the exploration and development necessary to create this piece.


For our working space - we had our own wooden cabin tucked into the trees, only reachable by flashlight across a little foot bridge in the pitch black nights. Usually, these cabins are used as practice rooms, set up with a table and music stands. 

Avaloch music residency

Well, for the first time, Mike was able to travel as a musician without his usual haul of instruments. Instead he set up his computer, speakers, microphones, and digital signal processor on one table. I took over another table with the portable sewing machine I brought, iron and makeshift ironing station (a towel), sewing tools, various notions and trimmings, and transformed the music stands into a clothing rack. 

We spent the first few days laying the groundwork. We discussed concepts and inspirations. Mike brought in an Emily Dickinson poem that spoke to him, and we discussed how the arc of the poem could serve as a groundwork for our piece. We reviewed each of the supplies I brought, listening to their sounds acoustically, through amplification, and through distortion. We took videos and sound recordings of each item, including various types of fabric (that could be rubbed or shaken), safety pins, buttons, elastic, various sizes and types of zippers, snaps. Mike would eventually use these sound recordings to create a background soundtrack.


While Mike focused on learning MAX software and creating a patch system interface on his side of the studio, I made miniature material experiments on my side. I focused on exploring how different materials could be combined on their own and with each other, creating all types of visual and sonar effects. With each material experiment, we would again test them acoustically, amplified, and through distortion. I started to understand which materials performed well acoustically, and which had the ability to transform completely when amplified or distorted.



On the third day, I began sketching to explore how these isolated material experiments could translate into a cohesive garment design. This garment had to to offer enough sonar variety for Mike to work with compositionally, have ease of movement and access for someone wearing and playing on their own body, and combine a variety of disparate materials into a visually convincing design. We also wanted certain areas of the garment to open up and reveal something new - giving Mike more layers to work with in his composition and performance.


After days of sketching and more material experiments- including giant wearable velcro grids  - I was struggling to settle on something that I was truly convinced by.  In moments like these where I feel unable to move forward past the design phase, I have to force myself to move forward into 3D, as it is often in that process that a direction begins to present itself. It also really helps to have someone else’s eyes on it. Here, I turned to Mike - he helped me settle on three designs to explore in real scale. I spent the next two days realizing these three ideas into wearable prototypes.



With full scale prototypes, Mike was able to experiment with each of them in real life, playing them on his own body. We set up a system of contact mics underneath the garment as well as external microphones. This was probably the most exciting and satisfying part of the week. Mike is an incredible performer, and getting to see him actually improvise on the garments was extremely exciting for me. We could respond very viscerally now to each design, what was working and what didn't. 

Now back in New York, I’ve started sourcing materials in the Garment District, reviewing with Mike the possible colors, textures, materials combinations. I’m reviewing the construction of the garment (which will definitely take some technical prowess and will be very labor intensive !!) and finalizing patterns in my studio.  We still have a long ways ahead, but we’re so excited to get to our first performance!

Follow us on Facebook to stay tuned. 


Behindthescenes Performance

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