Tiny Desk

Van-Anh Vanessa Vo

Download Audio

18 min 40 sec

Van-Anh Vanessa Vo is a veteran when it comes to taking risks, and it pays off in her compelling music. As a young girl in Vietnam, she knew she wanted to be a traditional musician, even though it was a world dominated by men. It was risky, then, when she pestered a master teacher for three years to give her lessons. He finally gave in, taking her on as an apprentice.

Vo also takes risks in blending East with West in her music. She lends a trippy sound to Frenchman Erik Satie's Gnossienne No. 3, performed on the dan Bau, the traditional Vietnamese monocord. The instrument ("invented by bad girls on the street") has a single string, but by bending it with a kind of whammy bar made from buffalo horn, Vo creates a haunting landscape of growls, hushed vibrato and graceful slides, all with the exquisite phrasing of an opera singer.

Vo's infectious enthusiasm erupts in her own compositions. "Three-Mountain Pass" (also the title of her recent album), for voice and Hang drum, is based on the sensuously evocative texts of Ho Xuan Huong, a groundbreaking female poet (and concubine) from the 18th century. And with "Go Hunting," Vo introduces another traditional instrument, the dan T'rung, a bamboo xylophone from Vietnam's south highlands. This instrument, which looks a bit like a skeleton, is struck with double-headed mallets. The theme starts peacefully at a relaxed pace, but heats up to a dizzying frenzy as Vo's mallets become indistinguishable blurs of speed.

Her adventurous spirit moved her from Vietnam to the U.S. — another risk, but one that paid off with more opportunities for composing; she even won an Emmy Award for her work on a documentary film. Vo is also fond of collaborating with new-music ensembles like the Kronos Quartet, and of playing in prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and, of course, Bob Boilen's Tiny Desk.

Set List:
  • Three-Mountain Pass
  • Gnossienne No. 3 (Erik Satie, arr. Van-Anh Vanessa Vo)
  • Go Hunting
Credits

Producers: Denise DeBelius, Tom Huizenga; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Denise DeBelius, Becky Harlan, Abbey Oldham, Meredith Rizzo; photo by Meredith Rizzo/NPR

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Tiny Desk Concert with And The Kids. Morgan McCloy/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Morgan McCloy/NPR

Tiny Desk

And The Kids

The trio's music is full of life, with dissonant sounds that still feel suited for singalongs.

Tiny Desk Concert with Oddisee Colin Marshall/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Colin Marshall/NPR

Tiny Desk

Oddisee

The charismatic Brooklyn-via-D.C.-area rapper creates just the right amount of space in his music.

Tiny Desk Concert with Hop Along. Maggie Starbard/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Maggie Starbard/NPR

Tiny Desk

Hop Along

Frances Quinlan's raspy voice whispers one moment, then lets loose a gut-punching howl the next.

Tiny Desk Concert with Timothy Showalter, songwriter and producer of Strand of Oaks. Maggie Starbard /NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Maggie Starbard /NPR

Tiny Desk

Strand Of Oaks

Timothy Showalter's music is filled with bite and sometimes regret, but also a good deal of warmth.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Prettiots. Morgan McCloy/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Morgan McCloy/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Prettiots

The clever trio shares its love of everything from Law & Order to old-school girl groups.

Tiny Desk Concert with Anna & Elizabeth. Emily Jan/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Emily Jan/NPR

Tiny Desk

Anna & Elizabeth

If you've never thought your tastes would lean to mountain music, breathe deep and soak it all in.

TK Morgan McCloy/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Morgan McCloy/NPR

Tiny Desk

Genevieve

See a singer with a powerful voice and extremely encouraging message.

Tiny Desk Concert with Zac Sokolow (left), Frank Fairfield and Tom Marion. Emily Jan/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Emily Jan/NPR

Tiny Desk

Frank Fairfield

A young man with an old musical soul has a spellbinding voice and fluid fiddle playing.

Tiny Desk Concert with Jason Vieaux and Yolanda Kondonassis. Meredith Rizzo/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Tiny Desk

Jason Vieaux And Yolanda Kondonassis

Watch the Grammy-winning guitarist and acclaimed harpist play music influenced by Africa and Asia.

Back To Top