Interview | March 3, 2017
We spoke with composer JooWan Kim about his hybrid endeavor “Death Become Life”

Ensemble Mik Nawooj 1

For the past six years, Ensemble Mik Nawooj has defied tradition, deconstructing and reworking the modern styles of hip hop to fit classical composition. A year ago, The Future of Hip Hop was shared with the world, catching purists on both sides of this well-defined fence off guard. Fans of Hamilton should take note, but with a grain of salt. While the spirit may be similar, this production stands on its own 10-piece orchestral legs and has captivated audiences who simply weren’t ready. Now, the innovative dream is being realized in an immersive and aptly-named performance Death Become Life.

In anticipation of their show March 4th at Apollo Music Café, we recently spoke with JooWan Kim, composer and creative director of this project.

What was the general reaction of the musicians you initially approached for this project?

They were very open about it. Some of them probably thought this was a novelty project but once they found out how serious I was in rendering a system that samples both ends of the spectrum, they found it refreshing (also most likely thought I was crazy).

Are the fundamental structures of classical music naturally compatible or did it take a lot of reworking?

What I do with EMN is to extract techniques of composition which I find compatible with Hip-Hop and other popular American music genres, then apply them to create my interpretations on pop music.

The process goes like this- I listen to a track without knowing any back-end production details and using only classical compositional techniques to recreate it. In so doing, I fail to make exact replica but instead end up with something neither entirely classical nor Hip-Hop. In a way it’s like you’re splicing genomes from two different organisms and creating a fundamental fusion; the outcome is neither, but something categorically different.

Which composer would you most identify with, considering your vision for this new project?

There isn’t a single composer or musician, actually. I like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Ligeti, Andriessen, Piazzolla, all the great Jazzers, Hip-Hop producers, etc. etc. Musicians who connected the dots which were hidden in plain view. Musicians who I can sample from (both systematic thinking and/or the raw materials).

Will the grassroots origins of hip hop have a strong presence?

No. Just kidding ;) I believe that any meaningful new way of doing things, be it music, art, or a way of thinking, begins from a very simple place following the bottom-up processing. These new ideas naturally challenge the establishment, create frictions, ultimately give rise to a synthesis which becomes the accepted norm. You can find many examples in the movements of art, music, and political systems.

Hip-Hop (and African-American music in general) is the quintessential case for this phenomenon. Out of necessity and without any formal training, people created complex structures by repetition and variation. And what we do here at EMN is precisely this.

Don’t miss the premiere if this exciting new work at Apollo Music Café tomorrow night, and stay tuned for more info as we closely follow these innovators.