On a never-ending mission to update concert music for the modern age, pianist and composer JooWan Kim is bringing his marriage of classical chamber music and hip hop to Santa Barbara for the first time. For the latest performance in the UCSB Arts & Lectures series, Mr. Kim will take the stage of UCSB’s Campbell Hall on November 1 along with the hip hop orchestra that he masterminds, Ensemble Mik Nawooj.
Initially started when Mr. Kim was a graduate student at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, EMN’s conceit began as a novelty song that eventually led to him writing an album’s worth of music. That conceit was to create hip hop with the musical training he learned in school.
“My strategy was to use only classical techniques to make hip hop music,” he said.
This project that would lead to EMN came out of suppressed creativity. In an interview with the News-Press, Mr. Kim said his years of studying classical music were creatively stifling and he recalled the music and its surrounding aesthetic as “alienating to the public.” Mr. Kim believes that concert music needs to advance in some way creatively if it wants to thrive outside of the halls of academia and cease its dependence on government subsidies. However, many people within the concert music community are against revamping it in any way, a notion Mr. Kim called “crazy” and one that must be “eradicated.”
If it does remain in a state of aesthetic stasis and continues to appeal to such a narrow audience, Mr. Kim described someone dedicating his or her life to learning it as such: “Imagine a guy learning to slay dragons and then coming out of school to learn there are no dragons.”
When he heard rap group N.W.A’s 1988 debut album “Straight Outta Compton” for the first time, Mr. Kim felt “reborn as a hip hop composer” and “liberated from the years of dogma of western European music.” In EMN, Mr. Kim orchestrates all of the ensemble’s music using classical techniques like point, counterpoint, and harmonics, while the group’s MC Sandman writes the lyrics and raps them in concert. Mr. Kim called his utilization of classical techniques in hip hop as “method sampling,” which in a broader sense is taking the ethos of one particular discipline and applying it to another. In Mr. Kim’s estimation, this is very common in the creation of new cultural forms, something he and his ensemble is very conscious of.
“Once I realized what we were doing, I started seeing it everywhere,” he said.
He added, “What we have done is to pinpoint how a new type of culture or methodology emerges.”
In fact, Mr. Kim’s initial ambition of melding concert music with hip hop has risen to creating an entirely new genre with these different musical forms. He admitted that he and his group still have a ways to go toward this goal, describing what they play now as merely a “prototype for a new type of concert music.”
Tickets for Ensemble Mik Nawooj’s November 1 concert at Campbell Hall cost between $20 and $35 for the general public and can be purchased online at www.artsandlectures.com. UCSB students with a student ID can get in for free on a first-come, first-served basis. The concert will begin at 8 p.m. at Campbell Hall, located at Building 538 on the UCSB campus.