Name: Dae Kim
Occupation: Composer, multi-instrumentalist, filmmaker
Current Release: Redemption is available as part of the Home Series on mü-nest.
Recommendations: This might be rather random, but my second recommendation is Yohji Yamamoto’s 1999 collection. I am reminded of this collection by the questions in this interview. I feel this collection by Yohji Yamamoto was an expression that he freed himself from his set of inspirations and influences to present something more playful with refinement. Furthermore, it is inspiring to see how he dresses women to not only be pretty and sensible but empowering.
I am a huge fan of light and space movement, so the first recommendation would be Helen Pashgian. Particularly, her work in 2013 featuring 12 columns. It's pure wonders how she could create objects to float in the presence of elegance.
If you enjoyed this interview with Dae Kim, visit him on his personal website.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I spent my younger years with a set of turntables scratching up records. Being classically trained on piano, turntablism was something that showed me how unique and different music can be. Soon, that landed me on a phase of trip-hop and electronic music. Musicians such as Kid-Koala, Boards of Canada, Múm got me wondering: ‘I get the break beat sampling but how are the soundscapes made?!’. It turned out to be a synthesizer accompanied by a series of effects.
However, I did not start to make ambient driven electronic music until I heard Adam Wiltzie’s work with Winged Victory, Stars of the Lid, Brian Eno, Philip Glass or Japanese staples like Aus. It was the mood that they provided which captivated me. The songs are sometimes heart-aching, yet beautiful, not to mention the calmness they provided. Ever since, I've been in the pursuit to create these sensations myself.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
In the early days, I used to work as a composer for advertisements making jingles. The composers in the industry rely heavily on reference tracks or a temp track. However, I was never able to hide my own sound from coming out. I was not fit for the job. But the experience did teach me how important it is for an artist to copy without making the mistakes of mixing the results of emulations.
As I started to make more music, I realized there are some hints of my interests hidden in the songs. For instance, my obsession with melodies, pads and atmospheric drones from ambient music, soaring guitar leads or alternative rock synths or country music, the occasional appearances of vocals … just to name a few. Furthermore, I believe that a big leap of development came from understanding how huge emotions and narrative play a vital role in music and its communal aspects.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
My sense of identity in music is to tell a story and hopefully have its impact on people with similar suffering. And also the communal aspects of making music. Combined, it fulfills my hunger for creativity. The sense of ‘I must create and write a song’ is influences by these factors in mind. It is only through these stories that I am able to choose the desired sounds and craft a patch on my synthesizers as that is when my instincts will tell me so. Truthful emotions accompanied by the right intention will always tell the right story through music.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning, it had a lot to do with infusing different influences of inspirations, as we talked earlier. And even when I find a way to blend them, how would I express things in a way that has not been done before? It was a series of never-ending questions with no answers but only as a point of departure for experimentation and trial and error. When I was making my debut album, working with Wei Zito of Mu-Nest was a huge help guiding me towards the right sound and goal.
Now the challenge lies more towards expressing the ideas and message behind the songs. Does the music correctly convey the idea or does it even justify its messages? Or is the music even worth of its original concept? These are the questions that I ask most frequently while writing songs.
As creative goals and technical abilities changes, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Being trained as an audio engineer, software or recording aspects of production was where I started. My first studio set up included a loop pedal, a set of turntables, records to sample, MPC60 and a Mac with logic installed. Being inspired by trip-hop, that was where things led me in the beginning.
As I was influenced by electronic and ambient music, I started to acquire more synthesizers naturally. From an Arturia Minibrute, I soon gravitated towards a Roland Jupiter 4. Later on, a prophet and few items by Elektron to save the day with a few effect pedals. Additionally, acoustic instruments began to inspire me heavily, hence my trusted Telecaster, Fender P Bass and accordion were added later on.
It is nearly embarrassing to write this down as I have a fond memory of once telling someone that I am not such an equipment driven musician (laughs).
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Instrument wise, it definitely leads back to the piano.
As I composed the majority of the songs on 'Redemption' sitting in front of a piano, it never fails to humble me. The piano will never fail to show the flaws of my chord voicing are or how boring the progression is. Moreover, the sheer impact of its sound serves as a great reminder to make things sound as simple as they can be even if they're accompanied by complex voicing.
Technologically, it has got to be the Analog Four by Elektron. The complexity of its operation can be a little overwhelming at first. But soon it almost became like a friend of mine, one that can whisper inside jokes at the back of the show.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
When I was working on my debut album, I had this clear memory of working with a great friend of mine, Okamotonoriaki. I sent him a song as he is based in Japan. Less than a week later, I received a file back from him. I remember I was on the way home in a taxi for my tennis session. As soon as I hit play on my phone, I was greeted by a voice of his that provided me with so much solace and warmth that I nearly shed tears. He not only understood the song and the idea of the album, he expressed it much better than I did!
On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoy physical encounters with other artists. Like a great conversation that I was having with an amazing songwriter Stemilyn, has led up to me running back home to compose a song. Momentarily, it has to be expressed in a song. As mundane as it sounds, simply just going through a full scheduled day that starts with lunch with her and my bassist, Kent Lee, spending hours recording and tweaking the song arrangement, and ended up with a late night supper session … those seemingly monotonous interactions are filled with dynamics and inspirations, provided with the right chemistry.
These are the magical moments that can only be made through collaboration. After all, some music can only be made through a group effort and the joyfulness of its gathering.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Currently, I have a full time job that kind of restricts my creative hours to only a few hours in a day. (Given that previously I was enjoying life as a freelance producer, things are definitely different now). As I get back home from home, followed by cooking dinner and daily workout routines, these restriction builds my anticipation more to work on things that I am looking forward to.
That being said, I always spend about 30 minutes at around 4:30pm to 5pm for a walk while I am on the way back home from work. When the sun is at its warmest and paints the sky with red and orange, I spend some time listening to my drafts and other songs that I adore. I would take notes on things to change on my arrangement or pointers that I enjoyed from the songs that I am listening to. Hence, as much as I hate having a day job, I must admit that it blends rather seamlessly and subtly.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I would have to go with my latest EP, 'Redemption'. Not only is it a project that made me realize the eminent use of vocals, 'Redemption' also expressed the idea that I was holding on for so long, redeeming one’s faults. I started to work on it around mid last year for three to four months when Mu-Nest approached me with a plan. I had difficulty writing songs as my mind was cluttered by several events in my life while I was at my lowest state. The EP was the result of trials and errors committed by me trying to redeem myself from the horrible mistakes that I made for so many years.
For events or shows, my label Mu-Nest used to hold several gigs before the pandemic and I was honored to be able to join one of the installments several years ago. As I have been writing music all alone for a few years without interactions, I was so delighted to be surrounded by like minded friends that share the same passion and love for the music for the first time.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I always believe that the ideal state of mind only shines through when we are enjoying the mild frustration that we have to face to create. Creating something from nothing can not always be enjoyable and it comes with sets of challenges. When we embrace our humbleness and face the emptiness, that's the perfect state of mind for me.
My strategies are ritualistic or one has to acquire rituals. I start with a cup of coffee and a cigarette, followed by playing either piano or the Telecaster. Let it be a practice or a little improv, it will lead up to be a composition eventually. It might end up sounding horrible there and then, but when I return the next day, that is when I can create something truthful with the right intention.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Definitely! The heavier the memories behind it, the more the music will hurt. The music that you shared together in your previous relationships, the music that you were listening to get over personal difficulties, or when you heard Ennio Morricone’s “Cinema Paradiso” trying to remind yourself of the scenes of the film. In my opinion, music can hurt more with added visual / physical weights.
However, so far in my life, I love creating music that can heal and provide calmness and comfort. I believe, with our current state of the world, we need more music that can do that rather than trying to be just pure entertainment.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Personally, for one to create music that serves heavy cultural or social aspects, the creator must have experienced them directly and understand their roots very well at their core. Sometimes it is expressed in a metaphor subtly or it also can be served straightforward with added personal experiences.
If I could offer a simile, why should we have an overly sweetened ice blended coffee when it tastes best when it's served pure with no added ingredients, prepared with the fine touch of a barista.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I believe that music lives in our memory combined with what we experienced and see whilst listening to it.
As an example, we are deeply intrigued (or connected) when we listen to a particular song that we once liked, but haven't played for a while. The song lives in our memory through the experiences that you shared along with it. If you try to recall a mediocre song, you would barely remember its melody. However, a good song will reignite the scenery, what you were feeling, with whom you were listening to it; it sustains that part of your life and stretches it to be part of your ever growing library of memories.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into one's everyday life, to take on a social & political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
For now, the only wish in relation of my music and the audience is for them to have resonance. As for a song from the EP, 'A Song for the Wounded', I wish I could share the pain and suffering of my audience and to be a reminder that my purpose is to make their day a little brighter. And, together, we will slowly become better day by day. In the long run through performances, I hope I can further the communal aspects more with my growth. I am heavily influenced by Bruce Springsteen in these aspects! If I become half the man he is, I could live my life in peace after.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I believe that rather than an expression of life and death, music holds the details of it. As we discussed earlier, if music can help to memorize my past and its landscape, it will sustain the parts of my life leading up to my last breath. Music will stay as a connector and absolution that is personalized to different listener's life and memories, as though it were an advanced AI technology.