Ensemble Mik Nawooj talks creativity and Wu-Tang Clan with The Daily Cal

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At the crossroads of hip-hop, classical, rock and pop stands JooWan Kim, a classically trained pianist who in a random spur of events created Ensemble Mik Nawooj. Composed of a five-piece orchestra, a vocalist, a bassist, a drummer and two masters of ceremonies, Ensemble Mik Nawooj is considered by many to be the future of music, mixing and matching musical elements from an array of genres into cohesive movements in a process defined by Kim as “hybridization.” JooWan Kim spoke with The Daily Californian via email about the group’s musical style, creative process and the future of music.

The Daily Californian: How and where did Ensemble Mik Nawooj get its start?

JooWan Kim: Completely by accident. When I was doing my Master’s at San Francisco Conservatory, I wrote a novelty piece that had chamber ensemble and an MC in it — my punk rock “f-you” attitude played a big part in it. Afterwards, the MC (Kirby Dominant) at the time suggested that we make an album, so I spent next six months writing an hour of music.

DC: Is it difficult trying to find a balance among the various genres of music the group uses?

JK: Not at all. I think of this group as a composer ensemble … and I am just writing music for my group much the same way Philip Glass or Steve Reich would write for his group. The idea of genre is pretty open ended thing, actually. Without the subculture associated with different genres of music, you are just dealing with musical materials like rhythm, timbre, harmony, etc. Since I grew up in South Korea for 20 years, I don’t share the same cultural ideas with certain music that many people have here in US.

DC: In terms of the creative process, do you compose most of the music, or do other group members in the ensemble contribute?

JK: I write every single note for every single instrument. Then, I give the MCs the themes of the piece so they can come up with the lyrics that are suited.

DC: With the release of the new EP, what is next for the group?

JK: We are making a music video for C.R.E.A.M. — the Wu-Tang cover we did, not the ice cream place near the campus.

DC: The Water Bearer honestly changed my life. To me, Mik Nawooj was something fresh and different. EMN showed me the versatility of music’s neverending melodies — that even the most unrelated genres can find harmony and peace. Do you think that is ideally the direction music is going? Where instead of categorizing and separating music as this or that, music itself will soon transform and mold into one art form?

JK: I believe that hybridization has been going on for a long time and possibly the single most important factor in the evolution of music aside from technology. For instance, Debussy heard Gamelan music at the Paris Expo and tried to emulate it. In doing so, he ignored conventional harmonic functions (kind of like syntax of chords) and created bunch of problems for people. Many mark Debussy as the beginning of 20th-century music.

After that we have people like Gershwin, Piazzolla and (the) emergence of jazz and other genres that come out of African American music, etc. All these are evidence of hybridization playing an essential role in the substantial changes in generation of new genres and their evolution. Having said that, I don’t think music will necessarily mold into one genre or one art form. It will create a wide variety of forms based on different interpretations dependent on cultural, social and, of course, individual perspectives.

Ensemble Mik Nawooj is celebrating their recent self-titled album release at Yoshi’s in Oakland on Oct 15. Tickets are $12.

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