Ensemble Mik Nawooj Releases “Death Become Life”
Led by composer/pianist JooWan Kim, hip-hop orchestra Ensemble Mik Nawooj (EMN) creates Meta Music by sampling principles of both hip-hop and classical. The group’s latest album, Death Become Life, is out now. Death Become Life consists of ten tracks and five accompanying live performance videos. Three of the compositions — together known as the Fountainheads Suite — are a direct response to COVID-19 and its disproportionate effects on marginalized communities, meditating on concepts such as finding peace in conflict, joy in sadness and freedom in confinement and aiming to help audiences from all walks of life heal from the trauma of the pandemic. The Suite’s three compositions deconstruct classic works of Mozart (“Mozart on Joy”), Beethoven (“Beethoven on Struggle”) and Bach (“Bach on Transcendence”).
Among the album’s other tracks are pieces about the passing of Kim’s mother and a longtime family friend in 2014, an apocalyptic rap-score on the destruction of the world and three selections from the group’s multidisciplinary theater and dance project, Death Become Life, through which they collaborate with local artists to create unique live experiences specific to the region where they are performing. The accompanying five performance videos are co-sponsored by Asian Art Museum and Yerba Buena Gardens Festival.
“It’s hard not to love a large collection of musicians mixing disparate styles. From the opening notes by violin to the sounds of impending doom from the cello, this song gradually brings you in…JooWan Kim’s composition, which includes a sample from Beethoven’s ‘Coriolan Overture,’ is a masterpiece. From Kim on the piano to the piercing soprano’s vocals infused with tight drumming and a flute that brings out the intensity, this song captures the highs and lows of the drama/tragedy of ‘Corialanus.’ At the four-minute mark, there’s a brief pause, giving you a chance to catch your breath, before coming back to a gorgeous light piano with ethereal vocals—and the strings of dancer Yung Phil. This Oakland ensemble is not to be missed.”
“…an apocalyptic rap-score inspired by Hermann Hesse’s Demian on the destruction of the world and Gnostic god, Abraxas…definitely one of the most enchanting and anthemic songs on the album, striking you with a dramatic force.
…[MC Sandman’s] lyrics and vocals are amplified and dramatized by the lush instrumentation and sweeping urgency of the orchestra…What is fascinating is how much the orchestra and Sandman work off one another, and we get a sense of their symbiotic relationship with the video that contrasts studio footage and dance footage.”
“…a flurry of triumphant progressions and complex structures. It’s…as if Beethoven and Atmosphere started jamming in the same room together.”
“…this is definitely as ambitious as any classical-rap hybrid ever devised…There’s dramatic menace in the chromatics, string cascades, emphatic piano, tense calm and uneast gusts in May Good Conquer Evil, Sandman firing off a long list of evils but also ways to beat them. That familiar piano riff and variations return in the suite’s conclusion, May Death Become Life, a swaying, understatedly operatic piece…The album’s coda is Bach on Transcendence, with a deliciously new orchestration of the Toccata in D: it’s as funny and formidable as the composer ever could have imagined.”
New York Music Daily