K-Pop Beyond The Charts: Electronic Artist Kirara Leads With The Music On The Innovative 'ct14091' [AUDIO]
K-Pop Beyond The Charts is a weekly review column highlighting Korea's modern day musical innovators who have yet to find mainstream success.
If you go to South Korean electronic artist Kirara's YouTube channel, you'll find nearly 75 tracks that have been uploaded over the last year.
While a few of them feature live footage of the young music maker cooking up her delicate compositions in real time, most of them have been presented in a dry, clerical sort of manner. Each track has been assigned a serial number-like title and a color--no more or less.
Uploaded on Feb. 17, the affably jostling song "ct14091" contains some clues as to why Kirara opts for bureaucratic anonymity in her musical presentation.
"ct14091" is a standout example of how music can speak for itself, even when it's instrumental.
Kirara has been making laptop-based electronic music for the last seven years from her home in Seoul. While huge beats and propulsive energy are hallmarks of much of her output, there's a harmonic nuance which is present in her productions. It is a sound that surprise the heartstrings with unexpected tugs.
Electronic artists have a long tradition of downplaying their own personae. Before they were robot rock stars, Daft Punk would hide behind blue face-paint or kabuki masks. More used to lording over a DJ booth than standing in the spotlight, electronic artists would often allow imagery to take the place of the traditional press photo.
In her preference for colors, letters and numbers, Kirara is insisting to the listener that not even a song title or album cover should sway his or her impression of the music. In this way, she draws the listener in, making us want to more closely investigate the music contained therein.
In the opening strains of "ct14091," a digital voice starts to rattle off numbers, not unlike the minimalist reverse-countdowns of Philip Glass' "Einstein on the Beach." The disembodied voice counts from one to four, adding another one, and then starting over. This is a clever way of building up tension in a mixed-meter count, only revealing the elusive "five" at climactic moments.
Chiming acoustic guitar and clobbering house music drums form a complex textural counterpoint to one another throughout "ct14091." It's not terribly unusual to hear acoustic instruments playing outside of the typical four-square rhythm, but it takes real ingenuity to frame electronic drums outside of the typical metric box.
It's clear that Kirara has poured painstaking attention into every individual facet of "ct14091" and it's likely that she takes just as much care with each composition. In that context, the shedding of titles and videos makes complete sense.
Simply put, the music is meant to stand on its own and it does.
While the acoustic guitar maintains a repeating figure, ponderous piano chords offer a window into shifting modes of harmony. These non-electronic elements stand to humanize the otherwise highly technology-bound production. To keep the action unpredictable, Kirara drops the "five-on-the-floor" thump from time to time, inserting instead thoroughly chopped-up drum programming that recalls DJ Shadow at his most diabolically surgical.
If Kirara's approach to disseminating her music seems unnecessarily camera-shy, consider what it might be like if pop music's brightest stars took the same approach. Kirara's music withstands the scrutiny of being music first and music only.
Listen to the February 2015 Kirara song "ct14091" RIGHT HERE
Jeff Tobias is a musician, composer and writer currently living in Brooklyn, New York. As of late, he has been researching arcane systems of tuning and working on his jump shot.
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