K-Pop Double Take is a weekly review column highlighting recent releases that have yet to receive the attention we feel they deserve.
Over the years, so much music has been segregated and not by accident.
Often, it is the musicians themselves who are struggling to overcome a history of segregation. Think about the hateful burning of disco records in the 1970s, an event stoked more by homophobia and racism than any sincere aversion to Diana Ross.
While here in the US, premature hopes of a “post-racial society” have been dashed time and again, we can find solace in music, which is bridging more gaps worldwide and cross-pollinating genres and cultures more than ever before.
On his latest single “Empty Space,” released on April 15, Korean electronic producer Graye unites disparate worlds into one satisfying natural universe.
Based in Gunsan, South Korea and an active part of the Young, Gifted & Wack collective, Graye has been releasing thoughtful solo electronic music since 2013. “Empty Space” was originally included as the B-side for the Graye single “Junk Pixel,” but this highly original track easily warrants just as much attention as the A-side.
Before even touching on the music, one might note that the music video’s director, Yeon, is given equal billing on YouTube. This speaks to contemporary music’s insistence on strong visuals and the collaborative spirit that Graye clearly thrives in. The science fiction-style landscapes and slow-floating images rendered by Yeon are an ideal complement to Graye’s skittering, yet smooth composition.
The warm, reserved chords that open “Empty Space” immediately restate the claim made by the song’s title, leaving room for what’s to come.
The progression is suddenly engulfed by the lithe saxophone playing of Kim Oki, the Korean Music Award-winning tenor saxophonist whose improvisatory presence moves between a lyrical foreground and a textural backdrop. Most electronic producers might be more apt to sample an old jazz record, but Graye’s choice to bring in the wildly talented Kim betrays a lack of ego on his part and a tip of the hat to old-school musicianship.
Throughout the piece, Kim never dominates, encouraging the spacious quality of “Empty Space” to blossom. At his most silent moments, he simply taps the keys of his saxophone or offers subtle harmonics.
The elements that Graye offers up are equally sparse.
A chilly melody recurs, and glitchy splashes of percussive sound brush around the edges of the music. Finally, to suture the piece together once and for all, a pitched-up voice appears just before the three-minute mark. Kim makes room for the vocalist, toys with this new melody, and then subsides. The song happily deflates soon thereafter, with a sigh from our vocalist as well as our saxophonist.
By carefully working together, Graye, Yeon and Kim Oki have created something simultaneously entrancing and exciting. The display of genuine craftsmanship from all parties involved engages yet another side to the musical puzzle, that being the audience.
“Music is a communication channel between you and me without any obstacle imposing between us,” Graye said in a recent interview with the publication Korean Indie . “I hope to meet you in person soon.”
A kind and welcome thought, but with music as connective and intimate as this, he doesn’t have to.
Watch the music video for the Graye song “Empty Space” RIGHT HERE
Jeff Tobias is a composer, musician and writer currently living in Brooklyn, New York. As of late, he has been studying arcane systems of tuning and working on his jump shot.