Welcome back to the K-SPOTLIGHT! We are big fans of Ashmute, a musical trio who create beautiful songs and pair them with stunning videos. That’s why we cannot wait to tell you more about them and their music! There is already growing excitement about this group, and it is very much deserved. We are pleased that they are building momentum steadily, and sincerely thank the members for giving up their time to speak to us, because they are so often very busy!
Please read our interview with Ashmute if you haven’t done so already, it’s a great introduction to the group and how they started. The members worked very hard on it, so make sure that you check it out.
This K-SPOTLIGHT music feature contains extensive summaries and background insight into Ashmute’s current discography! This currently consists of three singles, ‘Dive’, ‘Heaven’ and ‘Scenery’. We also have the pleasure of featuring the thoughts of art director Nayeon Kim, who did such sterling work on the MVs for each of the singles. Her perspectives will help any new listeners gain a greater understanding behind such an important part of Ashmute’s releases.
If you would like to support the group, please purchase their music! Buy Dive, Heaven, or newest single, Scenery on iTunes or alternatively purchase songs through Google Play and Korean sites like genie and melon.
Before we proceed any further we would like to say a big thank you to Dap, Rang, Oov, and Nayeon for their time, and also to Wookwon Shim for helping with translation.
Please take your time reading and enjoy the rest of the article! We think it is our most interesting one yet!
An introduction to Ashmute
Ashmute are a group that were assembled together by Dap, the group leader, and create chill-out style music with electronic leanings. Vocalist Rang, alongside Dap and Oov acting as producers, capture emotions that others are not addressing with their music, done completely in their own style. They highlight the unsung beauty in fragility and vulnerability, and much like painters, are able to use a wide spectrum of shades to express the feelings behind each song. The power of the messages are amplified manyfold by the artistry captured within the music videos. New fans of Ashmute will see that Rang features in all of their MVs; she is photogenic and possesses a piercing gaze that makes for a commanding presence. We feel that attention to detail is a major component to what makes Ashmute very special; they don’t just make the music, they also care about the way it is presented.
They highlight the unsung beauty in fragility and vulnerability, and much like painters, are able to use a wide spectrum of shades to express the feelings behind each track.
The members of Ashmute (from left to right: Dap, Rang and Oov) © Ashmute. 25.02.2017. Credit: Subin Lee
The Ashmute style
Ashmute’s style of music always makes us feel deeply touched about what they are trying to express to the listener. Rang possesses a very versatile vocal ability; thus far, she has used her haunting vocals to portray feelings of heartbreak, sadness, hope and introspection. She is able to convey a beautiful tenderness and her voice commands our attention every time; it seems like such disrespectful travesty not to listen with every fibre of your being when you feel that someone is singing to you with their whole heart. We think she has a lot of potential to keep developing and creating more rounded and fuller vocals. Add to this, descriptive lyrics and the productive flair of Dap and Oov; both deftly putting their own touches to the instrumentals to enhance the atmosphere of particular tracks…this is the core of the Ashmute sound.
Ashmute are commendably forging their own creative identity with each release. Despite the initial misgivings by some of the team about releasing ‘Scenery’ as a third single, we personally think you can still tell that it is an Ashmute track even from the early beginnings of the song. They have stamped their signature style on their work, and we admire how quickly they have found their footing with their songwriting.
Rang in green © Photo of Rang. Rang of Ashmute. 03.10.2016. Credit: Subin Lee.
The attention to detail is a major component to what makes Ashmute very special;
they don’t just make music, they care about how it is being presented.
Making the music videos: A perspective from director Nayeon Kim
We are pleased to be able to bring you a very special perspective from the director of Ashmute’s music videos, Nayeon Kim. She is credited with creating the aesthetically pleasing MVs, that astound old and new fans alike. Visit her website and Instagram!
Not many groups are able to say that they have MVs for all of their releases, so we were very impressed that this is the case for Ashmute. Having Nayeon on the team means that she brings continuity, as well as creativity into the shoots.
We asked Nayeon some initial questions to frame the review in context.
How did this collaboration start between yourself and Ashmute?
Rang and I are friends from university. We’d often go and sing karaoke, so I knew early on that she was a talented singer. I would even request that she covered songs that I wanted to listen to. One day, I suggested that she should upload her covers onto YouTube, and later, she also uploaded them onto an online music forum for amateur musicians. From there she received a message from Dap and that is how it all started.
When Ashmute made their first single, Rang recommended that I should make the accompanying MV, which gave me the opportunity to start working with them. Because of each others suggestions, we got to do all these fun things!
What was your background previously?
I have been interested in art, visuals and music since I was little, and eventually studied media interaction design (incorporating video design) at university. I chose to study the subject because I felt that video was a medium where I could apply my skills in visual and audio and also be involved in music which I also love.
How do you develop concepts? What were the important steps to putting an MV together?
When I listen to a new song, I can usually picture a general direction or theme in my head. I share my initial ideas with the members, and then we decide on the main concept for the music video together. It helps that we are all quite like-minded. Concepts usually stem from keywords from our conversations or from frequent notes that I write down whilst listening to their music.
Once we decide on the main concept of a new song, I will play it on repeat, and visualise more scenes in my head. If I feel that any of those ideas strongly associate with the music, I will try my best to include those. I tend to formulate details as I continue to listen, like I did for the main concept. Once we reach a point where everyone is in agreement, I will create a ‘mood board’ to make it easier for everyone to picture (at a glance) what the video will be like from beginning to end. I am also open to suggestions from the others.
Ashmute ‘Heaven’ teaser image. © Ashmute/Nayeon Kim. 12.05.2017. Nayeon Kim’s website.
Which part of the process did you have to spend the most time on?
Pre- and post-production take about the same amount of time, with editing and visual effects comprising the most part. I consider visualising the expression of the feelings in songs to be crucial, so allocate time to that. I think that MVs need to match well with the music, and that the MVs themselves should stand out and enhance the groundwork of the songs, so it requires a period to generate ideas.
What types of equipment/cameras do you use?
I personally don’t have a preference when it comes to equipment. I’ve previously used cinema cameras, DSLRs, camcorders, Super 8 cameras, iPhones, and video synthesizers. I like to use different styles to achieve different textures. I hope to use film more often in the future though. It isn’t easy because it is expensive, but I’d like to study it more and buy a 16 mm film camera this year. I like to keep investing in new equipment to improve the overall visuals.
Do you find it easier to make Ashmute MVs now that you have heard more of their music and gained greater understanding of the source material?
No I don’t. I have always set myself high standards for the quality of my work and always hope to improve from one project to the next. I can often find something that could have been better in my MVs after I’m done (for some reason I can only notice some things when they are uploaded onto YouTube). I may get more used to the process of making the MVs, but don’t think it gets any easier overall. Working with Ashmute themselves is pretty comfortable though because we are all friends.
Nayeon at work with her super 8 camera for ‘Scenery’ © Nayeon Kim. 12.05.2017
What were the challenges during the shoot and in choosing locations?
Every moment was challenging because I didn’t specialise in directing or have prior experience of film shooting. I hadn’t even been to a filming location before! I only learned gradually about how professionals actually work in media by doing it myself. I basically had to start from scratch.
But somehow I always knew that I could manage it, and never thought of things as being impossible (that is my normal mindset!). The setting and locations for a shoot directly affect the budget. Since the budget is something outwith my control, it was a shame to have to find a compromise.
How do you overcome any limitations in budget to achieve the result that you want?
Mostly by doing everything myself. I really do everything that I possibly can, single-handedly. I had some personal equipment that I wanted to try out, which came in handy in the production. And other people helped and played a huge part in it as well. But our budgets are never enough.
And where do you find inspiration?
From music and anything I can see! Even a piece of torn wallpaper drooping from the wall can be a source of inspiration to me. If anything causes an idea to pop into my head, I try to take pictures of it. For example, if I see an online ad with a nice colour combination, I will screenshot it and keep it for later. I try to keep myself open to everything around me so that I continue to find inspiration.
A magnificent view captured on film © Nayeon Kim. 12.05.2017
Music review and track recommendations
Each single will be addressed in chronological order according to release date, with added input from art director Nayeon Kim. We have included all of the group’s tracks so far because we felt like we couldn’t pick and choose between them! Watch and listen to Ashmute’s music below!
‘Dive’ cover art © Ashmute. 26.02.2016. Credit: Nayeon Kim
We would describe the sound of ‘Dive’ as utterly captivating in it’s melancholia, and a good example of minimalist electronica. “The song is based upon a powerful longing for someone, to the point of deep despair, like a ‘dive’ into death.
The word ‘Dive’ ripples on the screen during the first few seconds of the MV. This video adopts a monotone colour palette, contrasting black with white, making use of light and shade, projected images of water, smoke and often rippling the shots to make them hazy and dreamlike. Flashing signs or symbols litter many of the shots, like an electronic glitch.
Picture of Rang on the shoot for ‘Dive’ © Ashmute. Credit: Nayeon Kim. 12.05.2017.
The beginning started so quickly, that we were taken aback with its sudden abruptness. The vocals are solemn and haunting. ‘Dive’ has an unconventional and at times unsettling melody underpinned by a strong beat, and keeps you guessing at what will come next. It makes for an interesting listening experience, and we would say it is the most experimental-sounding track from Ashmute. We should also mention that at this point, Dap and Noman were involved in production, because Oov joined the group later after Noman’s departure.
When the piano is isolated on its own, it shines with celestial grace. After lulling you into a false sense of security, you are caught unawares from the change to the effects on the vocals, bringing them suddenly lower in pitch and muddied in tone to parallel the fall or dive.
The director’s perspective on ‘Dive’
Dap gave me a briefing on the concept of the lyrics and the song. Water and gloom formed the basic images. There was a distorted vocal sound near the end of the song, so I took one of the characteristics of water (distortion) and made that into the main concept. I also thought that a ‘glitch’ image would fit in well so used a video synthesizer to create the analog glitches in the MV.
‘Heaven’ cover art © Ashmute. 26.02.2017. Credit: Nayeon Kim.
The release of ‘Heaven’ brought Ashmute to our attention. What struck us was the ethereal and transcending beauty of the piece. We loved ‘Heaven’ from the beginning and it became the start of our enjoyable discovery of Ashmute. That is why it remains our favourite of their releases so far. The concept of heaven is displayed in a way that we did not initially anticipate. The highlights for us include the crying melody that Rang particularly enjoys (look back at the interview to read the thoughts of Dap, Rang and Oov about their music), the special emphasis placed on the writing of descriptive lyrics and the extra dimension that you get from watching the impressive MV. Ashmute manage to weave many components together to work in harmonious unison, and you can clearly tell that a large amount of work and time was invested here.
A selection of stills from the ‘Heaven’ MV © Nayeon Kim. 12.05.2017. Nayeon Kim’s website.
Rang must have been exhausted after completing this track! As well as acting in the video and being involved in post-production (she has a background in motion graphics), she achieves a truly breath-taking sound and provides the supporting vocals that both balance and add weight to the choruses. The harmonisation she achieves is impressive.
‘Heaven’ is one of those tracks that seems to make the world spin slower; such is the power of understated beauty.
Production from Dap and Oov is top-notch, with recurrent rippling and echoing sound effects that match the concept so well, and the light percussion that builds progressively to an impressive peak (you can hear this clearly in the instrumental only version, also available digitally). There is also a subtle repeating piano motif that plays like the ticking of a clock when it appears.
‘I close my eyes, drawing my heaven.’
This line has particular impact and could be interpreted in several ways. The picture that was conjured in our minds was of a person trying to imagine a place where they can be content, away from the unhappiness of their normal lives. This form of ‘heaven’ contains no boundaries, limitations or imperfections, where respite can be found for the weary.
The cinematography is stunning. The main protagonists are portrayed as a couple who slowly drift further apart from their initial embrace. The striking blue, red and black colours, the silhouetted figures, the water gently lapping the shore, breaking of glass pieces, to the slight wind that you can see brush through Rang’s hair. Even when listing a few points, you can see how much thought was behind the video. Nayeon’s direction reaches such heights in quality, we don’t know how much more we can say to convey how impressed we are about the whole video. The fact that the MV is so good just adds to our enjoyment of ‘Heaven’ even more.
The first scene that we found extremely effective, is one where Rang moves her hand down slowly from the man’s (portrayed by Joon Ga) eyes, with the lighting quickly switching from blue to daylight to red. His eyes only flicker open at the end of her movement, for the smallest fraction of time. It is as if he is being swallowed by memories of the relationship, yet also being pulled by reality. Although this whole sequence only lasts a few seconds, it is teeming with detail.
The shot of Rang throwing her head back is also particularly powerful. It is an image that sums up the feelings of falling, of surrender, and of vulnerability in one simple movement.
The director’s perspective on ‘Heaven’
I wanted the song to have ambiguity. It is a song about love but at the same time, it is about death. I wanted to make sure that the ambiguity was delivered, but indirectly. When people think of heaven, they conventionally associate it with brightness, light imagery and pastel tones, but instead I wanted to create Ashmute’s own image of heaven. These intentions formed the key concepts.
I tried different styles every time so each Ashmute MV is very distinct. But ‘Heaven’ is the one that means the most to me. It was our biggest project and we were very excited about it. Not one thing was overlooked. Many people took part and did their jobs very well. I am satisfied that the result was close to what I wanted and pictured in my head originally. I also wanted to make a ‘behind the scenes’ video because I enjoy watching those types of video myself. I think that what I do well is in visualising ideas in great detail, and my music videos are usually successful in delivering the emotions and atmosphere embedded within the songs.
Watch the behind the scenes video for ‘Heaven’ below!
Rang captured at night in ‘Scenery’ © Ashmute. Credit: Nayeon Kim. 23.04.2017. Nayeon Kim’s website.
The gentle strings that permeate throughout Ashmute’s 3rd single, ‘Scenery’ remind us of a lullaby. Although Ashmute describe it as a ballad, there is an overarching theme of melancholia. What we find particularly interesting about ‘Scenery’, is that there is a soothing and reassuring nature within the overall sound, although the song itself is about unrequited love. The words of the narrator acknowledge the longing for someone that they will never be with, but perhaps the comforting part comes with the association of the act of loving in itself, being a gift.
Rang’s voice easily sways between whispery verses and soaring choruses. Sometimes you can even hear a quiver in her delivery; that shaking of a voice that comes with the heaviness of emotion. There are also effective breaks where Dap and Oov allows listeners to take a breath and admire the instrumentals alone. It is a beautifully constructed song!
The MV is divided into shots of night and day in Tokyo, using a muted palette imparting a strong feeling of nostalgia. Nayeon gains even greater contrast by moving between the darkness of the night and the light of day throughout. The camera shakes ever so slightly and we feel like we are being invited to watch a personal home movie. This effect was possible with the use of the super 8mm filming format, which helped to popularise the making of home movies to the mass public when it was first introduced. There is great use of colour from the city; the reds from the rear lights of vehicles and the shades of green from lamplight.
The nightlights of Tokyo © Ashmute. Credit: Nayeon Kim. 23.04.2017. Nayeon Kim’s website.
The blurring of the landscape creates a dreamlike atmosphere and we also noticed that the imagery around Rang is often of movement, while she is relatively still. Whether it be the frantic rushing of crowds, the movement of traffic, flurry of fish, rippling of water, or the speed of the train, Rang cuts a solitary figure against the backdrop.
Sometimes, the pace of the world can seem out of place with our own; whilst we might wish to stop for a moment, time will continue its passage regardless.
The image of a solitary figure matches the ‘stranger’ concept © Ashmute. Credit: Nayeon Kim. 23.04.2017.
As usual, there is careful attention paid to the lyrical content.
When the lyrics get to ‘How can I be in your eyes?’ and ‘I’ll be here waiting for you’, this is when the song feels at its most raw. What we mean by this is that a vulnerability is exposed that is very personal and more importantly, inherently believable. This is what we applaud greatly about Ashmute’s work, they make us care about the stories they tell.
Our favourite section comes when the vocal lines start to overlap, like a canon. Each time we listen to ‘Scenery’ we enjoy tuning in to either a single line in the music, or admiring several layers at once. When the song nears its inevitable conclusion and the instrumental outro begins to play out, we always feel sorry knowing that it has to end.
Ashmute rightly choose a ‘less is more’ approach, with a focus on piano, guitar, and soft percussion. The simple production does not detract attention from the message of the song, and allows the melody to become the strongest asset.
The director’s perspective on ‘Scenery’:
The main concept for ‘Scenery’ was based around being a stranger. This idea came to me because I thought that the melody was emotional, and sad yet comforting. It conjured up an image of isolation so I built the MV around that.
The original plan was to have one teaser for ‘Scenery’. But when editing, I found that I didn’t want to cut anything out and thought that it would be a good idea to separate what I had into day and night. This resulted in two teasers.
It was an extremely small production. The previous MV productions were also quite small, but for ‘Scenery’, there was only myself doing the shooting, Rang doing the acting, and Subin Lee working as an assistant. I felt that the process was fairly spontaneous even with our concept and agreed key scenes in place.
We also had a goal to travel in Tokyo so we couldn’t bring much equipment with us. One Super 8 film camera and 8 rolls of film were the only things we had. It was literally a ‘run and shoot’ scenario. We basically shot whatever our instinct told us to. We expected that the night time landscape of Tokyo would work well for us. It was then the studio’s techniques which developed and scanned the film.
Misty (cover by Rang)
Lastly, we also wanted to choose a cover by Rang to recommend to our readers, and after much deliberation, ‘Misty’ originally sung by Ella Fitzgerald, was the one we decided on.
Listening to this cover makes you fall in love with Rang’s voice all over again.
With just a piano accompaniment, you get the chance to appreciate the vocals with greater clarity. The depth of the lower register, the vibrato, the breathtaking higher notes, the wonderful phrasing that pushes through to the final notes, that nostalgia of a time long gone…there is so much to admire about this cover. Rang would be a wonderful jazz and blues singer! Highly recommended.
We can only reiterate what we have said throughout, that we find Ashmute’s music to be standout in terms of message, production, quality, and delivery. The group are really finding their stride now, and developing very quickly. Ashmute has become a favourite of ours, and we want every member of the team to do well, including Nayeon who demonstrated great skill with directing and editing. When watching a video and listening to a song makes you experience the emotions within them, you know that you are witnessing something that is the result of an outstanding job. And Ashmute and their music can definitely be described with that one word. Outstanding.
We hope that Ashmute continue to evolve to become the best version of themselves, always moving forward and learning about the different sounds they can create and use to make amazing music. We are cheering for you Ashmute!
How to support Ashmute
Remember, the best way to support Ashmute is to buy their music! You can do so through iTunes (click on the track names to purchase Dive, Heaven, or Scenery). Alternatively purchase through Google Play or use Korean sites like genie and melon.
Follow Ashmute’s activities through their social media links:
Featured image: © Ashmute logo. Ashmute. 12.05.2017.
In article images: © Ashmute and Nayeon Kim. All images were kindly provided or reproduced for use in this article with permission from Ashmute and Nayeon Kim.
© Ashmute music review. Inspire Me Korea. 24.05.2017.
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