Sima Kim






Songs is the two-track debut by the South Korean electro-acoustic musician and musicologist Sima Kim. Completed by one remix from Darren Harper, another one by the duo of Bengalfuel aka Doc Deem and Dentist and released in September 2012 on Gavin Catling’s Twice Removed Records, Songs, whose original run of 100 hand-stitched cardboard copies has long sold out and is only available digitally at Bandcamp, tries every rhetorics-related trick to be perceived as soft, small and Pop-based. A cheeky pretense, as the opposite is the case, and this has to be mentioned very clearly: Sima Kim’s debut is an important piece in the puzzle of contemporary indie music, not just in terms of the revitalization of the South Korean Ambient-related music scene, but in a much broader sense for all Drone fans alike. It comprises of the two simple-titled songs I and II and features half-whispered vocals by Chloed as well as the plucked strings of a violin played by Natalie Soh, although it takes a lot of effort to even guesstimate the appearance of this instrument. Sima Kim applies filters to his two field recording-underlined songs, and yep, so do virtually all other musicians in this field. Where his music truly shines is in the field of faux-simplicity: the album is called Songs due to the simplistic melodies, but don’t be fooled, they are pointedly and purposely created in this exact way in order to let both an euphoria and melancholy rise, and to allow the listener to concentrate on the thicket of textures and patterns, among them a glockenspiel and acoustic guitar played by Sima Kim himself. While there is not one single stereotypical instance of a Far Eastern allusion to be found anywhere, the musicologist evokes that carefree elation and retrogressive remembrance which is so often linked to these formerly foreign countries. The remixes are no mere bonus additions either, but explain the flow and innermost attraction of the originals by carving out – or reducing – certain traits which can then be linked back to Sima Kim’s material. After months of listening sessions, I believe to know this album by heart right now and finally feel fit to write down my thoughts in an elaborate way which does not seem to fit with the belittling album title… at first! As it turned out during 2013, Sima Kim is one artist to watch and check out time and again, and the cornerstone for this development is found in – and leads to – Songs.



 Albums by Twice Removed artists Sima Kim, Linear Bells and Fontaine in the Tropics. Don't mind my hand.


The archetypical kick-off: one seems to know what is heard, and one seems to hear what is known. Chiastic contemplations. A field recording of cracking branches, soft breezes, talking people, or in short, the synergy of nature, mankind and technology is presented in the beginning of I, and while the inclusion of personalized ambience vignettes is the golden thread of today's Ambient productions, the ensuing plasticity is delightfully amazing, especially so in Sima Kim’s first outing where the warm blurriness of the nostalgia layering technique is much more amplified than merely accentuated by glockenspiel-like chimes and two-note coils on the acoustic guitar. Insouciance and rusticity are united, everything feels freed from threnody and darker shades. This feeling changes ever so slightly when synth-oid backing rivers and whispering, heavily reverberated female voices add depth and purity to the arrangement without overloading it. Notwithstanding the beautifully reduced melodies and wondrously glistening textures, silence plays an important part in I’s setting, too. It is not of the threatening kind, rather prefers to loom in the background, but the thought or mere notion of its potential impetus makes the aural drifting feel meaningful, evidently sizable. The synth-like moisture in the background slightly grows, its ethereality emanates cherubic bliss and a silkened lethargy, two of Sima Kim’s signature elements found throughout his compositions. And so the elysian phantasmagoria meanders along, with a gorgeous addendum intermixed at its end; an infinitesimal dose of industrialism in the shape of gunmetal-tinged large-grained shakers whose attack rate and echoey decay cuts through the hymnic halls, injecting controlled splinters of softened harshness and liveliness before the journey ends with a generous afterglow period of almost one minute where silence takes over. This first song seemingly epitomizes a long-gone memory that swiftly turns into a figment. While this is the worst train of thought to manifest itself, it is an essential opaque counterpoint to the opalescent rhizomes of Sima Kim’s I and henceforth completes its dichotomous significance.


The following eleven minutes of II appear as a contrastive force in comparison to I, a curious remark to make given the fact that both compositions are based on the same ingredients and the tendency of I to carry (at least) two irreconcilable sentiments. I launched with glockenspiels, and II does so as well, but it seems as if several diffuse filters are stripped off their sparkling host-nuclei, for they appear much more glistening, iridescent and amicably piercing. The backdrop is pitch-black, and while there is indeed a field recording of hazy laughter, it is strangely distant and spectral. As a result, the physiognomy of each chime appears more coruscating and crisp. Reversely played star dust glitters boost the pristine aura, and the same can be said about the effulgence of the acoustic guitar slaps whose thermal warmth is a welcome source of heat in this gelid fairy tale. Once polyphonous pads are spiraling in this panorama and display a quasi-pentatonic melody of nine tones, the euphony of II rises and showcases another characteristic trait of Sima Kim’s music: the slow buildup to climactic rapture. The synth-like clouds in the distance connect seamlessly with the pointillistic foreground and carve out the harmonic overtones even more. The following minutes are awash with light; completely and without compromise. This is another distinction in contrast to I which relies much more on a dualistic mood range, with ever-gentle clashes between the various tones in major and minor. Here, however, the complexion is… cute, in lack of a better word. Like a celestial lullaby coming out of an earthbound music box. That II comes full circle and ends the way it began, with crystalline-icy glockenspiels in front of a void of nullity is a fitting conclusion. Or to be more precise: an interim conclusion, as it is time for the remixes to follow.


The first remix is Darren Harper’s take on I. Clocking in at roughly seven and a half minutes, his try is a specifically successful interpretation, for it does not change one single bit of the original, or so it seems. He obviously alters things, since the runtimes between Sima’s and Darren’s I differ, but compresses the unfolding sequence of events into a shorter timeframe while invoking a grander fragility. The field recording is much more prominent and upfront in his remix, making the listener aware of crossing motorcyclists, sun-soaked crackles and passing pedestrians. The glockenspiel droplets behave like summer breezes in Harper’s rendition, being strikingly thinned, yet encapsulating the full force of the sepia-toned nostalgia. In a way, they appear much more glitchy and slippery. The angelic faux-synth washes are similarly filtered, neither appearing as all too blurry nor too small. They seem to be ennobled by a gently overdriven filter which resembles an electric guitar. Plinking prongs and fizzling flecks ameliorate the final phase. Darren Harper’s remix is close to the original. Maybe too close in the given circumstances, but making a precise look onto the harmonies possible. When everything seems reduced and even more minimal than in Sima Kim’s original while retaining its very beauty, the moods that come with the melodies are strong, purified and eternal. This valuable intermediate step becomes clear after listening to this mix.


Bengalfuel’s remix of II – called the Cake Fix – sits on the brink of oversaturation, and if one knows the duo’s back catalog, this fix exactly matches the expectations. The glittering glockenspiels are looped, their contrast brightened and expanded. In addition, a steamy stokehold or rattling train-like rhythm aorta interpolates the simultaneity of shimmering beauty and alloys of industrial shards. In a weirdly twisted way, the beat structure resembles the climax of Sima Kim’s I, even though Bengalfuel remix the track called II. Once Dentist and Doc Deem put the synth-esque washes into the limelight, the listener experiences an encompassing, strikingly overblown state of rapture. Cavalcades of colors float by, vivacity becomes entangled with flamboyancy, the result partially matches Sima Kim’s aestheticism but amplifies the voluminosity several times. Bengalfuel’s Cake Fix appears as loud, seeks – and most definitely gets – the attention and reverses Darren Harper’s strategy, albeit accidentally, I presume. The following realization unfurls after listening to both remixes: weaken Sima Kim’s melodies, and they still continue to shine. Overexpose them and create a quasi-synth galore à la Bengalfuel, and the same insight emerges.


Songs does not want to be perceived as a great Drone-influenced, Glitch-underlined work, or else Sima Kim would not have called it this way. The title, however, carries more meaning than the seemingly picayune expressiveness, commonplace word and desired end product of any musician suggests. Sima Kim sometimes laments that the South Korean music scene is streamlined, equilibrated, uniform and dishearteningly disinterested rather than in constant fluxion (one notable exception would be the fellow South Korean Drone luminary Fescal). Songs is the first clear column of Sima Kim’s career, his mission is not only based on entertaining, enchanting and elevating the listener into higher spheres, no, the musicologist from the Far East wants to introduce Occidental and Oriental ears alike to the slowly-growing base of South Korean musicians. Thankfully enough and in order to achieve this, South Korea’s idol is now able to collaborate frequently and regularly with like-minded musicians from all around the globe. All this knowledge about these extrinsic factors is not mandatory for enjoying Songs, though! The album exhibits and celebrates one of the producer’s secrets of how melancholia and blitheness can work so well in tandem. The designedly streamlined and purposefully minimal melodies very much help in this regard, no eclecticism takes place, the listener is allowed and constantly able to sense the aftertaste of each surface and pattern. Similar to Masayuki Taguchi’s Works1005 (2010), the entanglement of Glitch and Drone elements nullifies their respective spheres of action, the result being neither the one nor the other. At the end of this review, I would like to state that I am fully aware of my overdramatic interpretation, for Sima Kim gives one perfect guideline in regard to the right approach of his quality conceptions: I and II are songs. For Kim, they are nothing more. For me, nothing less. It is one of this decade’s hidden classics, cocooning the setbacks, hopes and progresses of a person called Sima Kim. It took me a long time to mould my thoughts into a hopefully more level-headed than lionizing review. My excitement is candid, though. Songs and its remixes are worth anyone’s while who is ever so slightly interested in Ambient music with clear harmonies and Apollonian emotions.



Further listening and reading:



Ambient Review 234: Sima Kim – Songs (2012). Originally published on Jul. 3, 2013 at