Sima Kim & Wouter van Veldhoven






South Korea’s prone-to-drone musicologist Sima Kim in tandem with the Netherlands’ skilled gadgeteer and multi-instrumentalist Wouter Van Veldhoven represent their inventiveness on a tape for a specific reason that is as potentially alienating as it is notably tempting: their split release Sketches, released on Mexico City-based Umor Rex Records in February 2014 and available to stream and purchase at Bandcamp as well as iTunes and other music stores, is a serious endeavor of offering the listener a glimpse behind the curtain by absorbing and digesting unfinished segues, interstices or, well, sketches. This is a classic split release, with each artist fully envisioning the endeavor on his own instead of, say, teaming up in the same studio or being busy with the digital delivery of textures, stems or melodies. Most of these sketches even pre-existed before anyone thought of this project to become reality in this particular way. This separation notwithstanding, the two sides of the tape are languorous and cohesive, with Sima Kim’s tracks being more attached to the Drone genre and its kaleidoscopic assembly while Wouter Van Veldhoven’s ones show the experimental tweaking of his instruments and a clever interplay between sound and sustain. And another slightly differential tendency is graspable: whereas Sima Kim adheres to an archetypical Ambient-focused naming convention and numbers his ten sketches both consecutively and consequently, Wouter Van Veldhoven adds time as a formerly ephemeral element on his side of the tape and enshrines the long-lost moment, sometimes by even adding a brief description. Wouter Van Veldhoven admitted to me in a tweet that he “listened/fastforwarded through countless minutes of junk,” but rest assured that the aural capsules which found their way onto the tape are anyone's junk. Absurdly enough, it comes down to this: I am going to write an in-depth review… of an album full of sketches. 


Knock on wood while being green with envy: the beautiful flair of Sketches. Photo by Daniel Castrejón.


Sima Kim has reserved side A of the tape for ten sketches. All of them have a bolstered granularity in common. Thickly wadded synth-oid movements made of processed guitars, music box vestiges as well as glockenspiel glints swirl and flicker like sylvan cloudlets around the erbaceous dioramas and their fir-green periphery. This green color range is encountering a blue tint due to the frostier, higher frequencies that protrude the alluvial mélange more often than not. In contrast to his adamantly alkaline yet fragilely emaciated cavalcades of dark matter pads in Debris (Soft Corridor Records, 2013), the Korean musicologist worships the textural range with bolstered surfaces and euphonious patterns. Sketch #1 launches the tape with a fleeting visit to Cologne, or so it seems, as this short vignette is once again one of the artist’s pieces that are – accidentally or not – compatible with Kompakt’s Pop Ambient formula. In my review of Sima Kim and Saito Koji’s Light And Gravity (Twice Removed Records, 2013), I compared the diaphanous stream of consciousness and strictly loop-based lanyard to Ulf Lohmann’s millennial apexes, and this opening sketch could well be an afterthought or appendix to Sima Kim’s summerly work phase.


Sketch #2 begs to be elasticized due to its ecclesiastic haze aquiver with contentment, whereas the superimposed luminosity of #3 almost reminds of a Boards of Canada mo(ve)ment, were it not for the pristine piano dots that dance in this sun-kissed intermission. The other sketches meanwhile showcase another advantage of their short and sweet appearance, as Sima Kim can quickly present variety and chequered formations aplenty. Sketch #4 presents the co-occurrence of a rural tape hiss and mellowly metallic sinews, whereas #5 and #6 are victims of the Drone mould and feature tendons on an even keel filled with nutritious liquids. Sketch #7 adds a rhythmic jitter to its golden ambience that functions as a metronome and reminds the listener how quickly time really flies within these endemic boundaries, whereas Sketch #8 seemingly depicts a mountainous, reverberated cave with echoey arcs. Sketch #9, believe it or not, is the centerpiece of Sima Kim’s side, running for two minutes and 40 seconds, delineating glacial piano prongs and plinking glockenspiel scintillae that remind of a winter wonderland full of icicles, floes and crystals. This is one sketch to cherish and last forever! The final Sketch #10 remains in arctic climes, but is particularly self-centered, charged with faux-gamelan bells, temple reverb, angelic synths and electric current. The only thing missing on Sima Kim’s side is a decidedly retrogressive Korg movement akin to the aforementioned Debris. This is neither a surprise nor a flaw, as Debris already contains four sketches as well, so I suppose that Sima Kim has used them all up. 


Wouter Van Veldhoven’s side of the tape, aka side B, differs from Sima Kim’s graceful movements in that its purpose seems to be the encapsulation of warbled liveliness or warped quirkiness. Do not expect cheeky IDM patterns or Rave alloys, but multitudes of polka dots, scandium afterglows and zoetropic constitutions. Sketch, 11–2004 starts the tape like clockwork, for this horological deportment clangs, clings and plinks ad infinitum, only stopped by the time-related boundaries and physical limits of the reel itself. Torn between a nocturnal witching hour and dulcet sparks, this sketch shows the concept of robotism bred in the Space-Age. Fluister Sketch, 4–2012 is the only true Drone movement Wouter Van Veldhoven presents, a delicately moss-covered crossover of etiolated strings and a calcined senescence that is as retrogressively tied to the 40’s as it is uncannily sinister. These are no horror strings… but they harbor a certain portentous something. Hauntology anyone? Sketch, 06–2005 returns back to the frilly-polished music box scenery that opened side B, but is now graced by a sunset-colored guitar undercurrent, whereas Camera, 11–2002 is an ode to the photographer’s withdrawal during work hours. The rufescent light is ameliorated by the typical blotchy sound of old photography-related gear, but it is the understanding and warm euphony of the piano sequences that make this sketch meaningful and human. Sketch, 02–2008 continues to mesh the clock tower romance that is a crucial part of Van Veldhoven’s sketches with vinyl crackles and rotatory bumblebee violins, with Sketch_ First Failure AE, 10–2008 running for a humongous eight (!) minutes which are chock-full with annealed strings, grainy moirés, strange effects and a post-apocalyptic timbre that seems as hopeless as it is mean-spirited. Palindroom drie, 11–2007 then kisses the listener goodbye with a music box melody and bonfire-like crackles. Vinyl crackles on tape? Sure!


The idea of adding sketches to an album or an artist’s synoptic view usually comes with an aftertaste that screams "bonus material" or "fugacity," but on this Umor Rex tape, the very concept is celebrated, worshipped and made the modus operandi of the whole event. As a service to the listener, this is truthfully revealed right from the outset via the album title as well as all of the track titles. Fans of Wouter Van Veldhoven and Sima Kim will undoubtedly be affected by the presented material, but affection does not necessarily evoke elation every time it occurs. Indeed, Sketches is by no means a ploy, but harmed by its own designed shortcoming. With the exception of Van Veldhoven’s behemoth of eight minutes that takes the concept of a sketch to a new height, all the other tracks are mercilessly short. “That’s because they are sketches, dude!” Okay okay, fine, but even though the reviewer begs for longer phases and prolonged durations, he knows that this would annihilate the concept of this tape. The shortness is bittersweet, the segues so well crafted that their shortness is a real pity. Sima Kim & Wouter Van Veldhoven allow the listeners to take a peek: how they work, what they produce in their spare time and tend to not release until the time is right. Like a sample board or color palette handed to customers in a furniture store or paint shop, interested labels or commissioners can pick their preferred mood, texture or style and then approach the artist to fathom a certain aspect further. This is the fate and greatness of Sketches: the listener pays for demos and coincidental happenings only. One might agree with this approach or not, but those listeners who, for example, adore Aphex Twin’s DrukQs (2001) for its shorter pieces in lieu of his callisthenic Glitch patterns, might find the crispness and variety of Sketches eminently luring. You have been warned. And enticed. 



Further listening and reading:



Ambient Review 320: Sima Kim & Wouter Van Veldhoven – Sketches (2014). Originally published on Feb. 26, 2014 at