Cécile Corbel & songs in foreign languages

Good music makes me so, so happy.

I’ve been listening to a lot of “experimental” electronic, indie rock, and singer/songwriter type music these days.  When I listen to music in a language I can understand (English, Korean, and some Japanese), lyrics are often the most noticeable element of song for me and vocals tend to stand out against the backdrop of instrumentals.  But in other languages, vocals become mere morphemes without meaning, indistinguishable from the other layers of sound in a song.  A friend and I were discussing how sometimes we prefer to listen to songs in languages we don’t understand – for me, at least, it’s because it lets me interpret and feel the song in my own way without being hindered by semantics.

Recently, this friend introduced me to a singer who, as she described it, has “the voice of a siren.”

Cécile Corbel is a Breton singer and harpist who, in addition to having the most enchanting voice I’ve ever heard, also composed the score for the Studio Ghibli film 借りぐらしのアリエッティ (The Borrower Arrietty).  That’s her singing a song from the film in the video above and, yes, she is singing in Japanese!  Corbel’s native language is Breton – a Celtic language that originated in the British Isles and is spoken predominantly in Bretagne, France – but she also sings in French, English, Italian, German, and Irish.  And true to her roots, many of her songs have a gorgeous Celtic feel to them.

Here’s one of my favorites by her – “La Fille Damnée” in French.

It’s been ages and ages since I heard anything in French and, as per my usual weakness with French, I understood very little about what this song was about until I looked at the lyrics in French (so I guess my four years of French in high school wasn’t all for naught?  Heh.)  But that wasn’t necessarily the point because I wasn’t really trying to understand this song.  Corbel has a voice that I just want to listen to and feel without thinking.

But then I noticed something interesting.  I remember when SNSD’s “I Got a Boy” came out and English-speakers “misheard” the chorus (“I got a boy 멋진, I got a boy 착한”) as “I got a boy munchin’, I got a boy chicken.”  It’s as though your brain takes the sounds of a language you don’t know (e.g. Korean) and forcefully tries to apply meaning to it using a language that you do know (e.g. English).  Now, I’ve listened to Korean music for years so I never “misheard” those lyrics in English.  Even when I come across Korean speech or lyrics that I don’t understand, my brain still recognizes it as Korean.

Now the weird thing with me is when I listened to one of Corbel’s songs in Spanish among others, I kept hearing what sounded weirdly like Korean or Japanese or even Hindi words.  Never once did my brain try to “Englishify” what I was listening to, despite the fact that 99% of the time I open my mouth to speak, I use English.  I wonder if this is a result of the fact that the vast majority of songs that I listen to are not in English, even though I use English in my daily communication.  But something similar happens when I watch movies in foreign languages to which I have little to no exposure – let’s say German or Thai.  I’ve found this to be really disorienting because my brain keeps trying to hear Korean or Japanese in the dialogue, not English, even though the vast majority of movies I watch are in English.  It’s almost as if my brain understands I’m hearing something in a foreign language, makes a switch from English, and tries to interpret it in my next-most-proficient foreign language.  Does this happen to anyone else?  And I’m not sure but is there a technical linguistics/cognitive science terminology for this phenomenon?

It’s crazy.  I’ve been thinking more and more about neurobiology these days and how fascinating it must be to study the brain in the context of language acquisition.  I wonder if there’s a way to visualize a phenomenon like the one I described happening using fMRI – do different parts of the brain light up?  Is the neural connectivity changing?  Does synaptic plasticity affect whether or not you experience something like this?  Gah, so many delicious questions.  I should dig into the literature sometime.

김예림 – “All Right”

Thanks to Jeannie, I’ve known about 투개월 since their Superstar K3 days.  Lead vocalist of the duo, Kim Yerim, has a sultry type of voice that’s sort of a mix between Mad Soul Child’s Jinsil and Casker’s LeeYoong-jin.  I’m not sure what happened to the other half of the duo Do Dae-yoon (I heard that he left to concentrate on his studies?); in any case, it looks like 투개월 might be morphing into a solo act.  Recently Kim Yerim – or Lim Kim, as she’s being marketed now – released her first solo mini-album ‘A Voice’ which is every bit as delightful as I thought it would be.

I don’t think the title track does justice to her voice but I do relate to the lyrics – the song’s basically about a person pretending she’s all right when she really isn’t.  And man, is the music video… weird.  Heh.  Based off the comments under the video, a lot of people were complaining about how repetitive the song is but truth of the matter is, and I don’t know if this is intentional or not, it is often the people who aren’t all right that insist over and over and over again that they’re totally fine.  So in a way the repetitive chorus reflects that.

정엽 – 웃기고 있어

I’m not all that familiar with Brown Eyed Soul, but the couple songs I have heard by them are really really nice.  Naul released an album recently too and I’ve heard a couple songs on it which I thought were nice but it’s just not my usual style of music.  Yekyung’s convinced that I don’t appreciate ballads because I’m still “young.” XD

That all being said!  I’ve been listening to 정엽’s newest album for the past hour or so; his voice is so soothing, I could cry.  Enjoy.

Click for the full playlist.

I promise this blog isn’t turning into a music blog!  Music helps me get through a lot of life’s craziness and there’s tons of great stuff out there that I can’t help but share.

ONE OK ROCK – アンサイズニア

A friend and I were talking about how our lives (both personal and academic) are like sine functions and we’re both approaching a local minima.  Just feeling very uninspired about a lot of things.

But I like this song.  It makes me want to get up and do things.

The real title is “Answer is Near” but “Ansaizunia” is so much cooler.  Heh.

Oh the acoustic version is lovely too, but a totally different feeling.

Taka’s voice.  SIGHHHH.  Am I the only one who affectionately thinks of them as One O’Krock?

Hope everyone’s doing well.  Ciao ciao.

10 Favorite Korean Songs of 2012

Whoops, we’re already a few days into 2013 and I just got around to finishing this post.

In no particular order, here are some of my favorite songs of 2012!  For a person who has never watched Top Band, a LOT of my favorite music come from bands that have participated on that show.  It’s certainly seems to be doing its job of boosting talented professional musicians into the limelight.  Maybe I ought to try actually watching the show someday.  Enjoy, and here’s to discovering fresh new music in 2013!

Continue reading “10 Favorite Korean Songs of 2012”

“I remember” – Bang Yong-guk ft Yoseob

AKA The Song That (temporarily) Brought Me Back To K-Pop.

I haven’t cared much about K-pop (not even BIGBANG) since early this year.  In the past couple years, I’ve discovered a whole wonderful slew of indie/rock/hiphop music that I find I enjoy and appreciate much much more than the glitz of K-pop – and so I had all but cleansed myself of idol madness until I stumbled across this song.


And dare I say, this music video rivals my favorite K-pop music video of all time?

Okay, so I know I’m late to the party – this song released last year and I think at the time I had heard of the song but never bothered to give it a listen until a couple of days ago.  I do actually still keep an eye out for certain idol groups because, while I’m not into the fandom madness, there’s still a lot of great idol music out there.  So when my friend Holly told me about Yoseob’s solo mini-album, of course I wanted to listen to it (I like Yoseob and his album is pretty good!) and then by the magic of YouTube’s suggested videos I came across “I remember.”

The fierce red-head in the vid is B.A.P’s rapper Bang Yong-guk and the vocals are by B2ST’s Yoseob.  Bang Yong-guk… wow.  Just wow.  THAT VOICE.  I know zilch about B.A.P – I was really impressed by their debut but promptly forgot about them until now.  Listening to this song made me go and listen to some of their other stuff and I think they’re pretty great.  Am I sucked back into the K-pop mire?  No, but I like these young ‘uns, in a fond noona kind of way.  Haha.

G.O.D – 길

I really love listening to 유인나의 볼륨을 높여요, not only for the 사연s, but also for the music (go figure).  The nice thing about the podcast version of the show is that you only hear a 10-20 second clip of the song being played – in my opinion, plenty of time to decide whether I like it or not.  That’s how I found out about this song.

Okay, so I don’t know much about first-gen K-pop.  I’ve heard of H.O.T, Seo Taiji and Boys, and (recently) 젝스키스 because of 응답하라 1997 (Hakchan is my favorite character, but that’s a whoooole other post).  I knew of G.O.D, but only because of 최고의 사랑 and Yoon Kyesang.  This is my first time actually listening to them and I’ve been looping this song nonstop for the past couple days.

Man, the lyrics are so, so relevant to anyone in or around their college years.  I actually read a lot of recent fan comments talking about how they were in elementary school when the song first came out and they thought it was nice at the time, but now that they’re in college, it means so much more to them.  So I felt I had to share.

(This reminds me of the time Dia was fangirling over G.O.D.!  Hehe.)

Lyrics below the cut.

Continue reading “G.O.D – 길”