This article features a detailed analysis and review of ‘Hear The Sea’, composed by Hyun Hwang of Monotree and as performed by Red Velvet. ‘Hear The Sea’ is the 5th song on Red Velvet’s 5th EP (The Red Summer), which was released on 09/07/2017 by the label ‘S.M Entertainment’
Although I aim to justify any opinions raised in this article, please respect that the views expressed are subjective. For more information, please click here
About the composer:
Hyun Hwang (황현) is a composer, lyricist, chief producer and founder of ‘Monotree’. He made his debut as an artist in 2008 adopting the stagename ‘RoomMate’ and releasing a mini-album entitled ‘있잖아 나말야’ (Itjanha Namallya).
Hyun Hwang has worked with many acclaimed k-pop acts throughout his career, including: Kara, Girl’s Generation, Lee Dong Gun & J-Min. He was also the composer for Elris’ debut single ‘We, First’ (for a full analysis of ‘We First’ click here).
‘Hear The Sea’ – Song Structure, track info:
(fig A – Bar/Timecode and Structural diagram for ‘Hear The Sea’)
- Duration of song = 3:22 [source: iTunes]
- Consists of 73 bars (of which 72 bars are in 4/4 and 1 bar is in 2/4)
- Tempo – Approximate metronome mark of crotchet = 93 (moderato)
- Key Signature: multiple changes
- Form: Intro,ABCDABCEFCG
(fig B – annotation of the introduction)
As can be seen from fig B above, the song opens with what sounds like an upright-piano, accompanied by a string ensemble which crescendos from silence in bar 3 only to decline in volume from bar 4, whilst either a volume fx pedal or a synth doubling the piano enhances the E + G during bar 5. Using the instruments to fluctuate volume in this way provides effective symbolism of a wave rolling onto the shore before receding back towards the sea.
The introduction is the only passage where the time signature changes from 4/4 (four crotchet/quarter-note beats per bar) to 2/4. It’s plausible that the main reason for doing this is simply to prolong the sustained B7(sus4+add6) chord whilst the E+G interval is accentuated by the production/mix, without slowing down the tempo of the song.
(fig C – annotation of the first 4-bars of verse 1)
The first verse kicks off with a variety of new features: as can be seen in fig C above, the song introduces solo vocals, an electric guitar, synth bass line and percussion to the mix. Furthermore, there is seemingly a contrasting new tonal centre from the introduction (the new perceived home key is E major).
During the verses Hyun Hwang implements a simple beat for the bass drum which corresponds to the time signature. In addition to this, by using triplets to subdivide the core beat and add further notes to the score, he juxtaposes a 12/8-styled rhythm which is enhanced by the side drums and cymbals. The overall effect is that the percussion line sounds as if it were playing two time signatures at the same time. Why is this significant? Despite not being able to speak Korean, it is quite obvious to a person who cannot speak the language that ‘Hear The Sea’ is indeed a love song. I believe this because the rhythmic effect of the percussion mimics the rhythm of a heartbeat! It is an ingenious touch of added symbolism by the composer!
(fig D – annotation of the final 4-bars of verse 1)
As the song progresses, so too does the sense of intensification both harmonically and rhythmically. This intensification slowly starts to take place during the second half of verse 1, where, as can be seen in fig D above, both the accompanying piano line and vocal melody are progressively rising in pitch. All the while, the synth bass performs glissandos (slides) up and down in pitch, thereby enhancing the sense of growth and decline whilst the percussion line continues to mimic heartbeats.
The second verse is only 4 bars in length and is reminiscent of the music featured in fig D above. It is interesting of the composer to cut the verse in half and I can only suppose this is to assist in maintaining momentum throughout the song by avoiding repeating the same melodic lines too often.
(fig E – annotation of the 1st-time bridge section)
Whilst I cannot comment on the lyrics of this song, it is clear from fig E above that the bridge section is meant to represent some kind of heightened ‘intensification’. Evidence of this is immediately visible in the percussion line which now includes a slightly altered form of the previously used rhythm, effectively symbolising heart ‘palpatations’. It is the first section of the music where the vocals split from solo to solo with supporting harmony and is also the first section of the song where the vocals are doubled by the background piano/synth keys backing line. The harmony is evidently increasing in its complexity, with a lot of the background chording featuring both augmented and diminished intervals in order to create dissonance.
(fig F – skeletal annotation of the first chorus – piano rearranged to show backing chords)
For the purpose of maintaining visual clarity (avoiding lots of double-sharps and abstract chord names), I enharmonically switched the chording on my annotation of the chorus (see fig F) from predominantly sharp keys to flat keys. What this means is that, essentially, the notes are still exactly the same however most chords now relate to flat keys as opposed to sharp ones (e.g. A-sharp is now B-flat etc). The reason I did not change this earlier is because it was not necessary to enharmonically substitute chords such as B major to an alternative C-flat major(!) or F-sharp minor to G-flat minor (both of which would be much more difficult to read). Thereby, I established that the tonal centre of the chorus has shifted, this time to F major (as opposed to E-sharp major!).
Personally, one of my favourite aspects of the chorus is the chord movement, which features in bar 7 of the passage in fig F. During this bar, the chords shift on each crotchet (quarter-note) beat as a descending ‘circle of fifths’ (movement between chords which are a gap of 5 intervals apart) from Bm down to E, then E to A (technically this third chord ‘A’ actually ascends in the piano line – however this is still doubled an octave lower by the synth bass in the overall mix) and then finally a C(aug5) which is outside of the pattern. The chord progression and the descending vocal melody remind me of the ending from an English nursery song, which I last heard as a young child.
(fig G – annotation of ‘Transition A’ – piano rearranged to show backing chords)
There are two vocal transitions in ‘Hear The Sea’, the first of which is a 4-bar passage which does not use lyrics. Instead, the vocal line ‘sighs’ and ‘las’ the notes as an off-beat ‘response’ to the chord changes which happen on the beat. The transition section sets up an enharmonic key-change back to E major for verse 2, which is catalysed by the dissonance of the Eb (augmented 5th) chord, which brings out the note B-natural (which acts as the 5th degree/dominant of E), as can be seen in fig G above.
(fig H – skeletal annotation of transition B – piano rearranged to show backing chords)
The first 4 bars of Transition B are characterised by a repeated full-step harmonic traversal from Db to Eb to F (see fig H above). To add variety, Hyun Hwang embellishes the second half of bars 2 and 4 with a piano/keys interjection. Bar 7 contains one of the most iconic moments of the whole song, an ascending and uninterrupted Db major scale in the vocals. This is the only section of the entire song where the movement of the melody is so linear and exposed – although I don’t understand the lyrics, the significance of writing the melody in such a way surely adds emphasis to something particularly meaningful in the lyrics. It is also a useful way of ensuring the listener pays attention as the music seamlessly flows into the instrumental solo. In a nutshell, this is beautiful writing.
(fig I – annotation of the instrumental solo section)
The instrumental section (ass seen in fig I) is dominated by a floating string unison line, which essentially repeats itself a whole-tone down in bars 1 and 3. Sense of momentum is maintained in bar 2 by a moving guitar line and in bar 4 by the strings rising up in pitch.
(fig J – annotation of the piano outro)
The outro is mainly a duet between the piano and vocal lines. Despite concluding on a different tonal centre from the previous chorus, a sense of ‘resolution’ is achieved by significantly slowing the tempo from bar 2 of the passage to the end and arpeggiating the chords to further instill the sense of slowing down. The final chord of Ab is enhanced by a warm string backing and repetition of the chord some two octaves higher.
‘Hear The Sea’ has been thoughtfully composed and orchestrated by Hyun Hwang. Despite not being able to actually speak Korean, I felt that I was still able to derive a personal ‘understanding’ of what the song ‘means’ simply from the symbolic effects Hyun Hwang used in his composition: depicting waves brushing ashore, an apparent and intensifying heartbeat and a sense of emphasis of feeling through the incline of pitch.
The song was very difficult (and also enjoyable) to annotate as it is packed full of harmonic movement. I usually annotate the songs on my website to help fans and musicians understand how it is structured and in-turn, I hope this provides either interesting information for fans or a helpful starting point for musicians to compose covers. However, given that Hyun Hwang’s original arrangement is so effective, I am intrigued to see if it is actually possible to imagine the song in a different style without losing a sense of sincerity.
The song is beautifully written and I would strongly recommend it over the other tracks on ‘The Red Summer’ EP – that said, I cannot justify the reason why I recommend it so strongly without another very large comparison article, so I will just leave things there! Enjoy!