Kaiwei is the progressive electronic music project of Calvin “Kai-Wei” Chang, a Brooklyn-based Taiwanese composer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer of contemporary music, who recently released his debut album, Reprocessor.
Stylistically aligning with traditions of industrial, glitch, ambient, and progressive dance, Kaiwei’s works often explore combinations of experimental techniques, diverse compositional approaches, and varying forms. His compositions often emphasize timbral and textural elements, while fusing a vast improvisational vocabulary with unorthodox post-production, songwriting, and sound design methods.
As a producer, he has produced for musicians such as Elliot Cole, Cherophobiac, Luisa Bressan, Andrés Volkov, Zena Marie, and Olivia D. Jones. As a performer-composer, he has worked with NY-based artists such as Ethan Cohn, Pauline Roberts, Shinya Lin, Jonathan Reisin, choreographer Audrey Chou, fashion designer Barbara Bao, graphic designer Nancy Hu, Hamburg-based visual artist Melanie Stirner, and was the composer and sound designer of theater director Ichen Wang’s 2022 stage play, Dress In Code.
Tattoo.com caught up with Kaiwei to delve into why he makes music, the evolution of his sound, and his writing process.
What three things can’t you live without?
Food, water, my partner.
Why do you make music?
I was placed in an artistic environment from pretty early on. Both me and my sister played piano and brass instruments. I’ve been in music school for years up until this year when I got out of grad school and have participated in a variety of musical and performance scenarios. Truth be told I could do really anything that doesn’t ask for a degree just to make a living; hence this question would call for a rather abstract response as I don’t actually need to be making music, other than the fact that I don’t see the reason not to make music.
What inspired your debut album, ‘Reprocessor? ‘
‘Reprocessor’ is a compilation of old works composed in similar fashions, that I later decided to put together and release as an LP. It lacks a comprehensive arch other than the one that naturally came about as I decided on track orders, but all songs were made with the same mental framework of only sourcing found sounds as materials and were completed at different points throughout the pandemic (2020-2022). As to what inspired me to compile these songs: this was my first attempt at developing a consistent, solid sonic identity, and this record would hopefully be a sort of cornerstone for my future ventures.
Walk us through your mindset as you entered the studio to record the album.
This record was not recorded in a studio. All materials were either phone recordings or rehearsal outtakes, etc. The sounds were edited and ‘re-recorded’/bounced fully in a DAW. As much of an improviser I strive to be as a performer, I also practice compositional improvisation, where I speed run and execute arbitrary ideas that pop up in my head and make a mess out of the session. The ideas are purely experimenting/improvising technical approaches, and 9 out of 10 times I would have no clue what the outcome might be. I then source out the ideas that have the potential of being developed into something meaningful and organize the session. Hence the real composition actually happens at the editing stage, as I weed out the mediocre outcomes of my improvisations.
How did you get started in music?
I played the trombone and piano for 18 years, but my career only started as I stumbled upon NY’s scene of underground and contemporary music.
Did your progressive electronic sound evolve naturally, or did you push it in a certain direction?
I purposefully pushed it to be appealing to myself (as does anyone who makes music). I am also the first to acknowledge that my sound has rather strong influences from certain musical heroes of mine. Nevertheless, I steer clear from forcing myself actions/directions I am not articulate enough to execute. Through improvisation in both performance and composition, I practice becoming more articulate and eloquent in making statements. Perhaps this ‘progressive sound’ seems to have evolved naturally, but nope, I worked really hard for it.
If you had to describe your sound to the uninitiated, what would you say?
It sounds good.
No one is ever uninitiated, they either like the music or they don’t. You don’t describe a dish for your eaters, they just gotta taste it themselves, and they’ll love it, or hate it. I’ve always felt that as soon as I have to describe the music, it kind of loses its magic.
What inspires your writing? Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, or other media?
I am heavily inspired by narratives. I am a humongous fan of film music. I don’t necessarily mean sounding cinematic or like Hans Zimmer. I just mean a good story really does justice for every existing form of art there is. I have had the pleasure of realizing this enthusiasm for accommodating narratives with sounds last year when I collaborated with Icahn Wang as a composer on her stage play, ‘Dress in Code.’
What can you share about your writing process?
As exciting as some would try to advertise it, composing gets astonishingly boring real quick. To keep things interesting, I have the most fun to often let materials reveal themselves to me. In deconstructing, synthesizing, and layering raw audio clips, I find the uncontrolledness and randomness of the results particularly appealing qualities to work with. Much of the task of navigating compositional decisions is therefore grounded in explorations. On the contrary, to have a sound in mind, and then seeking to recreate that sound, is a painstaking process. Oftentimes time in the quest of recreating a nonexistent sound, I diverge to make unprecedented discoveries of which adoption becomes a priority. So much of this work lies in experimentation and explorations, and so little in preconceptions.
Which artists in your opinion are killing it right now?
How do you define success?
Being alive and sane. Being loved and loving in return.