Taiwanese-Brooklyn transplant Calvin “Kai-Wei” Chang’s debut album Reprocessor is musical, dense and seemingly done-based, causing it to straddle a number of genres from experimental to darkwave to IDM, but that’s not what sets it apart. It’s the fact that it’s made entirely from found sounds, recorded by Chang between 2020 and 2022; no extra sounds or samples have been added. Intended to document the changes in life during COVID, Chang took these sounds and painstakingly reworked, re-engineered and, of course, reprocessed them until they made the visceral, flowing statement piece that is this album. Chang sums it up best himself:
Reprocessor is a sonic documentation and “musicalization” of Covid19 era found sounds, with songs composed between 2020-2022. In lieu of conventional “reworking” of source materials, over two hours in length of raw recordings are repetitively reinforced, dissected and extracted for expressive sonic events.
When one really stops to think about the fact that the source material on Reprocessor is the only material, it’s sort of mindboggling, especially from the perspective of an EDM producer; this is how electronic music was originally formed back in the 1940s through the 60s and even up to the 80s. Before we had this massive library of sounds for drums, kicks, snares, pianos and strings to modify for synths, all of those things had to be recoded, pitched, cleaned up, stored and passed on so there could even be synthesizers and programmers. We’re so far modernized now that it’s all taken for granted and the sounds and space have become so clean and accurate that new sounds are created from samples of samples of samples. So what happens when a producer applies all this new tech to the grassroots sound sound loop format? Kaiwei has the answer.
It doesn’t seem Kaiwei’s intention with Reprocessor was to go grassroots in any way, but rather to see what it would sound like to make full compositions out of found recordings using modern gear. One could easily glean that even with modern benefits, it’s a painstaking and tedious process of math, code, and cut/copy/paste to get said compositions lined up, layered and sounding anything like music. The result, however, seems worth the trouble.
With a number of instrumental musicians also contributing sounds to the album, Reprocessor is very much still in the experimental realm of things, and listening to it, one can easily understand how he’s earned a reputation for his compositions accompanying multimedia art instillations and avant garde performing arts pieces. That said, it’s also very much tinged with drone, industrial and even deep house sounds. The musicality of many pieces, such as the title track, “Breakbeat Funky 102” (if you assume there’s anything resembling a conventional breakbeat in this track, you’d be dead wrong) and the “Tors” series might be hard to find on first listen, but keep listening. Through the drone and chaos, almost every part of these tracks it an actually quite delicate piece of symphony-like composition.
Other tracks, such as “Identity” (the only track with a discernable beat), “4u” and the endlessly ambient “Duet” sound more trad musical but that’s only because they’re also quite melodic and have recognizable music sounds. What Reprocessor asks of the listener is to take the album as a whole and connect the dots so the music can be heard in any part of the composition. “Chung Yeung,” a our YEDM premiere today, is the first track on the album and seems to be a preview of this apparent dichotomy, straddling the heavy and the sublime and finding music in both parts.
The opening track of this record, “Chung Yeung” is in of itself a compilation of short compositional and sonic ideas, that all sprung from a series of freely improvised, live-processed trombone and vocal performances. The multi-sectional form foreshadows the overarching structure of the full record, as well as some of its key sonic elements and themes.
Named after the famous lunar calendar festival (loosely translated at “Double Ninth Festival” as it takes place on the ninth day of the ninth month), a day of remembrance where the Chinese and Taiwanese people climb mountains to their ancestors’ graves to clean, maintain and leave gifts, “Chung Yeung” sets a somber tone for the album: this is both a remembrance of the struggles of COVID and perhaps those who lost their lives, and a clearing out and “reprocessing” of those ghostly sounds and energies from a period many of us are still trying to process.
The realm of experimental music serves as a leading edge example of what may be possible in commercial music and said commercial musicians look to artists like Kaiwei to push that boundary for them. However in the case of Reprocessor, it seems Kaiwei is also saying it’s important to know ones roots and hone one’s compositional skills as well. COVID showed humanity its own limitations; we’re one solar flare away from losing most if not all of our digital resources, but Kaiwei and others who know how to create music from their own loops would likely be leading the charge in that case. In the meantime, capturing the energy and feeling of such a tumultuous time is also important. If nothing else, Reprocessor shows that creativity will always find a way, and that it will even make new ways for sound and expression with only some found loops, a heap of patience and a need to be heard.