Interview with Kaiwei


Your musical style has evolved over time, incorporating elements from various genres and mediums. How did your journey as a multi-instrumentalist and composer lead you to the progressive and experimental sound we hear on your new album Reprocessor?

Up until about 6 years ago I was composing with pen and paper still. I had been in school for orchestral performance for some years, and played in bands as an instrumentalist, at times a vocalist, all through high school. The music I was capable of writing then was largely confined by the circumstances of the performance/ensembles I was situated in. I utilized what was provided, and was able to get pretty comfortable writing songs on keyboards or a guitar.

I have always thought the utilization of technology was introduced to me at a relatively later stage of my journey, as most of my peers working in similar fields had their roots in vintage electronic instruments and worked somewhat with voltages as their earliest introduction to organized sound. The first pointer music technology revealed to me was an illegally-cracked DAW. For at least the first 4 years, all was done just on the laptop. I did nothing with hardware instruments. Much of the things I did in Ableton weren’t even what the brand intended. I was simply enjoying a space to make as many and as complex of edits in audio clips and MIDI as possible, omitting most of the key features like sequencing or whatever Push does. I was preoccupied with mostly manual works, however one would with real tapes: clip-slicing, re-recording, extensive editing, whatever a 5-year old could accomplish with the most basic commands in the software, because I did not have a particular genre in mind.

The physicality of production in this case played a larger part than my long-time love for electronic music. I had a passion for EDM and IDM but were oblivious to most of the musical figures that went on to become major influences or even important mentors to me. It was only until right before the Pandemic, that I slowly came to realize the product of a largely physical hobby that was music production/editing, sonically coincided with certain niches in progressive electronic music genres. Because of the fashion of my sonic workspace, which by then had been almost completely MIDI and found sound/sample-based with minimal synthesis involved, I discovered giants who were doing exactly this at a masterful level in genres like glitch-hop, free jazz, noise, ambient, hypnagogic pop, electronica, etc.

The music I write at this point, were able to become unbounded by physical, instrumental or ensemble limitations. With the simplest setup, I could be more performative and improvisatory than ever, which fueled even more of the sonic palette I was gradually crafting. Nowadays, I’d hope that nothing I present to the listeners is considered “true” experimental, as through the times I’ve delved the creative editing rabbit hole and knowing the results yielded, I know for a fact that there are no longer elements of experiments involved. I have intentions and now know the outcomes of most of my actions, and I make arrangements accordingly. Hence the product should hopefully be “consumed” as is, without the abstraction one would perceive of “Experimental Art”.

How did the unique circumstances of the pandemic inspire you to use raw recordings from that period as the foundation for the album?

As mentioned before, I have always worked with raw recordings, since I first started creating music with any level of technology involved. It was only until the pandemic that this trait became particularly interesting, or noticeable, as the materials I was getting had a major shift of nature. Pre-Covid, this way of working was an artistic preference. During Covid, it became how 99% of all of us worked: remote recording sessions, remote jam sessions, asynchronous concerts and lectures. Any artistic decision one would make were forcefully added with some degree of digitalization or amplifications, through home PA systems, file transfers, laptop speakers, TVs, cellphones, social media. Everything was getting “reprocessed” on itself already, constantly and ubiquitously.

As if societal isolation also transpired in captured sounds, my source materials went from high quality field recordings, to low-fi rehearsal outtakes folks did in their basements, vocal demos in the bathroom, discarded audition tapes, etc. The artificiality of these samples provided me with some level of irony I found much needed in creative works at times of a global pandemic: beautifully sung vocal tapes, recorded on an iPhone, uploaded to Soundtrap bit-crushed, peaking with unwanted frequencies. Perfectly dystopian.

Over 50 musicians and artists contributed to the album. What’s your process like when finding new collaborators and artists to work with?

Roughly 50 people contributed in some forms of recording, knowingly or not, only 20 of them (I believe) were active musicians who purposefully recorded on tape for creative purposes.

Of the 20 musicians whose tapes I used, no more than 2 or 3 of them knew at the time of the recording that the tape was being used for this project. These were phones recordings I made of jam sessions in any rehearsal spaces that were open during Covid, recordings I was sent by others who knew I could utilize them, and recordings of myself participating in various activities. I didn’t bother telling most of the subjects of the recordings my intentions with the tapes, as I didn’t think it ever mattered to them how I use the tapes since it never is as how they would expect it. It doesn’t matter to me how masterful or not they perform on tape as it doesn’t matter to them how I dissect and repurpose their voices.

It is, however, a wonderful way to make use of a poorly recorded but beautiful, meaningful improvised moment, as most of them are skilled improvisers, and playing with them was one of the biggest fun in the making of this record.

What’s your favorite venue to perform at?

At the comfort of my home!

Do you have a specific process or ritual when creating new music?

Also as mentioned before, the physicality of editing clips of audio, layering, arranging, plays a big part of my compositional process. Aside from that, I also improvise a ton. I’ve found a rather bizarre way to quickly generate tons of ideas: I practice improvised editing. I make random arbitrary decisions purely based on physical impulses (really is just the movement of the cursor and the click-dragging) and create edits in Ableton without knowing what anything at any given moment is sounding like.

Most of the decisions I make would be somewhat educated, as I know what actions would lead to what. However, I would continue to improvise in such fashion for some time, without bothering to think analytically or musically at all, before stopping to be faced with an absolute mess of a workspace. I would only then hit the playback and listen, to weed out the uninteresting stuff, and source out some truly valuable ideas.

Any favorite artists or albums you’re listening to at the moment?

Been at that Andre3000 record lately,

Laurel Halo’s Atlas, a dystopian masterpiece,

Saint Abdullah’s Chasing Stateless,

and OPN’s Again.

If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be?

My late grandmother who I was told was an artistic woman, and just someone I wanna meet again.

Or maybe Beethoven.

What do you find is the most satisfying part of being an artist?

Being able to be candid, authentic, and vulnerable to the people who grace you with their listens to your works. It is an utmost privilege to share with others the way I express my human experience, and my way of documenting humanity.

What is the biggest challenge you find in today’s music industry?

To be authentic. We find ourselves at crossed paths with a great multitude of options, ideals, values, and politics these days. It is only easy to align ourselves with niches that somewhat conforms to our beliefs and core values, but oftentimes these instances take away our chance to truly develop an independent, solid artistic identity.

We have become quite comfortable with being demanded by the industry what we should care for, should want, and artistically what we ought to become, without ever doing the work to truly see the world for ourselves, and understand what makes ourselves true. It is only through recognizing a true self, would we be able to identify others who struggle like us, and build communities that have goals worth fighting for, whether it is to create spaces for meaningful creative works, or to encourage younger artists-to-be to confront obsolete values, harmful images, or regressive systems.

What’s upcoming for the project?

Exciting works in the making with singer-songwriter Cherophobiac! More news to come.

Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine.

Send your music to [email protected].

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