Name: Ian Chang
Current Release: '属 Belonging' out April 24th via City Slang
Recommendations: Paprika by Satoshi Kon / Songs Of Paapieye by SK Kakraba
Website/contact: Listen and buy Ian’s music from his Bandcamp page
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I had a phase of writing songs and instrumental pieces in middle school and high school, but took an extended break from generating and developing my own ideas for most of my 20s to focus on working collaboratively with bands or other artists. I actually feel quite disconnected from my younger creative self at this point, though I’m sure there’s more of a through line than I can perceive. Many of my most significant influences on my current creative process and perspective are my peers. For example, Ryan and Rafiq from Son Lux changed the way that I think about sound and sound design. I’m particularly inspired by their use and processing of organic sound- rather than trying to make something organic sound synthetic, they often focus on manipulating and exaggerating the things about it that sound organic. It’s a celebration of the imperfections of our natural environment. I often start a piece of music with some piece of peculiar recorded audio that I have some curiosity for or emotional response to. For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others.
How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Finding my own voice has been a long and winding path, and it’s never over! I’ve always been an omnivorous music fan, and went through many different phases. I grew up simultaneously studying classical music and writing and playing sappy pop punk songs with my friends in Hong Kong. High school and college in the US was a healthy jumble of listening to classic rock, jazz, indie bands, hip hop, electronic music… the list goes on. While getting my degree in jazz drumming at NYU, I was also squishing myself into every musical situation that I could, doing my best to emulate a myriad of different styles. New York was like an all-you-can-eat buffet of different types of gigs. Eventually, I was able to develop a pretty specific taste that was beyond just liking one genre more than another. I think that having personal taste is an important step in being able to develop one’s own voice and style as an artist. I’m constantly developing my own language and finding greater fluency with it.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
When I started writing and producing my own music in 2015, I really lacked technique as a producer and sound designer. As a result, everything I made was smashed to smithereens and had no dynamics. I was also very heavy-handed with saturation without being that intentional about it. I’m still learning a lot about mixing, sound design and composition. There’s always so much to explore, which I find really fun! I relish being in the position of not knowing what I’m doing.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My current studio space IS my first studio space! For the first time, I have a room at home that is actually dedicated to my own creative practice. Before this, I’ve always had some sort of mobile setup that I’d set up at different times in different places to work. My setup is quite simple because I do a lot in the box. I have a mesh head drum kit hooked up to sensory percussion, a midi controller, my laptop, a couple of guitars, a couple of basic mics and an Apollo. I’d say that sensory percussion is central to my process because I’m able to combine my expression as a drummer and as a sound designer in a way that feels seamless and infinite.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Being a lifelong instrumentalist (I play piano, guitar and drums), I rely a lot on my ability to generate expressive ideas through my hands. I’ve also dedicated a lot of my life to learning how to improvise. Those feel like essential human elements of my process. The thing that excites me the most about technology is that it is constantly providing new tools that open new pathways for expression. Most tools are designed to be used in a specific way, and humans have a knack for creating “incorrect” techniques with those tools that are interesting. Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process.
How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I find a lot of inspiration from production tools. Sometimes, it feels like musical ideas such as bass lines, chords or drum patterns leap from a sound. Other times, I’ll develop the sonics of something after the musical content is already intact. It goes both ways.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I love collaborating! It can be a breath of fresh air at any point in the process. I usually get deep wells of sampling inspiration by recording collaborators improvising. I’ve also had amazing experiences sharing pretty full-fledged instrumentals with songwriters remotely. There’s also something very special about just hashing out ideas with someone in the same room. That feeling of being on the same wavelength with someone in the moment is quite ecstatic.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
When I’m home and in my creative zone, I usually wake up between 6 and 7 am, make and eat breakfast and do emails until 9 or 10am. Then I’ll have a chunk of 3 to 4 hours of creative time. Then I’ll give my brain a break by making and eating lunch. After lunch, I’ll usually have another 3 to 4 hour chunk of creative time before making dinner. Then I try to sit down and have dinner with my partner when she gets home and spend quality time before going to bed. On a good day, I’ll fit in a bike ride in the morning as well. It’s really pretty mundane haha, but I enjoy it and it’s healthy for me. I guess I keep music and other aspects of my life quite separated ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.