Even if you don’t recognize Ian Chang’s name, you’ve likely heard him drumming somewhere before. The Brooklyn-based, Hong Kong-born percussionist is best known for recording and touring with outfits like Son Lux and Landlady, but he’s also worked with a wide array of other musicians—Matthew Dear, Moses Sumney, and Dave Douglas, to name a few. After drumming professionally in the U.S. for more than a decade, Chang’s various musical experiences have led to the release of his own album, Spiritual Leader, an adventurous, genre-bending EP that explores the physicality of electronic music, and the relationship between the human and the machine.
Chang’s methodology is what sets him apart from many other contemporary solo drummers and electronic musicians. All the tracks on Spiritual Leader were performed and composed using Sensory Percussion, a mesh (silent) drum kit. One of its key properties is its ability to “host” two separate samples in a single pad (on its opposing ends, for instance); over time, the sounds can mould into each other as the drummer’s repositions hit. This is a key compositional feature of this particular kit and Chang makes good use of it. “ASMR” is a perfect example, its various textural and melodic samples merge to create an atmospheric, almost ambient piece.
Elsewhere on the EP, Chang manages to showcase his impressive percussive skill set, fusing dynamic off-kilter beats with ambient soundscapes and elements of sound design to great effect. On “Romeo” and “Spiritual Leader” especially, mesmeric webs of rhythm, vocal, and synth samples launch into deep sonic peaks.
Over the course of his debut EP, Chang freely moves between genres and Spiritual Leader never settles down. While traces of IDM, free jazz, and ambient are explored, none of those terms really encapsulate what Chang has created. It’s challenging, resonant, and familiar.
—Adam Badi Donoval