C. Spencer Yeh is an incredibly prolific musician whose varied performances and recordings present rewarding challenges for the open-minded listener. Resourcefully minimal and self-referential, he continues to break new ground while maintaining a consistent vision based around his use of violin, voice, and electronics. His “band” Burning Star Core (or “BxC”) has released recordings through a number of labels which cover a wide swath of formal territory. From lumbering atonal improvisations to perplexingly surreal compositions, BxC is a vehicle through which he has experimented with a variety of well-worn idioms such as sound-collage, noise, free-jazz and psychedelia with grace and a sense of humor. Although sometimes a “solo-project”, frequent members have included Mike Shiflet, Trevor Tremaine, and Robert Beatty. An agile improviser, Spencer has collaborated with a wide range of artists including Greg Kelley, Chris Corsano, Comets On Fire, John Wiese, Tony Conrad, Lambsbread, Don Dietrich (in The New Monuments), Paul Flaherty, Matthew Bower, Marcia Bassett, and many others. He has also released multiple recordings under his own name, most often utilizing little more than his violin or voice through extended techniques, but recently making forays into the outer fringes of pop.
His newest release on Intransitive is technically a debut, and it certainly feels like a fresh start. There is little trace of Burning Star Core’s cinematic/poetic mystique (see: “Challenger”) and none of the sheer sonic density (see: “Papercuts Theater”, composed of 66 layered live recordings). On “1975“, sparse electro-acoustic pieces are given seemingly straightforward titles and sequenced in a way that allows you to compare and contrast the various elements and compositional approaches. A plaintive and foreboding “Drone” gives way to an unsettling cut-up assemblage of “Voice” which stumbles over itself until it gives way to another “Drone” that builds on the established mood. There is a sense of stasis in these self-described “vertical” pieces but they don’t lack thrust or character: in fact they seem to ooze out of the speakers and hang in the air, taunting with playful menace. The 2nd half of the album features 2 “skits”, 2 tracks that share the somewhat deceptive title “Two Guitars”, and a pair of tracks that nod towards BxC’s electronic abstractions and mournful sound-collages. All in all, this is a confident step forward from a mature artist that challenges you to widen your musical perspective. Even the most jaded listener will find themselves left with a clean aural palette after diving into this one.
Catch C. Spencer Yeh tonight at Studio Soto with Lasse Marhaug and Gert-Jans Prins, two legendary musicians from across the Atlantic who probably won’t be back this way anytime soon. (Facebook event)
C. Spencer Yeh Portal
Mimaroglu is an excellent source for releases featuring Yeh and anyone else I mentioned above.
C. Spencer Yeh “Standard Definition” at the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati OH from C. Spencer Yeh on Vimeo.