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Destined: Burning Star Core

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Michael Crumsho takes a look at drone-revisionist C. Spencer Yeh's Burning Star Core.

Destined: Burning Star Core

: The Drone Days of Disco

At first glance, inclusion of C. Spencer Yeh’s Burning Star Core might seem to make for an odd inclusion in a feature such as this. After all, BxC isn’t exactly a new project, but rather the culmination of ten-plus years of work in and around rock, improv, and electronic fringes with a small personal library of cassette and CD-R releases to trace a path back to his own origins in sound exploration. But then again, maybe not. Recent years have shown bands from these same outskirts (like NNCK and Jackie-O Motherfucker) gaining increased critical and popular support, inasmuch as possible, and after mining the territory with a series of self-releases (courtesy of his Drone Disco imprint) and praise for his first vinyl long-player on Thin Wrist, now might be just the right time for more widespread notice. To wit, he’s an artist equally comfortable issuing bellowing violin drones, granular electronics, or just remixing the likes of new-school industrial types Cock E.S.P. And live, he’s a strong force to be reckoned with, either by his lonesome or in conjunction with any number of compatriots to add percussive or electronic support to his vision.

Those looking for any sort of statement of intent would be best suited to seek out a copy of the exquisite A Brighter Summer Day vinyl full-length released care of the Los Angeles-based Thin Wrist label in 2002. Comprised of two side-long pieces, the record finds Yeh splitting the difference and heading sharply for the poles of his unique sound. Side A makes up the title track, a walloping 16-minute-and-change scorcher for violin and electronics, recorded with assistance from friend Chris Rosing. Over loose, sampled percussion and swaths of feedback, Yeh hits Tony Conrad’s mainline sideways, splitting the difference nicely between the former and Henry Flynt’s cracked meandering with the same instrument, coaxing waves of glorious, cacophonous drones out of his violin to great effect. It builds a repetitive hum without ever sounding derivative; sometimes conjuring images of a more visceral, harder-hitting version of the Taj Mahal Travelers. The key differences from any elder statesmen here come from the shimmering warmth Yeh’s tones achieve, imbued with a sense of humanity that could often be lacking in Conrad’s violin pieces, drenched in the sort of metal sonics that make the screened skull design on the sleeve more than apt.

Lest Burning Star Core give the listener too many clues, the flip side of the record hints at an entirely different direction. “Baybe It Wasn’t Meant to Me” ditches the violin drones and pares things down to just Yeh and his computer, working through a series of “sleep deprivation experiments” spanning the course of couple of seasons. What this means in terms of composition cannot be accurately divined, but the overall effect is stunning – one that amps up the tension to compensate for a lower volume, perhaps indicating that “sleep deprivation” in this case may not necessarily be a choice. This one calls to mind sounds conjured by the likes of William Basinski’s recently surfaced work from the 1980s, in addition to those from composer Eliane Radigue. Although created digitally, the swells of sound that amble carefully over the course of the second side manage to avoid any semblance of the pristine, instead mining grainier textures and sounds for a haunting piece of minimal, tape-loop sounding electronics that would seem out of place today amongst the likes of Stephan Mathieu, Philip Jeck, or Janek Schaefer. Those who count themselves as fans of any of the artists mentioned would be well served in seeking out their own hand-numbered copy of this wonderful slab of wax before it’s out of print.

So why pick Burning Star Core now after all these years? Aside from the obvious, there’s an amazing confluence among Spencer Yeh’s own sound that he’s been striving at for years and between various facets of an underground noise and improv scene that’s virtually bursting at the seams. To wit, he’s an artist as comfortable sharing stages with vaunted members of the noise rock pantheon like New Zealand dirt-rockers the Dead C as he is going to town with new turks from the Load camp like Kites and Hair Police. His music fits a number of certain tastes, be it catering to those raised on the tried and true avant garde-ians of yesteryear to the recent emergence of the post-hardcore set ripe for fresh sounds and new, more abstract and virulent noises. In the future, look out for a new LP on the Thin Wrist label to drop in early 2004, a year that figures to be busy for Yeh. Aside form the new material and a slate of live performances, collaborations are also in the work s with the aforementioned Hair Police as well as a possible meeting with the electrifying Scorces. And if that weren’t enough, Yeh also does time in groups such as Death Beam and the Gordy Brothers, exploring both rock and free improv. With all the attention being paid to left-field musicians at the left and right of America, now might be the time to head towards the heartland, and some of the seeds planted in Cincinnati courtesy of Burning Star Core.

By Michael Crumsho

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