27 April 2009
Next up: Another archival article from the Days of Flux Us - Burning Star Core
The pin-up poster boy of avant-garde/noise/underground for the 21st century?
C. Spencer Yeh, who operates under his own name and his more well-known alias Burning Star Core (BxC) is that and more. The recent winner of the Cincinnati Entertainment Award for Experimental/Electronic category, Yeh has been seen by many as one of the crucial nodal points in the American/International underground noise scene.
Yeh was a serious music fan since his childhood years and his well-honed aesthetic has been informed by certain pivotal musical epiphanies: Seeing the surrealistic non-group, the Residents, hearing Sonic Youth classic first album, Confusion Is Sex and chancing upon one of the key artistes of late 20th century musical/visual surrealist genius, Nurse With Wound’s fifth album, Homotopy To Marie. Ever since then Yeh has been chasing for the different sounds, noise and textures which he hears in his head, determine to put them on tapes, vinyl and CDs for over one decade.
What put Yeh apart from most other noise artistes is his main choice of instrument: the violin, which he uses to engage and expand his unique musical vision. However he also made use of electronic gadgets and his voice to craft some of the most exhilarating noise in recent years.
Yeh’s studio works betray certain compositional approaches more akin to the blistering sonic spaces of early power electronic pioneers like Matthew Bower’s Pure and Skullflower and also releases on the legendary Broken Flag Records, with dashes of the ecstatic free jazz of the 1960s and the atonal stochastic musical lines of Iannis Xenakis. For his recent releases, “The Very Heart Of The World” and “Blood Lightning 2007”, Yeh brought in the pulse-disrupting power rhythm section of another brilliant noise act, Hair Police to further boost and alchemise his sounds further out to space.
Burning Star Core/C. Spencer Yeh will continue to produce great music for many years to come, even after the recent media hype of Noise music has subsided. Together with Wolf Eyes, Matthew Bower’s Skullflower/Hototogisu/Sunroof! and Yellow Swans, C. Spencer Yeh has shaped the paradigm of 21st century noise.
1. Why did you choose the name "Burning Star Core"?
At the time I wanted to pick a name that I thought looked decent written down. However recently I have been thinking that it is a bit awkward to say. Even though at the time I thought a lot about what makes a project name good, etc., it is always difficult when it's your turn to come up with something. I picked it quickly, not wanting a common phrase but also evoking a certain imagery I was hoping for at the time.
2. What did you originally want to achieve with this project when you first started it?
I had this idea of personal mythology and creating works around that, in a variety of modes. Certainly certain modes I would lean towards more than others -- it was never a plan to be like "oh this will be a _this_ band or a _that_ band" but rather just use whatever languages and elements that would combine into something that I thought would fulfill the project. Of course my ability to articulate and focus with this project has grown over time, but I don't like to think about mis-steps or anything. Maybe it just took some time to hit its stride, like anything else which develops. Though of course in the beginning it was a lot more carefree, whereas now in its "young adult" life, the project has a clearer discipline. Towards the end I'd like to look back and see a continuous line from the very first tape all the way to the last work.
3. What are your musical influences?
One general scene I have been thinking about on and off for along time now, is the "industrial" underground in the U.K. primarily in the 80s I find very influential, as to me, a lot of the groups seemed superficially disconnected, but there was cross-collaboration and exchange of ideas. There was a wealth of personal mythology being articulated and developed. I'm talking about Nurse With Wound, Organum, Whitehouse, Coil, Current 93, etc. -- the way those groups were connected, yet unconcerned about overtly categorizing themselves... And the way they had developed over the years. Nowadays you have people within the underground quick to make assumptions about where artists are coming from and what their aims are. It's like, "don't stray from the line"... I think it's fantastic that people I know with such diverse projects can just enjoy that, and not have to worry about whether it falls into a category or not. I don't feel like I'm resisting or breaking any ground -- I definitely appreciate what people call "noise" -- but I don't want to be told what BxC is and isn't by others who don't know the full story. Context is important for perception, but it's not something to be forced. Maybe you could call BxC "industrial" if you had to pick a tag. I am also a big fan of the first few solo Brian Eno records after he split with Roxy Music -- just the vision to drive these weird pop records, playing with those forms, and then a transition into what he developed as "ambient music" that became the overriding focus. Even though he obviously had a lot of help, there was just something very personal and "bedroom creation" vibe about those early pop records (pre-Before and After Science). And of course there is plenty that I have been an appreciator of that I can't deny feeds into BxC (Takehisa Kosugi/Taj Mahal Travellers, Tony Conrad, Sonic Youth, etc.)
4. How did you and the Hair Police guys end up playing together as Burning Star Core in recent years?
I had met the Hair Police guys quite a few years ago, on their first tour. Of course they were still developing their band and approach, but we had a mutual appreciation for each others' directions (at the time I had been playing with my "rock" band Death Beam). So friendship and correspondence was struck up and the collaborations continue even to now. And then the previous "lineup" of BxC prior to this one, I had fired/let die, so I wanted to get some new collaborators, so I approached Robert and Trevor, and they've been able to stick around for a while.
5. There is a rumour going around that you might be terminating the Burning Star Core project soon. Is it true? If yes, why?
I don't know where this rumor started but I've heard/read it in a few different places. I currently have no plans to end the project -- there are too many records I owe to people right now! Plus, also I think it's best to, if I have to, let the project lay dormant for periods of time, vs. terminating the project only to revive it later on. There's something about that that's just not the same. It's either all or nothing!!
6. We are from Asia and thus we are quite amazed that you have been able to be recognised as an artiste and received accolades in the mainly European/American dominated underground/noise/psych scene now. How do you view this situation that you are in now?
I have been asked questions similar to this before and it always puts me in a difficult situation. While I can't deny that there are some fundamental differences, at the same time I'm not sure I'm as accurate a representation as anyone else I know who is Asian-by-association and active. See, that is interesting to me because so many revered acts within this "scene" are from Asia (well, especially Japan), and I see growing activity in many areas, as well as interest, in a variety of regions (not just Asia). Especially in contemporary art, there is interest in mainland China right now and their growing "creative class." Maybe there is finally curiosity in what other areas have to say, though I don't know if in some of these musical forms that region offers anything beyond just exotic aspects to them. Maybe there are just finally people who are "good enough" in the new wave and are getting their work out there!
7. What is your current favourite groups/artistes?
Though this might sound biased since we are friends/associates, I'd say definitely Prurient. In being able to have extended interactions and discussions with Dominick Fernow (who does Prurient), it just deepens my appreciation of the work. Of course I enjoy it on a visceral, musical and emotional/intellectual level on my own very much as well. Now I think about other friends/associates, and it doesn't hurt that I am actually a fan of a lot of my friends' works also (I hope the implication isn't that I am less likely to want to spend time with them if their work sucks, but...)
8. What is your future musical direction going to be like?
For BxC right now I can currently only articulate it in terms of records I am developing. I hope to record more with "the group" in some fashion -- I don't want it to seem like I am constantly trying to be "new" or "different" with every new record, because that is a bad trap to fall into, and I certainly also feel like I have a lot I want to explore within the records which have come out already. There might be some 'new' feels coming but I usually know what is and isn't BxC.
Outside of that, I feel more and more the need to start other projects just to explore other ideas (with their own names etc.). I've been continuing under my own name as an "improvisor" for a while, and that activity will continue under its own terms and contexts. I hope to also continue being a guest member in ensembles along these lines. I'm planning a couple of "solo" projects more exploring sound free from the restrictions in BxC, as well as also continuing other projects which are collaborations with others that I am not necessarily the sole director. This includes The Organs, which is with my friend Ron who does this project IOVAE, and a duo with John Wiese.
That's all, thanks!