Burning Star Core - Biography
Burning Star Core is the project of Cincinnati, OH resident C Spencer Yeh. Merging elements of classic American minimalism a la Tony Conrad, acidic noise rock, free-jazz skronk, experimental electronics and even moments of serene ambience, Yeh has created a large body of diverse music linked together by his signature violin drones. He has also worked with some of the most intriguing players in the global noise underground such as Wolf Eyes’ Aaron Dilloway, John Wiese, Hair Police and Hototogisu. The Burning Star Core discography is lengthy and dense, but Yeh’s most recent work ranks as his best.
Yeh, born in Taiwan in 1975, started the DroneDisco label in the mid 1990s mainly as an outlet for his work as Burning Star Core. By issuing countless cassette and CD-R releases on the label as well as cultivating a powerful live show, Yeh drummed up a steady reputation for Burning Star Core during the late ‘90s. Releases like Tabletop Bass Guitar, Live Documents 1997-1999 and Background Sound & Applause showed Yeh’s dynamic, explosive playing and deep respect for minimalism and industrial noise.
2002’s A Brighter Summer Day, released on vinyl for the Los Angeles based Thin Wrist label, stands as the perfect summary document of Yeh’s early work. While much of Burning Star Core’s output finds Yeh working with likeminded players, this record is a completely solo effort. The release contains two side-long tracks, each mining a different angle of the Burning Star Core aesthetic. The first side’s title track is arguably still Yeh’s finest recording of his take on the jet-engine drone violin sound of Tony Conrad’s pioneering music. Yeh’s use of greater dynamics and warmer tone makes the violin all his own. He also folds in sampled percussion and glistening, iridescent waves of atonal feedback. The results are mesmerizing, a truly personal update of the classic trance-out minimalism of the late ‘60s. The flip side finds Yeh concentrating on his computer, working out decayed swells of gritty, granular ambient drift. The results are in line with William Basinski or Phillip Jeck, boasting a crusty, swirling noise that revels in echo and decay.
While A Brighter Summer Day set the bar early for Yeh his music has continued to progress over the course of the 00s. Throughout 2003 and 2004 Burning Star Core released around ten recordings, mostly on DroneDisco. 2005 brought two notable releases with Let’s Play Like Wildcats Do, a split release for Aaron Dilloway’s Hospital Productions label and the legendary noise label RRR, and The Very Heart Of The World for Thin Wrist. The latter ranks among the densest of Yeh’s recordings and features help from members of noise-rock band Hair Police.
The usual monstrously prolific spate of releases followed between ’05 and ’07 with records for Hospital Productions, No Fun Productions, Ultra Eczema and of course DroneDisco. 2007 brought a landmark with Blood Lightning. Released on Carlos Giffoni’s No Fun label, Blood Lightning ranks as one of the absolute best Burning Star Core albums. Comprised of five tracks, four solo Yeh and one again with help from Hair Police, the album explores huge and heavy cosmic drones made from vocal processing, field recordings, synthesizers, electronics and violin. A stunningly unique merger of noise rock, electroacoustic music and avant-garde minimalism, much of Blood Lightning sounds like the Dead C and early Cluster locked in a fight to the death.
Keeping up a schedule of endless touring and ever more releases, including an excellent collaboration with Yellow Swans, Yeh dropped his biggest bomb yet with 2008’s Challenger. Again working with Hospital Productions Yeh crafted what must be his most sublime collection of music. If these tracks sound slightly more accessible than previous efforts, it takes none of the immediacy away from Yeh’s work. Overall the tone is more melancholy and introspective here, with tracks like “No Memories, No Plans” and “Mezzo Forte” exploring haunted, eerie textures and shimmering, placid sounds. The focus has seemingly shifted to electronic texture and greater sonic depth of field, elevating these songs into a new territory far above typical noise music. That said, Yeh’s aesthetic is still firmly in place and Challenger compromises none of Burning Star Core’s alien intensity.
C Spencer Yeh’s tireless work ethic, great taste and unbridled creativity have resulted in one of the deepest and most prolific bodies of work in underground noise music. By folding in elements of timeless minimalism, electronic ambience and psychedelic noise, Yeh’s records as Burning Star Core inhabit a weird and inspired world that is utterly unique. By pushing his palette forward while maintaining the initial spirit of the project, Yeh continues to evolve the Burning Star Core sound in new ways. It’s this unchecked bloodlust for new ground that keeps Yeh’s music interesting.