Yeh with Daniel Higgs and Skull Defekts before a headlining show at Issue Project Room.
A few nights ago in Chinatown I watched C Spencer Yeh's face dissolving into a radioactive green colorfield on public access TV. The sports announcers on a basketball game played on the next TV over drowned out Spencer's music. As the folks gathered to watch the live airing of E.S.P. TV's new episode, Yeh silently raised his amplified violin above his head and slowly revolved it around a metal plate. E.S.P.'s analog video feedback and psychedelic swirls washed over Yeh and his collaborator MV Carbon, who had been filmed a few weeks prior at Roulette.
Although I couldn't hear that particular performance from Yeh—a few minutes later the sports fans left and we blasted Grasshopper's set—that move, a use of controlled feedback, is signature Yeh, whose small but refined arsenal of extended techniques has brought him into collaborations with a huge cross-section of today's best improvisers. I've seen Yeh more times than I can count and his violin and vocal bag of tricks always appears with a different facet in each situation. "The last year or two has been about really sort of identifying strategies to result in decent conversations and interactions between myself and others," Yeh explained to me. "Not necessarily figuring out a specific formula that we follow every time, but just, for example, in the case of playing with synth/electronics player Carlos Giffoni, it was a matter of just switching up my instruments from violin to electronics/synths/junk as well. It's a win-win there then, because now we have what I feel is a common ground where I then can better focus on and work within the jams, and also it's an opportunity to play something different."
One of the most remarkable things about Yeh's aesthetic is that he makes equal sense on bills with academic electro-acoustica, stoner skuzz noise and even the occasional indie rock show. This is partially because Yeh was living in the mid-west for years, where a smaller music scene force diverse musicians into banding together as a scene. But it's also because Yeh is remarkably laid-back and unpretentious for such a high-level improviser. It's sort of like the Thurston Moore approach, where even after Sonic Youth blew up, you could still find Moore in dingy basements watching weirdos attaching contact mics to broken junk. Yeh could've reached up completely into the realm of academic, grant-getting sound artists. He does have a home in that world. But I still see Yeh around all the time at loft shows watching nutty improvisers who only draw a handful of die-hards. Although most live performances find Yeh collaborating with a new performer each time, Yeh has been recording a great deal of solo work recently. His disc 1975, new on Intransitive records, finds Yeh solidifying his extended vocal aesthetic and making more use of drones than is typical of his work. After releasing a 7" with De Stijl last year, a solo LP is on the way with that label. And after neglecting his Burning Star Core solo project for the last couple years, Yeh even plans to record an LP under that moniker in the near future. It seems Yeh has finally rediscovered solo improvisation after collaborating with everybody under the sun. "So it's true what they say, even if it's within yourself - stepping away and outside or a bit really helped I think."
Previously - Hurricanes Of Love