Originally published by A CLOSER LISTEN
After releasing dozens of records as Burning Star Core, it seems odd to describe 1975 as C. Spencer Yeh‘s debut. And yet…
I can’t quite say why C. Spencer Yeh does anything, yet it’s not hard to see that this isn’t a BxC record. But why, after all this time, release a record under his own name? One can safely assume that this is a transparent and personal record, which it is, but from an artist with such a diverse body of work, what does that really mean? In an odd way, each aspect of 1975—unsurprisingly the year of Yeh’s birth—is visceral and personal. When opened, we are greated with a portrait of Yeh alongside the disk, a fitting visual metaphor and a bit of a riff on the pop star conceit of ‘going solo,’ something that perhaps isn’t too far removed from the branding of an “artist.” In any case, there is no violin, and in fact the role of “instruments” in general seem to be diminished. By eschewing traditional instrumentation, even the violin for which Yeh is most often associated, these compositions draw attention to the formal elements of their construction, and to the man behind the processes set in motion as much as the noises they produce.
Whereas so much of electroacoustic music is about acousmatics—an indifference to the source of a sound, cultivating an appreciation for “sound-in-itself”—Yeh inverts this concern with his literal-minded titles. The opening suite of five tracks alternate “Drone” and “Voice; the former being subtly shifting resonant drones, while the latter are micro-edited rhythmic bubbling and popping of human voice. The drones have a tendency of fading out into near silence, and then gradually being reconstructed into dense layers of noise before suddenly vanishing again. The alternation of Drones and Voice can be disorienting, affecting one’s sense of time or place in the work as a whole. When one piece cuts to the next, it is not only disorienting for the sudden shift in style but also because it is difficult to remember where in the sequence of tracks one is. Is this the second of third “Drone?” I often asked myself. 1975 overall has a similar sense of ebb and flow, forcing the listener to abandon expectations of source or narrative and instead confront the sound itself. Or perhaps being set adrift in a cosmic void is a more fitting image.
The literal titles seem to come with a wink and a nod, as if to say “I know you’re going to think about what caused the sound anyway so I’ll just get it over with so you can focus.” Unlike the more common hip-hop skits you may be accustomed to, “Shrinkwrap from a Solo Saxophone CD (skit)” is comprised of just that; a fine textured white noise constantly morphing across the stereo image. Unlike Steve Roden, who sounds like he is genuinely coaxing out sounds from whatever objects catch his interest, Yeh’s approach is less cautious, so simple, more playful. Unwrapping a Bhob Rainey CD and playing with the plastic becomes a sonic experience, one that we recognize but also one that takes on new meaning. The skit signalled a turning point of the LP, as two tracks entitled “Two Guitars” follow, yet despite this the established pattern continued; from the sculptural rhythm of “Shrinkwrap” to the sustained drones of “Two Guitars.” The following skit “Drips,” serves similar purpose capturing the irregular rhythmic sound of water droplets leading up to the closing suite, and truly the center piece of the album. One has to put in the work to get this far, and the closing “Au Revoir…” and “…Et Bonne Nuit” are simultaneously a fitting reward and a powerful crescendo of an outro.
Yeh essentially sets up a process and shapes the results, and somehow 1975 succeeds in capturing not the sound of an artist but a model of his dynamism at work. Breaking up the tracks in groups and ordering them feigns a sort of coherence, but its certainly something more a conceptual than anything that else holding 1975 together. Each set draws on extremely limited sound sources, instead generating life through motion and fate from chance. A guitar is prepared with pieces of paper laced between the strings, and as an e-bow is applied the results are recorded both electronically and acoustically, with a mic capturing the noise of the recording process itself. The synthesis of these two planes, the self-awareness of the apparatus akin to a camera shooting its own reflection, seems an apt metaphor to end with.
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