Sunday, February 7, 2010


C. Spencer Yeh is a violinist by trade and a drone agitator by choice. His instrument and chosen genre suggest an allegiance to obvious forebear Tony Conrad and true, some of Yeh's recordings tread the same well-worn path that Conrad blazed near 40 years ago. But there's a multitude of facets to Yeh's presence within the noise community and a multitude of approaches as exemplified by his exhausting discography. For me his work is hit or miss-some of it is incredibly boring and pointlessly noisy and some of it is masterful bordering on flawless. Picking and choosing which works to invest in, then, becomes very difficult indeed, but Hospital Productions seems to bring out the best in Yeh so picking up this reissue was a no-brainer. A glorified EP of three extended drone workouts, two of which are different takes on the same piece, "Inside the Shadow" finds Yeh inhabiting a distinctly warm place, a comforting sort of drone, that, while tense and somewhat aggressive on "Inside the Shadow(w. metals)", is more devoted to a pure path to relaxation and immersion, foregoing the jittery improvisational qualities that make of much of his output. "Inside the Shadow" is riffed on twice, both as opener and closer, and i'd be curious to hear Yeh's thoughts on both takes. The first attempt is the more jarring, a blending of violin, synthesizers and various"metals" being banged upon, creating a bell-like ringing effect that creates a real sense of disassociation from the comforting drone beneath. This presentation of tension and distraction creates a sense of unease throughout, as though Yeh wants you to feel further away from the comfort of the drone than you'd like to. This sort of control is interesting; it's almost a sexual expression of dominance over the listener-i can make you happy or i can torment you. "Now United" is a simpler affair- a violin excursion marked by gorgeous hoedown style playing doubled or triple tracked against itself to create a brainmelt of utter proportion. This is the piece that recalls both Tony Conrad in its mission to numb you into transcendence and Henry Flynt in its co-opting of historical and geographical musical languages. At seven and a half minutes it's far too short but serves as an intense example of what Yeh is capable of delivering at his best. "Inside the Shadow" is then revisited to close things out, this time as a shorter drone coda, with all the aggravating metals removed. This makes all the difference, as the piece becomes a fluffy, thick dreamcloud of droning beauty, growing in its intensity until it becomes an all-enveloping crackle of tape manipulation and dense tone. So, so lovely and fogging. I can't think of this as a major work in Yeh's canon but it's an enjoyably consistent outing from one of drone's more mysterious practitioners.

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