Locals Only: : Cincinnati's Burning

Burning Star Core's C. Spencer Yeh burns bright in Greater Cincinnati's tight-knit experimental music scene

C. Spencer Yeh

The experimental and electronic music scene has been bubbling below the surface here in Cincinnati for quite a while. C. Spencer Yeh, driving force behind Cincinnati Entertainment Award-winning act Burning Star Core, is eminently aware of this. During our two-hour conversation, he repeatedly mentions influence after influence, not only on a national level, but especially on a local level, leaving me with a mountain of new names to research.

The CEAs added a few new categories this year, with Experimental/Electronic among the most interesting, competition-wise. All of the nominees, in addition to being friends and having played shows together, in many cases have appeared on each other's recordings. When the envelope was opened, and Burning Star Core ushered to the podium as the winner, no one was disappointed.

"It was definitely exciting," Yeh recalls. "It was kind of difficult because everyone knows each other, and we're all friends. But it was really nice to be recognized in that way."

True to form, in his moment in the spotlight, where most artists soak up the attention, Yeh directed it elsewhere.

Mocking the less-than-ideal acoustics of the Old St. George church, where the ceremonies were taking place, Yeh's acceptance speech was a mishmash of unintelligible syllables, with one clearly spoken name at the center: "Ron Orovitz." Even while being recognized, Yeh gave a nod to an influence.

Orovitz, who performs as IOVAE and is the latest purveyor of Art Damage, the long-running experimental music showcase on WAIF, is among those Yeh feels should have been nominated, as he's made great contributions to the scene. (Orovitz was on the CEA nominating committee.)

Another person Yeh cites as deserving of a nomination is Tim Schwallie, an important figure not only in the Cincinnati music scene but also in Yeh's musical development upon returning from college.

"I remember when I moved back here from Chicago, Tim was one of the first people that I met," he says. Yeh recalls that college "spoiled" him, "because there was all sorts of stuff going on up there at the time. I came back, and I was really curious as to what was going on here." Schwallie sparked a conversation with Yeh because of his Nurse With Wound T-shirt, and introduced him to Orovitz, Uncle Dave Lewis, Luther the Geek and many more in the Cincinnati experimental scene.

However, Yeh's fascination with music in general, and experimental music specifically, began much earlier. "When I was really young, I saw The Residents on television. It took me forever to find one of their records," he says. "Their performance on that show was really flipped-out, creepy and crazy, but it appealed to me as a kid."

After Sonic Youth's Confusion Is Sex ("Being really interested in textures and mood," he says, "I started really trying to follow along those lines, and trying to figure out more stuff from there") another pivotal recording for Yeh was one he discovered while in college: Nurse With Wound's 1982 landmark album, Homotopy to Marie.

"I remember buying that," he says, "and I was listening to it late at night. It freaked the fuck out of me; it was super-intense."

Today with over a decade of recording and dozens of appearances, on Burning Star Core releases and others, and having toured across the country and been reviewed all over the world, Yeh is heading in a more band-oriented direction.

"I've done a lot of solo Burning Star Core gigs," he says, "but one fear is I really don't want it to become a pseudonym, because that's not the intention."

The current lineup, in addition to Yeh, consists of Robert Beatty on electronics and Trevor Tremaine on percussion.

"It's a little difficult because of distance," he says; Beatty and Tremaine live in Lexington. "I try to get down there whenever possible for practice."

That being said, Yeh has other ideas as well. "The Burning Star Core thing has been around for a while and hopped around here and there," he says. "Now, I'm interested to see where the line is drawn between Burning Star Core and my own name: I want to find out where the division is."

You can bet he won't be there alone.

BURNING STAR CORE (dronedisco.com/bxc) performs Jan. 14 at the Southgate House (Parlour) with Larry Marotta, Irene Moon, Ultra//Vires and Jonathan Barajas.

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