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C Spencer Yeh presents an album of electro-acoustic music made on the legendary but defunct RCA Mark II modular synth - nicknamed ‘Victor’ - at Columbia Uni. An ingenious concept, captivatingly executed. “The RCA Mark II is a follow-up to Yeh’s recent vocal work and is focused solely on the non-musical operation of the famed RCA Mark II synthesizer. Built and installed in 1959 at Columbia University, it was the first programmable synthesizer and became the bedrock upon which the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center was founded. The machine has not worked since 1997.
While visiting a friend at the university, Yeh discovered the synthesizer and began to make regular trips to work with it acoustically: flipping switches, rubbing surfaces, turning knobs, and plugging/unplugging cables. Using contact and room microphones, Yeh recorded these operations over the course of several sessions, and the recordings became the basis from which he composed this 12-track LP. The artist then further manipulated and processed the material through a series of live performances, which were recorded and edited to complete the album.
The finished tracks are jagged, sparse, and hypnotically rhythmic. In listening to the record, one does not so much hear the original synthesizer, but rather an artist dismantling the historical weight of the source through a composition of its transformation from a legendary machine to a one-ton hunk of scrap metal no longer operational. It is here perhaps that Yeh finds virtuosity and spectacle in the most basic acts of instrumentation, the movement and clank of mechanical parts.”