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The pairing of eccentric sound artist Jeph Jerman with Quakebasket label leader/percussionist Tim Barnes, using unidentifiable sound sources, field recordings, and the occasional acoustic instrument to create unique, curious and absorbing environments.

Jerman, Jeph / Tim Barnes

Jerman, Jeph / Tim Barnes: Matterings (erstwhile)

Label: erstwhile    
Released in: USA    

"In a 2011 interview with Aram Yardumian, Jeph Jerman explainsthe use of found objects in his music with an appeal to wabi-sabi, a Japanese concept that, among other things, links beauty to transience and imperfection. According to him, no logic inheres beyond that. Pine cones, dry leaves and animal bones make their way into his recordings simply because he enjoys them for what they are and how they sound. As evocative of an approach as it is, Jerman thinks of it as just one method among many. "These days I don't try to evoke anything," he says. "I make sound that'll hopefully be listened to. There are still vestiges of idea-attachment now and then. I'm human after all, and old habits die hard."

Tim Barnes has not been so plain about his own methodology, at least not in print. He curates Quakebasket Records, where he has released music by Henry Flynt, Angus MacLise, Nick Hennies and many others, and he's either belonged to, performed with, or recorded albums by Text of Light, Sonic Youth, Wilco, Jim O'Rourke, Silver Jews, Stereolab, Matmos, Tetuzi Akiyama, SunnO))) and the list just goes on. There might be some (very slight) similarities between these groups, but nothing with which to nail Barnes down. So whether or not he thinks the same way about music as Jerman does is up in the air. Nevertheless, his work on Matterings suggests at least sympathy, if not accord.

If there is a structure or a decision-making process lying behind these tactile sounds, it remains well-hidden or extremely broad, easily lost in the particulars of atmospheric noises and field recordings. The first sound on the opening piece, "Mammatus," is an electronic one, the weightless hum of a signal fizzling out. It's accompanied by a jarring click that seems to both penetrate and emanate from the inner ear. Slowly, other tangible sounds accumulate around this invisible kernel: metal bangs on metal and echoes voluminously into the distance, digital bass kicks drop suddenly from nowhere, industrial cables wobble and warp with a peculiar ring, thunder erupts and the familiar patter of rain sizzles at the periphery. The title, and ultimately the music, suggests physicality, substantiality and transformation. Mammatus clouds are an indication that bad weather is on the way, that the almost intangible heaviness in the air is about fall from the sky. Matterings isn't quite so portentous, but the metamorphosis and expression of concrete objects is its focus.

There is an irony in this however, which consists in the illusionary capacity of Jeph and Tim's technique. Like Foley artists, they produce convincing sounds the origins of which are unknowable, or at least difficult to surmise. Most of the sounds they present are undoubtedly physical in nature (the raw stuff responsible for them are at least privileged in the mix), but they resound at a remove, behind the stage curtain of the album cover and song titles. In its first half, "Relic Density," with its high-pitched sine waves and low end vibrations, calls to mind seismographic charts and sonar images. In its second half, a hint of context is provided in the form of chirping birds and the small, seemingly inconsequential noise of plastic casings smacking against each other. The relic of the title is absent both in the recording and in the playback. Its shape is outlined but never fully revealed. With a hole like that at the song's center, the sounds attain a greater degree of significance and the physical details of the object recede into the background.

This is the fulcrum on which the album pivots. In some ways Barnes and Jerman are forthright about their activities, and in other ways they can't help but be abstract and suggestive. During "In Situ" their presence is clearly intimated in what is one of the album's most memorable and beautiful passages. After an introductory stretch in which the sound of an airplane and a buzzing fly can be heard, the vigorous ringing of chimes fades into the mix, as if the microphone were slowly approaching a whole orchestra of them. And someone must be there playing them because the wind couldn't possibly ring them so persistently and evenly. Their twinkling chorus crescendos and builds to a breaking point, from which they are processed so that all that remains of their voice is the distorted fingerprint of their decay. It's a stunning moment, in part because it is so vivid and in part because it can't help being evocative.

Without context and without a center to which the sounds can be attached, the music becomes both strikingly definite and tantalizingly dreamlike. In the absence of formal or structural sign posts, the mind and the ears have a better chance of focusing more determinedly on the sounds themselves and of hearing their nuances more acutely. But eventually, maybe inevitably, that focus slips and, unable to hold onto the sounds for too long, the mind goes in search of patterns, indications and meanings. That's not a failure on the part of the musicians. The audience is at least as responsible as they are for what they hear; more so actually. Someone could always choose not to listen or to divert their attention. But it does point to the act of listening and to the uncertainty tucked away inside it. Surely something exists behind these sounds, some desire to make music, or maybe the desire to meditate on listening itself. It's hard to imagine getting rid of the human element. In the end old habits don't have to die at all. The artists can be true to themselves and the audience can go where they might. One does not have to try to evoke anything in order to be evocative, that power resides in the mind and in the sounds themselves."-Lucas Schleicher, Dusted Magazine

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Related Categories of Interest:

lowercase, micro-improv, sound improv
Organized Sound and Sample Based Music
Duo Recordings

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Product Information:

Label: erstwhile
Catalog ID: Erstwhile 074
Squidco Product Code: 20445

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2015
Country: USA
Packaging: Digipack - 3 panel
Recorded in and around Cottonwood, Arizona and Louisville Kentucky, April - December 2014 by Barry Weisblat, Jeph Jerman and Tim Barnes.


Jeph Jerman-composer

Time Barnes-composer

Jackie Royce-bassoon, voice

Rachel Short-french horn, voice

Jackie Royce-voice

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Track Listing:

1. Mammatus 11:29

2. Relic Density 11:03

3. In Situ 22:15

4. Talus 4:26

5. Bight 18:53

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