Jeph Jerman/Tim Barnes - Matterings (lossless)
Lossless AIFF (16bit/44.1kHz)
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.
For CD format, go to this page.
1. mammatus (11:25)
2. relic density (10:59)
3. in situ (22:11)
4. talus (4:24)
5. bight (18:53)
(released February 14, 2015)
recorded by Barry Weisblat, Jeph Jerman and Tim Barnes in and around Cottonwood AZ and Louisville KY, April-December 2014
photography by Jeph Jerman
design by Yuko Zama
Joshua Minsoo Kim, Tone Glow
There’s a certain patience that’s required to fully engage with Matterings. It’s a good twenty minutes longer than the other recent Erstwhile releases but it goes beyond album length—when your source material is different aspects of nature, the process of recording, editing, and compiling tracks feels like excavation. It’s with these slowly unfolding tracks that we as listeners can partake in this enduring process to recognize the fascinating qualities that lie hidden in the world around us. On the hypnotic long-form drone of "bight”, we can hear the sound of rocks breaking near the end of the track. String-like melodies loom overhead, as if to soundtrack the destruction that occurs at such titular locations from oncoming waves. On "mammatus", Jerman and Barnes sound like they’re recreating the inner workings of the cloud feature itself. We hear slow-moving machinery complimented by periodic thuds and static, all of which result in an undisturbed stretch of rainfall. “in situ”, the album’s 22-minute centerpiece is perhaps the most cinematic of all. In it we hear crotales slowly gain prominence, erupt in distorted noise, and eventually deteriorate. There’s an ashes to ashes-like narrative to it and it feels surprisingly poignant. It seems to point at what Matterings is all about; in conception and execution, it often feels like a love letter to the world around us. And in the process of interacting with nature, we see a certain beauty that comes with being able to relate to it.
Lucas Schleicher, Dusted
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.
Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
I recall seeing Barnes and Jerman perform in trio with Sean Meehan at ErstQuake 3 in 2006 in New York, Jerman also in duo with Greg Davis and Barnes with Mattin and possibly others. Jerman's music than, and in most subsequent recordings and videos I've experienced, was extremely personal and generally quiet, using items he'd selected and brought from his southwest desert home area: sticks, feathers, pine cones, stones, bones and more. Barnes, that day (a riotous set with Mattin) and elsewhere was always more unpredictable, ranging from the near silence of the trio to loud, even rockish ventures (which landed him gigs with Wilco, among others.
Still, my expectations for this recording lay along the quieter line of things and pretty much an absence of electronics. Wrong on both counts. "Mammatus", opening the disc, features amidst a semi-distant, loose metallic clatter, the spark and fading hum of, what, a lead being pulled? It has an initial presence, then a subsequent echo, the pair floating atop a very deep, recessed kind of gulping sound. When repeated, at first with no set pulse, gradually assuming one, you get a displaced sense of dub, before the incoming rains (form mammatus clouds?) douse the proceedings...or maybe set it ablaze. Always interesting, at least to these ears, how rainfall and flames can sound very much alike on recordings. "Relic Density" expands the apparent space greatly, a swarm of hazy tones high and low supporting a kind of wooden flutter, as if from some splintered bamboo pole rapidly waved. But sine-like tones infiltrate, scouring the area clean, setting things up for more electronics, pulsating at various speeds, evidencing various textures. Birds and insects watch with faint curiosity. When the track gets into short wave squiggle territory in its final minutes, it loses me a bit, the one piece here that I think strays a little off course.
"In Situ" is 22 minutes of amazing work. From the soft buzzing of flies and obscure rumbles emerge a widening cascade of chimes, thin and crystalline, played by hand not wind in a fast rhythm, very closely pitched and loosely gathered so they routinely strike one another (flies darting between) like some insect gamelan. The mic feels as though its inside the chime-forest, picking up whistling feedback and pitch-bending, that nether rumble becoming more strident--it's all extremely intense and even harrowing. Matters abruptly shift to a static-strewn, windy desert scenario, mic distortion coursing through radar hums, then radio, roughly lumbering to its conclusion. Something wonderful about its two partedness, the gleam and the dirt. "Talus" is a short, strong piece occupied by small stones clicking, dry, sliding passes over metal and low, resounding booms--steady state, excellent duration. In some ways, this is closest to what I expected coming in, really choice. Finally, "Bight", leaping in with dial tones and related hums. This track includes contributions from Rachel Short (french horn, voice) and Jackie Royce (bassoon, voice) which, if I'm picking them up correctly, are woven into the dronelike mix early on producing a tough, complex sound. Despite its drone nature, this might be the densest, orneriest track, filled with detail that demands attention, like the rolling metal balls on glass (?) and the ply upon ply of thrums (processed voices and/or horns?) that enter continuously. It settles into a kind of pit containing some massive old, rotating machine, swirling, throbbing, grinding, maybe pulverizing rock. It sputters out then...crickets.
A really fine recording, happily and utterly contra my expectations.