Besides having to make the long journey to Gatwick Airport and back again today I have managed to relax and get some constructive work done. This evening i have been eating mince pies, drinking genmaicha tea and photographing buts of string. As you do. Tonight being the first night of One Week with Jeph Jerman week (as all the cool people are already calling it) I have also been listening to the first of seven discs by Jeph.
Its strange how spending time with these CDs took me straight back to five years ago, starting with the task of having to bounce Jeph’s original hand-written CDr in and out of iTunes to burn a copy of the disc that would play on my stereo. Although I quite often have to do this with CDr releases I think the first time I did it was with the pile of Jeph’s discs I spent time with back in 2005. Ah the nostalgia for more innocent times
The release I have been listening to tonight though, a disc recorded in 2009 and named (quite beautifully) The Angle of Repose is quite different to anything I wrote about five years back however. While Jerman’s methods of recording sounds made with all kinds of objects seem the same (alongside shortwave receivers and tape recorders here there are saw blades, bowls and a cup in a sink, pot lids, eggs in bowls, and a (or some) bao djian tshon – no idea what this last thing might be) the sounds have been sequenced and overlaid here on a computer to create a slowly evolving collage of sounds.
If this kind of technique sounds like Jerman has taken a similar route to many other composers working with the arrangement of samples today, then this music stands out as different and more original because of the choice of sounds used. I’m not sure why or how, but despite not having listened to much of Jeph’s music in recent years I think I would still have identified his touch on this CD, simply through the certain rough-edged quality of his sounds, the samples have a feel to them that I can’t really explain, but somehow links me straight to Jeph Jerman. Perhaps its the deliberately remaining hiss that permeates most of the recording, perhaps its the grainy percussive slant to most of the sounds, but there is that signature all over this CD.
Although the raw materials feel familiar then, bowed and struck metals, clattering. clicking bits and pieces and looming swells of arcing tone, the way they are pulled together into a flowing stream of gradually changing sounds is a more recent development. There are two tracks here. The first, a thirty-three minute long work, begins with a a deep metallic drone that sounds very similar to Mark Wastell’s tam tam work, but with a more severe edge. Deeply resonant sounds fly off in all directions, maybe with some digital treatment applied, maybe not, but this dense, heaving sheet of distressed metal slowly grows in volume and deepens in colour. I think it is formed from loops of sound arranged on the computer, but I’m not certain as it sounds very alive and organic. Slowly further sounds begin to creep in, distant crashes and bangs here and there, shuffles and scrapes against the microphone also audible. Then gradually a series of beating pulses emerge in off formations, their sound slightly warped as if treated somehow, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually weren’t. Around the thirteen minute mark the Wastellian shimmer dies away and all that remains is this off-centre revolving pattern of blurred chimes that sounds like an underwater gamelan orchestra might if they played in slow motion.
Like the best of the Jerman pieces I enjoyed when I last spent a lot of time with his music, the sounds here resist easy identification, sounding familiar and yet also very alien, their combined weight adding up to something very simple and yet thoroughly captivating. All along though, those sounds give this music a flavour of its own. If the deadened chimes sound a bit like early Steve Roden in places, elsewhere this comparison is miles off the mark. Its all quite lovely though, restful, maybe even sleep-inducing as the shapes in the music rock slowly in circles. The second half of this first track seems to go one for much longer than it actually does, a strange hypnotic feeling flowing throughout, the glowing tones of what I suspect are bowed saw blades hovering behind the rattle of something rolling around on a hard surface.
The second piece begins with a combination of scratching and hissing alongside a reverb-laden (possibly an analogue reverb created from tape delays?) roll of popping, clunking ceramic sounds. There are no tonal parts to this track, just gradually layered streams of chattering percussive patterns. This track has an even more hypnotic feel, the sounds slowly shifting in and out of sync and evolving in intensity throughout the eleven minute piece, with a dub-like feel to it all.
While maybe the techniques here are not unusual, Angle of Repose’ real pleasures come from the blend of sounds here, their familiar, earthy nature combining with the slowly turning, clockwork feel of the composition to create a work that feels both lo-fi and well constructed at the same time. the Cd sounds particularly good turned up high, so that the tumbling sequences of sounds feel like they are bouncing about the room, reflecting off the walls. A nice start to this little seven day return to Jeph Jerman’s music then. More tomorrow.