CD Reviews, Jeph Jerman

Wednesday 27th October

October 27, 2010

sound7Up really early this morning, while still completely dark, and I took tonight’s CD on the drive into work with me, at about 5AM, the roads completely empty but heavy rain obscuring the view and thundering against the car. The CD this evening has been playing again, when its dark again, but this time as someone in a neighbouring street has been setting off early fireworks. The CD in question is a disc named Sound 7 (Interiors, Mexico) and is a self-published CDr available from Jeph that consists of field recordings made, as perhaps you might expect indoors in buildings Jerman visited in Mexico, nine different recordings made in tombs, chapels and galleries, all resonant spaces, many of which seem to suck the outside in.

I wanted to play these recordings in different situations today, having played them already a few times last weekend. There is something strangely confusing about listening to the sound of the inside of what must be an ancient Mexican tomb while driving at 60mph on deserted dark roads as rain hammers against the windscreen. The nature of field recordings in general is to supplant an aural picture of a time and place into a new situation, so the mood we are in when we listen, or the other activity around us can colour the image we conjure up of the place and time captured on the CD. So at 5AM in the dark, as driving was a little treacherous, the deep booming echoes of the chapel at Oaxaca that appears on four of the tracks here take on a sinister edge. Every sound seems accentuated, perhaps as my own senses are on full alert. On some of the tracks we hear traffic rushing past the building, these sounds seem to be alive around me, and I often caught myself looking in the mirror to see if a car had appeared.

The fifth track here, also from the same chapel contains a series of loud crashes that echo around the space, naturally amplified a number of times over. With the stereo turned up loud as I drove these sudden crashes made me leap out of my skin… and yet tonight, as over a half hour period a number of loud bangs from the nearby fireworks had alerted me to the potential for sudden sounds the crashes in the chapel just seem to fit in. All of this is obvious stuff of course, and a good deal of it will be down to me seeking out these correlations, making links that perhaps others wouldn’t, but then that’s half the fun of listening to music like this, painting your own picture of what the music captures.

Near the end of the fifth track here, as the recording drifts into a teeming, detailed section made up of humming room tone, distant low chatter and far off traffic so we hear the faintest whisper of organ music sliding into the distance, something I just didn’t hear on the not so great car stereo smothered in road/engine noise, but sat quietly this evening just following the sounds through the recording this, along with the fragments of singing that appear early in the following track, recorded at a different chapel become apparent.

The recordings have all of the trademarks of Jeph Jerman that I love, the sudden stops and starts of the recorder, the occasional rustle across the microphone, the sensation of random moments being captured, as some of the tracks feel like they have been carefully chosen to reveal little incidents, but others contain little to remark upon, instead just excellent snapshots of the sounds heard in the room at that time, filtered through the recording equipment used to capture it. if the CDs I wrote about over the past three days leant more towards a conscious attempt at compositional arrangement, the recordings here feel more like items placed in a scrapbook to remember a particular time and place. If some people take photos and file them in albums, digital or otherwise to remember places by, so the items on Sound 7 do the same with audio pictures. It is not uncommon for CDs of “straight” field recordings, as this album could probably be described, to come accompanied with booklets full of photographs to complete the picture that the recordings invoke. For me though, with Jeph’s music in this vein I am glad I don’t have any pictures. I can then piece together my own version of events in my head. So when in the final track here, a recording of an art gallery seemingly undergoing some construction work (or some kind of ritualistic performance art!) as people wander about I hear a lone male whistle move across the stereo range I can see the man’s face, his posture, the way he walks. Whether he looks anything like my vision is unimportant, the mental image I build, the life I artificially give the sounds is all part of the listener’s experience.

At 5AM the picture in my head was quite different to the one I could see tonight. Apparently when its dark and raining all of the buildings, even on the inside appear dark, ceilings seem lower, the likely white walls of the galleries feel made of old worn brick. How we feel, the situation we are in seems to definitely alter the way we hear, and subsequently see the sounds…

A great audio scrapbook anyway, the product of a great set of ears, and a thoughtful approach to finding these resonant places in the first place. When I last spent this much time with Jerman’s music I wrote about the first few discs in the Sound series. This one is number seven, so I now feel the urge to go back and find the intervening discs in the series.

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