Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jeph Jerman/Tim Barnes - Matterings (Erstwhile)

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.

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