Jeph Jerman and the sound of bands, gongs and drone. (music review)

If you take a look at the above link. you see immediately Jeph Jerman’s point when he describes small rubber bands attached to fans hitting against gong’s.  Fascinatingly, the sound doesn’t imply the visual, and likewise, the words used to describe the event don’t imply the visual. Here is the description Jeph uses to tell us what is going on when we hear the sounds on 43′ 41″ for Chris Reider:

The first and third pieces here are recordings of a large gong play that I built out of an old home made saw horse. There are six wind gongs of various sizes, each with a small battery-powered fan mounted in front of it. Rubber bands have been affixed to each fan blade, which strike the gong repeatedly but quietly as the fan spins. Over time, with all six gongs being played, a series of overtones rise and fall creating pulses and sometimes short melodic fragments. For the third piece, the first recording was slowed down, to bring out and prolong the overtones.

The second piece is a crude multi-track recording of a small psaltery that I found years ago, played with an e-bow. Each track, or tone, was recorded on a separate tape recorder and then all the tapes were played back while another tone was being played live on the psaltery. I manipulated the speeds of the various tapes, in an attempt to bring out more overtone interaction. What you hear is a combination of pitch interactions and analog distortion.

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The sound, is a drone.  A permanent visitation on the ears of an almost industrial buzz that often doesn’t even sound like a gong, or several gongs. It is a mechanized sound, at least in application, so this adds to the industrial feel of it. Silence is there, under the noise, but there is no pause, breath or human interaction with the silence at all, therefore I am fooled into thinking this is a machine. But really, it is a machine playing an instrument. The sound is not mechanical at all.

And yet, having said the above, the sound does herald the call of the gong.  Its resonance is a crashing ring of cymbal-ic (symbolic) calls to whatever the gong anticipates. Traditional (transitional) Chinese gongs (Tam-Tams) were used to announce the procession of an emperor or high official, acting in many ways like a police siren might today. One can sense the impending arrival in Jerman’s sounds. They’re not a siren, but they are announcing. Calling something into the space, or calling something forth.  The sound wants something to arrive – just as the crash of the gong wants something to start or something to end.

Image taken from Altmusic

Image taken from Altmusic

Jerman’s first track is the gongs being struck continually by the fans, but it is in his third track that he will make something of a narrative of the sounds. The drone rises slowly, as if he starts with one (a large deep sound) and works his way up to several. The sound is always deeper this time, creeping up on the listener more, acting always as though the sound is behind me taunting me into a brave realization. The whirr of the bands comes through stronger the second time, with the drones relentless nature being punctuated ever so slightly by the breathy break as one band ends its contact and the next one begins. They leave behind an echo of a sound that blends each strike but can’t hide their whirr behind the deeper texture as well as the lighter, earlier track was able.

The second track, sandwiched between the gong-drone, is the sound of a psaltry being played, tape recorded, and then played again over the slowed down sound of the first sound. This process is repeated many times so that the original sound is both absent and present in that we lose touch with what we know, but we still hold the original with all that it contains. What I loved the most about this track (my favorite of the three) was the pulse in the whirr of the repeated sound. I have a soft spot for this style of recording anyway, but I wasn’t sure where the pulse was coming from here which gives me a lot of listening pleasure. The sound seems to be one plus others, even though I know it to be many sounds blended. I had to listen very closely to allow for all the separate sounds that come together to build this illusion (or most accurate explanation) of the togetherness of the sounds.

Image taken from Andrew Michler

Image taken from Andrew Michler

Drone has a peaceful edge for me anyway.  I find it hypnotic and restful, pleasant and strong. I like the unwavering promise and the exhilarated dedication to the smallest of deviations of the original intent. This small snippet of Jeph Jerman’s is a very pleasant way to immerse the self in drone’s meditative world.

This tipple package is a free download if you would like to explore it yourself, it is available here.