Jeph Jerman ‘Sound Diary January 2013’

Jan. 1, 2013

there was a sound in my dream last night. i was set on a large rock semi-surrounded by a body of water, hearing some sort of horn sound, a long hanging note like a trainwhistle but slower in pitch. up above my head in a cliff face was an opening where i could see a camp site, and someone there was blowing a plastic horn, repeatedly. the sound came out of the opening with a bit of force, the opening serving as an extension of the horn’s flare. i thought (in the dream) of those horns that people blew at soccer matches awhile back. i remember reading about the practice, how it was characterized as an annoying sound, but i always found it fascinating. all those untempered notes massing together. 

then awake. the clock clicking, not “tick-tock” but click/click/click/click….mind will try and make a rhythm of it, and i often notice it and attempt to hear it another way. the sound of the heater blowing air through the vent (what word describes this sound? hhhhhhhhhhhhhhh) which actually, i noticed this year, has a pitch to it. i think it’s a D. depending on which room one is in. the timbre changes as i roll my head around to stretch my neck.

rustle of bedclothes, wooden squeak of drawer. cars drive by outside and dogs bark. dogs always bark. padding in sheepskin slippers to the WC, water splash and water rush. padding to the kitchen. the heater here sounds different, and looking down i notice a cardboard box partially blocking the air intake and move it, changing the sound again. sharp whistle as i grab the kettle, metal gurgle of the kettle filling. (a cough). no sounds of construction or goddamned leafblowers this morning, probably due to the holiday. fine by me. more often than not during the entire time i have lived on this street, there has been construction of some sort. i tell people when they ask that town is quiet, but i when i think about it, it isn’t that quiet, maybe just quieter.

the kitchen clock whirring and making it’s little grinding and clicking sounds, someday soon i mean to record it. water splash and clunks against the metal sink basin, kettle roaring and slowly getting louder, the beginnings of a whistle, wobbling wildly as i remove it from the burner. gurgle quickening in pitch filling the coffee press. a sharp bang from outside. a bit of conversation, the back door bells ring as J goes outside. the ring of spoon on ceramic as i stir my coffee.

plastic clicking, footsteps and corduroy rubbing…the heater’s droning D…


Jan. 2

another sonic dream. going into the bathroom and seeing a nest of tape recorders, snaking power chords making it impossible to reach the toilet. a few of the machines are running, the sound that of voices so muffled and distorted that no meaning can be discerned.

coffee grinder…squeak of wooden chair on tile…hhhhhhhhhhhh, mostly drowning the other sounds i would be hearing. rumble roar and metal squeak crash and banging of the garbage truck. my tinnitus is very noticeable this A.M. was thinking last night, while trying to listen to music behind the roar of my space heater, that i fear i might go deaf eventually and i hope not. don’t know what i’d do if that occured and the thought is completely depressing.

whistle from my nose while noticing my breathing reminds me of a squeeze toy. (J tapping feet, she and E talking and playing scrabble while i try to listen and write…) finger tapping, squeak from sharp breath intake through tight lips. humming. shuffle of the board on the table, knocks and page turnings and tiny wooden fumblings. hard knock of coffee cup on tabletop. clicking keyboard…

thinking much about the on-going conversation with C. the glaring question we have been circling for months, “why do you do it?” (work on music/sound and try to share it with others). i’ve never questioned it myself until other people asked me. the simple answer is, because it’s the only thing to do. the most interesting way to spend the time i have. (“eccentric rotation”) pages turning and wood on wood, humming.

then i came across a quote from Cage on the internet, about becoming more integrated as personalities through the making and using of music. (yawn) which, in bed this morning reminded me of – “to still and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influence”. working with sound gives us something to concentrate on, so we can get rid of thoughts about why we are working with sound. as i am often saying to C, the only problem is in the questioning. (“good job!”) (sneeze).

spent most of the day yesterday re-editing an old animist orchestra recording, removing the loud coughs. it’s presentable now and i’m working on the cover. and a hundred other things….(polly wolly doodle…)

Jan. 2 (cont.)

from the neighbor’s trailer behind the studio….beeping, and some kind of small engine noise. the shed door creaks open and a minute later the washing machine starts up, a slow tumbling rumble with periodic water-through-pipes.

the metal-pinging rhythm as the kettle heats up again. refrigerator comes on, mechanical whirring and a slow-pitched hum at the same time…the rush of cars outside, fewer and farther between…

back to work tomorrow, the constant bombardment of unwanted musics…


Jan. 3

ring of spoon against the sides of the coffee cup. fairly loud and resonant until i pick up the cup. w/o the cutting board amplifying it, it sounds more brittle, quieter. if i let the kettle go on whistling, it will quickly begin to vibrate loudly, a slow pitched rumble amplified by the stove-top.

listening to Norman Long playing Andy Goldsworthy’s garden of stone. heavy reverb. i was hoping for the slap of skin on stone…

devise a way to get a chord going alone – metal bowl and tapes/along with occasional wooden clunking sounds, maybe some kind of foot activated giant chime. makes me think of the bicycle/one-man-band contraption that i saw in a book once (xeroxed the photo) or that very bizarre device in the brussels musical instrument museum with the big wooden mallets and the gears and crank. “can i hear that?” intonarumori.

sounds like…(people tend to say this if i’m playing music on the little boombox at work)…maybe a thunderstorm? little squiggles underneath, a bubbling or billowing. (car drives by, doppler, can hear it turn the corner) otherwise it’s very quiet this early. not even my neighbor’s loud talking. last night the trailer folks’ voices reflecting off house sides, not much else. paying close attention to the space heater, it too has several sounds happening-the roar of air moving and the burr of the fan, hum of the motor. the plastic/ceramic bits clicking as they expand from the heat. tinnitus fairly marked this morning, and there seems to be an undercurrent, the computer whine….(another car)…

Jan. 4

in the back room at work, trying to listen without focussing on any one sound, the conversations, comments, bad jokes, and tension of bodies in a tight space, the clink of glass and squeaking of plastic or metal cart wheels, my own crunch and rustle of scoop and bag, the auto-tuned voices from the radio- – – all blending together into one big mass of human sound, punctuated by flapping cardboard and screaming tape guns.

after work, lying on the couch, the throbbing hum (thrum) of the refrigerator melds with sounds of traffic outside the house. A field of bass as i fall asleep. the artifacts produced by low-grade recording equipment are analogous to the “unwanted sounds” now used by many improvising instrumentalists. instead of being a by-product, beside the fact, they are the fact. malfunction not as comment, but as content.

Jan. 5

writing about music seems at times a bizarre activity. listening last night to a Haijokaidan CD that i’ve been assigned to review. what to say about it? the beauty of their approach lies in part in the fact that they don’t try to present it as anything other than what it is, namely something to listen to. not dressed up in a certain point of view, or at least not an over-the-top one. it’s subtle, a formal presentation, maybe tongue in cheek, but who’s to say that they don’t really consider their own music that way. after all these years, why shouldn’t it be.

thinking a lot about Cage’s assertion that recordings aren’t useful. how he preferred the sounds around him, how the traffic outside his window was always the same and yet not. as everywhere i would think. sometimes i believe i’ll be able to eventually get to that place. this links to what JG was saying about music not affecting us the same way as we get older. i would mostly agree with that, realizing that my wonder moments now come almost exclusively during live performances. the Coppice set in St. Paul being a particularly good example.

tinnitus not so bad this A.M. the night before last it wasn’t there at all. what mechanism regulates it?

at last the quiet day at work, the back room to myself mostly…chia seeds against plastic bucket side, door whomp, wobbly metal wheels, plastic, whistle some pop tune, voices. the public address system has a short in it or something. every time someone picks up the phone to make an announcement, their voice is layered with a thick wall of electric crackle. it sounds beautiful and they’ll probably fix it soon.

overtone singing in the cold-room with the roar of the cooler as a drone. remember a specific moment in seattle. after overtone singing in the car all the way to a show, things seemed different. as though watching from outside somehow, not really engaged in the same way, everything very alive and detailed and fucking interesting. i wondered later if this “state” was a result of the prolonged concentration on singing that preceded it. in the car after work, tinnitus much louder…


Jan. 6

never fails. every sunday with the leaf blower. at first i wasn’t sure, it was a serrated tone with a kind of swaying hiss alongside it. started loud and then got very quickly quieter, to the edge of my hearing, thought it moving away. mistook it for one of the loudlittle scooters that people ride here. no, it’s a goddamned leaf blower.

garbled muffled distorted cut-up disguised drowned-out surmounted fuzzy mangled tangled frayed inaudible

(trundle of plastic wheels on concrete)

( voice)

(ringing in my ears…)

last night we watched ‘divine river’, with all the great malian music made from scavenged or natural materials. i haven’t found anything else in the world that sounds like it. if amplified, it is severely distorted and probably piercingly loud. and all of it is so syncopated and rhythmic it is maddening. even the smallest children seem to have a natural ability to follow along to the music, or make it themselves. it is a part of life for them, not some fleeting entertainment to be used but not paid attention to. here music seems a drug. there, it is breath, blood, food, rain and sun.


Jan. 7

hiss of boiling water, sniffs, paper shuffling/folding…footfall on tile, the boiling quickens in pitch and thins out…wooden spoon against metal pot side. stove top…whirring hum of the CPU, water drips in the sink, car doppler, squeaking squawking chair…stomach rumbles…knuckle on wood, thumps and sniffs and throat-clearing, footfall ’round my back and a few tiny notes. hiss of water in the bathroom, wall fumblings…light switch(a clunk)…

Jan. 8

susurration? perhaps. the quiet pulsed hissing of the pressure-cooker (fiss fiss fiss fiss fiss fiss fiss), and a too loud movie as i lie half sleeping…

had been listening to yes, well…tapes previously. D’s copy of the last cell phone call is pretty buzzy (at last a true example of noise, something we don’t want) from some kind of electrical interference. there is a short section of true beauty at the very beginning though, and it’ll end up somewhere i’m sure. one of the CD-Rs has some really nice drone work, very no-fi and rich with analog weirdness, rumps bumps and glitches, overloaded automatic record level circuits ( the volume drops off completely and then fades back in), sounds smashed together in mid-range blur. and then the next piece starts and it’s fairly well recorded, and completely different. no rules indeed. on the last tape i listened to, there was a short section of well-recorded solo drumming, then a short no-fi drone, then an over-the-top-recorded-so-hot-it’s-completely-in-the-red guitar solo, starting as strummed investigation of a single chord and then exploding into a refracted bunch of conflicting impulses. without doubt, the weirdest, and best, band i’ve ever been in. possibly the longest running as well.


Jan. 9

plastic ratcheting of J’s ball winder, LOUD rapid rhythm in three (rrrratchita ratchita ratchita) that slips occasionally. the variations are endless and actually quite interesting. on top of that sound is a slight creaking and cracking of the wooden yarn holder (what’s the word?) and occasional words from the TV filter through (“i have no truck with…”)

later, outside, a jet overhead. it’s roar isn’t a steady continuous sound, as it would be inside the plane, but a discontinuous wavering. loud to soft and back again with slight variations in timbre. does the atmosphere cause this? the wind from the plane itself in turbulence with the natural wind? got a DVD from EL of my set in Minneapolis. sounds better than i thought it would, no P.A. hum (which i was hearing on stage). largely immobile. amplified, the thing would be quite the monster and yet another aspect to contend with.

Jan. 10

standing outside at night, looking up at Orion. brittle paper claws of a leaf go skittering along the concrete, wind rustles the trees far above my head. a stronger gust brings a handfull crashing around my legs, and just after i move closer to the house to escape the cold blasts, a burst of cold air sends an entire squadron of leaves flipping through the air, crashing against each other and the branches of the crabapple tree. the solitary bell hung there that always seems to ring when all the other wind chimes are not. the one, louder, repeating note from the neighbor’s house across the street that sounds like a buoy or some other maritime signal bell. we can hear it inside in the summer time with the windows open, but now, in winter, there is only the faintest hint of it’s resonance, an almost inaudible harmonic layer on top of the wind sound. bamboo against the bedroom window and sides of the house. they say there will be snow.

morning wall

Jan. 13

no snow, just very cold. clear nights with no wind. last night sparse traffic and voices from adjacent streets, human sound bouncing around the neighborhood devoid of meaning, as words are not discernible.

now, heater drone with refrigerator and tinnitus. (maybe that’s the title of something)…breath. plastic moving on wood veneer, car engine quickening in pitch.

reading Thomas Merton’s autobiography. in it he writes of a time when he was going to school at Columbia and would sneak off to an empty room to play piano alone, making a music that only he appreciated. i wonder what it sounded like.

is mind the aural equivalent of mirror? i recall times when the “wall ” there blocking sound and burdening each little incidence of it with word or other association would dissolve and my head would occupy space as an empty shell pierced with large holes, the sounds just moving through unimpeded. so where is the thing that was noticing this? (small plane circling)

the light in the kitchen in the late morning. playing milk bottles by rubbing them together, the raised printing on their sides making differences (recall AW playing baby food jars) thinking about how to remember this for the next time DK calls, to include it in one of our phone recordings. reading Thomas Bey William Bailey’s book Unofficial Release, i come across the derivation of the word ‘art’, a Sanskrit word meaning, “to make”.


Jan. 14

laying in bed last night, could hear almost nothing but the ringing, drowned out occasionally by a car passing on the street outside. i was trying to determine just where the tinnitus “sound” is situated. is it actually something i’m hearing? or is it more like some overactive nerve acting in such a way as to produce the illusion of a sound? i notice that the “sound” is always louder in my right ear…and different really, in each ear. the left side is a continuous tone, like very fast-pitched feedback, while the right is fuzzier and has constant changes in tone and volume (but not pitch). as i listened, it seemed to become distorted, square-wave serrated, and as i continued to try and determine where it was coming from, it disappeared. intensely focussing on it seemed to make it stop. was this some mind trick or…? in a short time the ringing came back, so i tried again to find it’s source, mentally moving my attention to different parts of my hearing mechanism, and it stopped again. and it didn’t come right back. this warrants further attention.

Jan. 15

again last night, concentrating on finding the source of the ringing caused it to cease. so does it really stop or am i just averting my attention so completely that i’m just unaware of it for a time? a car passing by this morning brought back memory of cars passing in the snow, the crunch and squeak of rubber rolling over frozen crust. which just now had me thinking of the clink of tire chains…

recording detritus

Jan. 16

not a point that i sit at the end of, it is a field i am sitting in. an atmosphere, in which points can be difficult to delineate. (crunching from inside my skull and different densities of plastic- a far off engine winding down) (cough) a complex of three-dimensional patterns overlaid, which is potential. (soft quickening note of the heater) of this our sensory apparatus and mind make what we do, and try in myriad ways to manipulate. (footfall, paper crunch, footfall) (slide-knocks from the back room) (airplane drone slowing in pitch as it gains in volume) mentally, physically, metaphorically…ascribing “meaning” to that which not only doesn’t need it, but which has no hooks on which to hang it. “meaning” is a trail of bread crumbs only, a way to find our way. a method of situation.

(the fridge is a grinder and the oven adds occasional cricks and tings. stove burners crink as they cool. crunch of small book a-pocket, click and sniff and click some more…whirring sounds circular, like swinging around my head, a mechanical movement sounding that i cannot place, disappears if i move my head-some harmonic, made audible by the make-up of the corner where i am sitting in conjunction with the fridge and computer sounds. rubber souls on tile floor, vehicle slither, skin on skin and sniff, click and slight ringing…the neighborhood dogs our natural alarm)…

thinking this morning about the large cardboard boxes sitting in the kitchen, shells of recent deliveries. a pile of new instruments to play, a kicking sliding, tossing, flipping, ripping, tumbling, dropping, spinning collection of is.

call from the desert

Jan. 26

rain. clouds hold the sound in close. uneven tattoo of water tapping the lids of J’s rain buckets, plastic water drums. drip and tick of drops on bamboo, the tiny metallic crink and ping from the water heater vent.

something on the counter rattles when i set the press pot down. thinking about the on- going rattle project and how i have to start working on it again…

tinnitus seems almost non-existent this A.M.

spent a long time in the big antique store this past weekend, tons of old junk, potential sound makers. fire alarms, klaxon horns, tin toys, old machinery parts. outside in the yard there are a dozen or so old gasoline pumps, paint peeling and rusted, beautiful in decay. took quite a few photos, thought about doing some recording but in every room (!) there is a radio playing. why? thinking about who’s job it might be to go around turning them all on every morning…or do they just leave them on?

Jan. 27

patches of blue sky opening up, sunlight reflecting off the rain drops still sitting on bamboo leaves. all the plastic water drums thumping together, the one at the northeast corner of the house is a rapid drip, producing a ragged single-stroke roll. a chorus of drip on plastic, metal, wood, joined by wood dove and quail call, dog bark, voices…(reminded of D’s back yard in Seattle with the rusty old roto-tom set to catch rain…and how there used to be a collection of old paint cans here under the eaves of the garage…)

remembered to bury more photos under leaf litter in the yard, as we are expecting yet more rain this week. thinking of other things i could do to distress them, would freezing crack the emulsion?

(chair crinking as it rocks back and forth on uneven legs…dog bark sniff)

Jan. 28

“the noise is so boring”….J’s pronouncement about the local free entertainment/arts zine. in another context it’s quite funny, i think.

getting colder, sporadic snowflakes and wind kicking up. first thing this morning i heard a quail…someone using a rivet gun or some such while i dropped off the recycling. trying to dry my shoes for work tomorrow, i put them in the drier, could hear the thumpbump of their spinning around from inside the studio. children shouting, muffled and distorted by the wind…now only the hum of the computer CPU, cars far off moving closer.

in our email exchange this afternoon, C mentioned the daedalus engine, powered by shock waves, and that sound above 194 db ceases to be heard as sound and is only felt (is this true?)…people’s propensity for self-remembering through constant playback of their favorite musics, a personal soundtrack announcing to themselves and others how they wish to be perceived. his question: without it, would they forget who they are? (another car)

making CD covers. so much moisture in the air it is taking days for the ink to dry.

reading about Cahokia. what did a game of chunkey sound like? the stone rolling on the packed earth, nine ft. long lances colliding or falling to ground.trying to imagine constructing a soundwork around that. reminded of an early american explorers description of the sound of many manos y metates all grinding grain at the same time: “hellish” (!?)

word smudge

Jan. 29

playing with the metal mixing bowl in the kitchen, thinking of a way to hang it so that i don’t have to hold on to it when playing it for a long time. some combination of rubberband and string perhaps. (heater’s wavering tone, last night it blended with the music J had playing, for a few seconds a weird mix that i couldn’t discern the origin of)…D related his dream last night of being in a bowling alley, the manager commenting that the singer there sounded “worse than Carol Channing”. i thought, singer in a bowling alley? what a gig!

heard a hawk yesterday as i sat down to watch the news. it seems that in Mali, the French army is pushing the Jihaddists back. scenes of much joy in the streets of Gao, the mayor being hoisted onto a car roof to speak to an assembled crowd was unable to be heard above the celebrating. (soft dog bark) ( a Joni Mitchell song stuck in my head. could be worse) (many dog barks) (fabric rustle)

(the door opener on my car-a wooden handle affixed to a length of fishing line tied to the inside door pull-flails in the wind, banging against the window as i drive to work…when i open the door by pulling on the handle, the fishing line stretches and makes a “comical” twanging sound. sometimes sitting in the car during my lunch break i play it)…

Jan. 31

took awhile to remember this, but for part of my dreaming last night i was hanging out with William Burroughs. perhaps because the book i’m reading has mentioned him so often. i’m only part-way into the first chapter and he’s been referenced a dozen times or more. (Micro Bionic by Thomas Bey William Bailey) (a snippet of Jah Wobble went through my head temporarily replacing the godawful folk song that was there when i woke up. why?) working a lot yesterday, making covers, burning discs, transferring another hands to tape to digital. it sounded better than i remembered., (sound-quality-wise at least).

it’s so early yet that i’m not hearing much of any sound from outside. or maybe the heater is just drowning everything out. (very faintly, a garbage truck) on most days, our neighbor is awake early and outside talking loudly on her cell phone. thinking about how loud some people are, and how others you barely notice. in the last exchange with C, we were discussing this…how many people need to surround themselves with their personal soundtrack, (usually comprised of someone else’s music), often disrupting their immediate environment. call it into question and they act as though you are the problem. i liken it to being force-fed a drug. “pardon me, but i really don’t want to listen to mariachi music just now…”

(rumble) Bailey’s book was also discussing the origins of muzak, how it was to be used to increase worker productivity by “enhancing” workers emotional states. i remember reading years ago that it was originally devised to try and cover up the sounds of buildings’ heating and cooling systems. (thumping)


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