Jeph Jerman & Jon Mueller - Nodes + Anti-Nodes DVD

Monday, December 01 2008 @ 01:00 AM PST

Contributed by: empty j

What may not be obvious or even known about these two figures of the experimental underground is that they both share the honor of a background in drumming. If you have history on your side, you may recall Jerman as Hands To or his work with Big Joey, Blowhole and City Of Worms in the 1980s. Back in the day Jeph also operated the Big Body Parts tape label in Colorado which aptly foreshadowed his more contemporary interest in environmental recordings since relocating to the state of Washington and releasing music under his own name via Anomalous Records and other imprints. Along with other elder statesmen of the cassette underground of yore, like Hal McGee and Chris Phinney, it's a wonderful thing to see that he's still at it and without compromise to anyone or anything. Jon Mueller is a newer name to me, but one I associate with the Milwaukee/Chicago noise improv scene. His “Metals” CD certainly gained some notoriety and attracted attention for good reason. It's not everyday that you can mention avant-garde music and heavy metal in the same breath, so welcome to the 21st century folks. 

The two collaborate here on a DVD that is as mesmerizing and sublime as it is raw. The resonances of acoustic objects are interspersed with still shots of concrete imagery accompanied by silence throughout the disc with no rhyme or reason. The beauty of the work is the beauty of the work itself and is ultimately for the hardcore enthusiasts of experimentalism or those willing to take a leap of faith.

Honestly, I was lulled into a deep sleep the first two times I attempted to watch this and do not find that an inappropriate response. I detect a Zen aspect that is equal parts John Cage and Stan Brakhage.

In its best moments “Nodes + Anti-Nodes” represents three sonic levels of activity: the generative source, its effect upon the object and the sum of such activity. The sad aspect of this is that there is no information provided about the sound sources. We hear them and see the results of their presence and can only assume that a speaker of some sort is affixed to the objects of which I shall attempt to delineate heretofore with a significantly less shade of purple.

The first bit features drum snares sympathetically resonating to an undisclosed sound source in a sort of active stasis. It's a pretty engrossing document that treads the fine line between environmental happenstance and raw noise. Next is a pretty negligible gong piece accompanied by close-ups of the objects movements brought into and out of focus. The subtle metallic timbres are nice enough but there's really nothing special here. One of my favorite parts is comprised of rattling seashells on some sort of resonant body. This produces some richly complex rhythms and an overall delightful sound. The visual aspect of inanimate objects chaotically dancing is quite beautiful in itself. In another section what appear to be vertebrae of some sort revolve on a turntable which are struck from a mobile of bones suspended above. The sight and sound of this event are nothing if evocative of some obscure voodoo ritual. At any rate, this is a very special work. Next up are three stones vibrating on a membrane that create various sonic aberrations as they gradually shift positions in relation to one another. Not as enticing as some of the other pieces but interesting nonetheless as is the following bit with a bent metal object resonating on a cymbal. One of my other favorites consists of a single bead vibrating on a drum head. This is an exquisite exercise that produces an inimitable dance. The final interactive piece has a wooden dowel of sorts rubbed on a metallic surface. This produces a complex series of overtones and is unfortunately all too brief.

 Some of the silent shots and other incidental moments here are of interest and somewhat frustrating. Shadows of wind-whipped tree canopies are gorgeous, but it would be nice to hear the interaction of the leaves acoustically. Another interlude of what sounds like electronic feedback accompanied by a still shot of intricate texture is nice but may have been enhanced by some visual resonance. Perhaps the most Zen-like moment features a bell-tree sculpture that is so clumsy in its design it yields very little sound despite a gratuitous amount of motion.

That Jerman and Mueller are rooted as percussionists comes across in the most elemental sense not unlike some of Z'ev's work. The experimental spirit and attention to detail is quite noteworthy. Overall, the video is shot on an amateur level and is extremely raw which seems most appropriate. If the visual aspect doesn't interest you, an mp3 file is included on the disk. The whole thing is handsomely packaged in a seven inch letter-pressed, die-cut and numbered (edition of 300) chipboard folder. Good work and worth your attention if you have even a passing interest in the relationship between sounds and physical objects.