Since 1980, Jeph Jerman (born 1959) - sound artist, field recordist, percussionist and visual artist - has released over 200 sound works, under his own name, under the moniker Hands To and with countless collaborators, improvising with natural found objects, crude homebuilt devices, tape machines and occasionally traditional instruments. He now makes his home in Cottonwood, Arizona. This book-length interview traces Jerman’s life and work, from his earliest sound experiments, free rock and jazz units, and postal collaborations, to his more recent work with decaying matter and landscape. Illustrated with previously unpublished photos, this highly readable conversation also sketches the 1980s American home-taping and electronic music scenes in which Jerman was a key figure, convening a community of anti-luminaries such as G.X. Jupitter-Larsen, Eric Lunde, Mark Schomburg, Tim Barnes, Dave Knott and Dan Burke. Listen also includes a selection of Jerman’s visual art.
Jeph Jerman’s interlocutor in Listen is Caucasus-based writer Aram Yardumian.
Born into a military family in 1959, J. Jerman moved around a lot during his early years. Drum lessons and a music theory class in high school were his only musical education until he began working at a college radio station during the mid-1980s. Around that time he was also working in various dance bands playing drums, bass and guitar, which he eventually found unfulfilling and began working toward his own music. A series of groups and solo investigations followed: noise-rock improvisations by Big Joey, sampler and tape dronage with City of Worms and hands to and punk free jazz in Blowhole. Around 1986, Jerman founded the Big Body Parts label, eventually publishing a large number of cassettes, records and videotapes, along with a short-lived magazine. After moving a few more times, Jerman found himself in Seattle where he fell in with the local improvised music community and began playing and listening constantly. In 1997 he ran a weekly improvised music session at Anomalous Records, and began investigations into very quiet sound making. In 1999 he formed the first animist orchestra, which played music written by him for natural objects (stones, feathers, shells etc). Around 2004 he began a long partnership with Tim Barnes, producing many recorded works and touring extensively in the US and Europe. In 2014 he was awarded an artists grant by the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and the next year was featured in a documentary film by director Jacek Blawut (How to Destroy Time Machines). His recorded work has been released by many labels, including Erstwhile, Anomalous, Falt, Grisaille, Mappa, tsss, White Centipede Noise and New Forces. Jerman currently lives and works in central Arizona.
ARAM YARDUMIAN is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Bryn Athyn College, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. His research has appeared in numerous scientific and arts-related publications. The original incarnation of this interview appeared in the now-defunct online arts and culture journal Times Quotidian.