Jeph Jerman could be described as an electro-acoustic artist, an experimental musician, or an avant-garde performer. But what Jeph is, in actuality, is a guide. He guides us to listen to the animated voice of nature, and his works provide us with pathways to experience daily life in new ways. Once the listener truly grasps the intention behind Jeph’s creations, her life can never be the same again.
“If people ask about what I do, I usually say that I am offering a chance to listen,” Jeph explains. “For me, the important thing is listening. What happens when we listen?”
Jeph doesn’t actually create compositions, but, rather, captures and conjures the voice of nature. “Jerman is ultimately capturing ‘found sound’ that our ears can tune into each day if we are willing to slow down and really listen … [He] re-creates a prehistoric time when sound was pure and unclassified.” As an example, in his “sound diary” from September 15, 1999, he details a field recording he captured of a moth:
“a moth was laying in the dirt and pine needles next to the front door, flapping it’s wings continuously. recorded the sound of it’s wings slapping the ground/twigs alongside it. the moth continued to move it’s wings in this way, slower over time, for several hours. i wondered if it was dying…”
Jeph uses field recordings to capture nature’s sounds, unaffected and unmanipulated. Additionally, he also uses found objects – usually detritus of some sort – to conjure or coax their unique voices, allowing them to speak directly to the listener. “[Jeph] has turned to acoustically playing natural objects – carefully chosen rocks, shells, driftwood, branches, seed pods, and pine cones,” and “from these simple and often overlooked objects, he deftly coaxes minute and often unexpected sounds.” In The Idea of Wilderness, Max Oelschlaeger wrote that “wild nature … will speak through a person if that person will but let natural phenomena have voice, and such a speaking will be as if literally true, alive, and organic.” Jeph lets nature have its voice, and presents it in such a way that it says something specific to each listener. As he explains:
“When placing this activity into a reproducible medium, it becomes the property, intellectual and otherwise, of the person listening. I guess what it comes down to is whether one believes in an objective viewpoint or not. I do not. I know that there is an objective reality, but human perception is most often closed to it.”
In this respect, Jeph is like a shaman, and his music is his language. What he creates for us is a pathway to experiences every moment of our sensual lives in a different way – in the way that Jeph himself lives, when, as he explains “my life doesn’t need a soundtrack.” David Abram wrote of the role of the shaman in connecting his people to the land, in The Spell of the Sensuous, explaining that “the primary role of such magicians … is to act as intermediaries between the human and more-than-human realms … shedding the sensory constraints … periodically dissolving the perceptual boundary in order to directly encounter, converse … with various nonhuman intelligences …” Abram explains the importance of this connection is that “By affirming that the other animals have their own languages, and that even the rustling leaves in an oak tree or an aspen grove is itself a kind of voice, oral peoples bind their senses to the shifting sounds and gestures of the local earth, and thus ensure that their own ways of speaking remain informed by the life of the land …”
Jeph seeks to eliminate his personality from the listening experience, to draw attention to the sound, explaining that “the idea called music is not separate from ‘sound in general,’ yet we have made it so by devising rules by which music may be ascertained or known. ” Perhaps the best way of avoiding these human-created rules is by removing the human hand from the equation, something Jeph consciously attempts, explaining:
“I began to find ways to lessen my control over what I was playing. I began finding sound that ‘just happened’ of much more interest to me than sounds that were meant to be expressive. I became enamored of very quiet sounds and began giving solo performances using only objects found in nature.”
What he thus provides the listener with is a carefully chosen experience, whereby she may truly listen. As Jeph explains, “music is in the listening, … all sound is the same, namely a vibration, and our minds have separated one set of vibrations from the general over-all vibration and labeled it.” Music, for Jeph, is a judgment, one which his work strives to break down, to enable a more direct experience of nature.
Through his music, Jeph challenges us to break down the barriers based on our rules of what music is. In doing so he brings us to a closer connection to nature through sound. But our guided journey does not end there. Jeph is not through with challenging us, as listeners, on this issue alone. Once we engage in this sensuous experience we are left with a larger challenge: how do we now perceive of nature, unbridled by the rules of aural perception? In a review in The Sound Projector, Ed Pinsent wrote:
“People think nature is ‘free’ garbage, which they can pick up and throw away, because it belongs to nobody. We need a Jeph Jerman to help us appreciate the real beauty and value of some of nature’s finest gifts, and remind us that the earth belongs to all of us; we should act as good custodians of the earth, not careless tenants.”
The greatest challenge in truly experiencing Jeph’s work is met when trying to do so via recorded media on one of his dozens of cassettes, CDs and vinyl releases. “The ideal situation for hearing this music would be simply sitting next to Jerman as he gently agitates his stones, his shells, and other natural forms.” While many of Jeph’s recorded works can bring the listener on a mind-blowing and potentially consciousness-altering journey, the experience of seeing Jeph live is unequaled by the packaged, consumable format. This is an issue Jeph is conscious of, one which is partially remedied by his recording of his albums in a live setting, whether before an audience or otherwise.
I have been fortunate enough not only to see Jeph in a live setting, but also to record with him. Jeph has performed before a small audience in my living room, and I have shared the stage with him at a gallery performance in Phoenix. Additionally, we work together on recording projects on an ongoing basis. His recordings, performances and the experience of working directly with Jeph have permanently altered my sensuous experience of nature. This is a common experience and story told by many of Jeph’s fans. He has inspired countless artists to challenge their relationship with nature and with sound.
 Aldrich, N.B., “Interview with Jeph Jerman,” EMF Institute, http://emfinstitute.emf.org/articles/aldrich03/jerman.html, accessed 11/14/09.
 Jansen, Steve, “Jeph Jerman: Whisper Track,” Phoenix New Times, http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2007-05-17/music/jeph-jerman/, accessed 11/14/09.
 Jerman, Jeph, “sound diary, september 15, 1999,” k o a n | artists | Jeph Jerman, http://www.kaon.org/jeph_jerman/sound_diary/15_09_99.html, accessed 11/14/09.
 Anomalous Records press release for The Second Attention by Jeph Jerman, accessed on 11/14/09 at http://www.jerman.littleenjoyer.com/nom7.html.
 Oelschlaeger, Max, The Idea of Wilderness, 1991, p. 157-58.
 Aldrich, N.B., “Interview with Jeph Jerman.” op. cit.
 Jerman, Jeph, personal website, http://www.jerman.littleenjoyer.com/index.html, accessed 11/14/09.
 Abram, David, The Spell of the Sensuous, 1996, p. 256.
 Johnson, Larry, “Release and Review: Jeph Jerman & Albert Casais and this,” Earlabs, http://www.earlabs.org/release/review.asp?reviewID=80, accessed 11/14/09.
 Jerman, Jeph, “Jeph Jerman,” 23Five, http://www.23five.org/archives/jephjerman.html, accessed 11/14/09.
 Johnson, Larry, “Release and Review…” op. cit.
 Pinsent, Ed, The Sound Projector, #9.
 Pinsent, Ed., op. cit.