Jeph Jerman and Time Barnes — Karst (2017, Astral Spirits)
Akin to Chris Watson’s superlative work on Touch, Karst is a study in one the most complicated modern confluences: (where) urban(ism) meets natural(ism). Even the image of grass on the album cover reinforces the theme. Is Karst a study in contradiction? Or anything at all for that matter? Hard to say for certain, but Jeph Jerman and Tim Barnes team up again to prompt some serious questions and deliver some most excellent sonic musings. “Scumbling” features the sound of distant cars, water (or weather) and sounds like the field mic has been placed in a concrete drainage tube under a roadway somewhere. As an avid sound listener and lover, one latches onto the subtlety and even mystery of what sounds are being reproduced. Where Versatile Ambience possessed a degree of engagement and aural intensity, Karst feels considerably more passive—but this is by no means, pejorative. The titular second track, is by far the most relaxed. A proverbial slow walk through empty streets which is features found objects dropped and shuffled about, distant birds, and restrained ambience. There sounds to be some modulation or delay treatments applied at parts. “Occluded” dares to venture into territory explored on Versatile Ambience. Tape hiss and layers of humming sine waves (or maybe glass vibrations) underpin crescendoing metallic rattling. Think field recordings meet This Heat’s “Graphic/Varispeed.” Maybe the perceived passivity reflects the sense of resignation one gets one trying to mentally reconcile artistic, personal, philosophical, and even sonic contradictions. Regardless, Barnes and Jerman are a winning duo and Karst ranks among their most interesting works together yet.