(The Wire) Monster truck-style meet for three of the most interesting American sound art improvisors working today. Cheryl Leonard, Bryan Day and Jeph Jerman come from different places aesthetically, and each has a long personal history. But they have all evolved towards a point of very pure sonic invention with few props required. Leonard and Day have electronics and other instruments on hand, but everything happens here in a way that feels as raw and as natural as banging together two stones. There’s actually a lot going on, but it almost feels like it’s part of something more tectonic than musical. The ground shifts, things fall, and it sounds pretty great. - Byron Coley
(Disaster Amnesiac) As promised in a recent private message, Public Eyesore/eh? head honcho Bryan Day has made some more recordings available to Disaster Amnesiac; it looks like he's ramping up production again! I'm happy and honored to be the recipient of so much great sound and music from the label. It may be that I'm going out of sequence here, but the Leonard/Day/Jerman tape, Isinglass, had my immediate attention. Anything with Cheryl's deeply aesthetic organic/electric hybrids grabs Disaster Amnesiac pretty hastily. Across seven pieces, put to tape over one year's time, this trio concocts soundscapes of deep, very organic nature. As I've listened, what at first sound like big slabs of sound reveal these great crenellations and nooks, small pockets to be delved into and investigated. One gets the sense that Leonard, Day, and Jeph Jerman put a lot of effort into letting the pieces unfold at within their own pace. Leonard's sound processes seem to act as guides, walking point into the exploratory auditory zones, while Day's invented instruments give some tonal and percussive action and Jerman's household objects color and comment. Disaster Amnesiac's favorite piece has to be the cassette's side one closer, during which feedback sounds jet out from the slow moving maelstrom. Among the other pieces, there are also fun sounds from bottles touching, strange whistles from who knows what, and all manner of curious tones, meshed together with a kind of delicate forcefulness. Disaster Amnesiac would advise the potential listener to don headphones for listening to Isinglass. Though calm on its face, the sounds that this trio makes have the deeply moving impact of massed mental glaciers or tsunami, oozing into the listener's perceptions with wide strokes that reveal hidden bits to be savored for their subtle surprises. - Mark Pino
(Chattanooga Pulse) Isinglass comes from a trio of unconventional sound creators who invent instruments and repurpose objects to create almost completely abstract tracks; as they unfurl, they have the uncanny ability to inspire opposites in the mind of the listener, at least in this writer’s case. On one hand, the unusual sounds can make the mind race, as it struggles to recognize sound sources or imagine how on earth a certain noise was made; on the other hand, these tracks also have the ability to simply paralyze the mind, where no thought processing is necessary—everything is purely felt. Cheryl Leonard concentrates on using nature as a source for sounds and instruments and has spent time in Antarctica making field recordings and using stones, shells, ice and bones for compositions. On Isinglass, Leonard is credited with playing unique instruments such as the “kelp flute” and the “driftwood pipe organ” along with “wobbly rocks” and a “bowl of sand.” Jeph Jerman is a kindred spirit who also has an affinity for natural sources and has previously played objects such as pinecones, branches and seed pods; however, on Isinglass, he utilizes an unspecified list of “household objects.” The least organic of the three, Bryan Day straddles the natural and man-made worlds with one-of-a-kind instruments and also collects radio signals. Scrapes, vibrating strings, tiny pieces of wood, marbles rolling around in bowls and resonating gongs share the aether with whispering ghost transmissions and alien broadcasts. What sounds like whale songs or human breaths that vibrate surfaces provide an animal aspect among artificial sounds. The original six-track version of Isinglass was released digitally in 2014, but this new edition, released on cassette, features new artwork and an extra track. Oddly, for this writer, the most affecting track is the final piece, “Seven,” which is slightly despairing, using the metallic hum of what sounds like an antique device, with occasion rustles of human interaction. Isinglass could have easily been a chaotic free-for-all jumble, but it is actually quite calm and slightly eerie; it has the solemnity of a monastery, but one that has been overtaken by overgrowth. - Ernie Paik
(Voidcastle) As far as I can tell, both Public Eyesore and its sub-label eh? release some of the most outré stuff that I know about, though, I am not thoroughly aware of everything on these labels, it just seems that the things I am aware of are OUT, about as out as out can get, otherworldly, other-existently, other-outré-ly, you get the idea. The sounds these three make on this tape are perfect for some meditation that takes you far from the mundane. Totally amazing release. I first heard of Cheryl Leonard from my friend Lily a few years ago, i am aware that she does performances with field recordings from expeditions to Antarctica, as well as taking ice from there and using it during performances, letting it slowly melt and drip and picking up those subtle tones with microphones. And then Bryan Day, the one that runs Public Eyesore and eh? makes invented instruments that sound all sorts of bizarre, weird and beautiful. Jerman is another name I ought to more about by now, but have only first heard of through this release, but previously written about from his collab with Steve Jansen, which I acquired after this, but wasn’t writing this blog when I actually first acquired this release. Basically, these three names are very worth knowing by anyone interested in some of the most forward thinking improvisational music of the meditative variety.
(Sound Projector) Real fine drone-acious richness from Californian lady Cheryl Leonard on the cassette tape Isinglass (EH? AURAL REPOSITORY EH?89). She’s known for her “found instruments”, that is objects found in nature which she picks up, takes home, and then presses into service for musical purposes. There’s an endearing photograph (not here) of her playing a large clump of pine cones with a violin bow, and you can imagine her releasing something quite palpable from the grain of that wood. Among the devices on this tape we have a flute made of kelp, a bowl of sand, some wobbly rocks, and instruments made of driftwood – including sculptures in the form of mobiles, and something intriguingly called the “driftwood pipeorgan”, which I would like to think is a row of selected hunks of driftwood found on the beach and arranged in order of size, to form a “tuned” instrument in some way. Harry Partch woulda loved her. But he might have felt ambivalent about her academic roots, as it turns out she’s studied at Mills College with some of the grandees of 20th century avanterie, including Alvin Curran, Frederic Rzewski, and George Lewis. But her penchant for Chinese landscapes may have struck a chord with old “white-beard” Partch, and I’m sure the two of them could have shared a cup of green tea in the correct circumstances. On this release, Leonard is joined by Jeph Jerman, a man famed for his cactus-spine playing and other natural found objects being repurposed to make sound or music, so this really is a match made in the spheres. Bryan Day, label owner, adds a smidgen of electricity to the otherwise acoustic mode with his radio transceivers. A very dense tape results, which I’m grateful for, as I have found Jerman’s previous exploits in this area a tad thin sonically, while undeniably beautiful. Isinglass murmurs and drones in a highly engaging fashion, occasionally punctuated by sounds of the seashore and domestic intrusions like a chiming clock (unless that’s part of the performance), and sits in that small patch of turf between music and sound art, transcending process with ease. Leonard has a few CDR releases on the private label Great Hoary Marmot Music, probably her own imprint, should you wish to investigate further. - Ed Pinsent
(Vital Weekly) On cassette we find label boss Bryan Day playing invented instruments and radio transceivers in a trio recording with Jeph Jerman (household objects) and Cheryl Leonard on driftwood pipe organ, driftwood mobiles, kelp flute, kelpinet, wobbly rocks, Japanese bowl, gongs, motorcycle sprockets and bow of sand. For me the lesser-known player is Leonard but I understand that just like Jerman and Day she likes to take explore the use of natural elements and convert them into musical instruments. In the two sidelong pieces they explore all of this with an open mind. If one was expecting some rattle of objects, crackle of leaves and such like, one has to think again. Much of this deals with rubbing objects on objects forming a more drone-based sound. It's hard to imagine how they achieved this sound, but it sounds great. That is one part of the story, as otherwise they play also a more loosely based object sound in which the three of them meticulously explore their instruments but also they listen to each other and the others are doing, a call and respond to make this into some beautiful music. There is some great tension between these three players and also between the various sounds at hand, and sometimes one has the idea that they are on a vessel, or using motorized sounds, but I might be entirely wrong of course. Overall I though this was a beautiful release, and maybe, just maybe, I thought a CDR would have been better, in terms of sound quality. - Frans De Waard
(Cassette Gods) Your average Josephine, when asked “What adjective would you use to describe the potential for this rock?” might reply “throwable” or maybe “stackable”, perhaps “cleavable”, but not likely “wobbly”, and even less likely “contact mic-able”, but, hey, Cheryl Leonard is not your average Josephine. Possibly allergic to conventional instruments and/or western tonality in general, she produces and amplifies her own unique timbre-sets from such self-fashioned instruments as “driftwood pipe organ, Kelp Flute, and Kelpinet”. She also utilizes Japanese bowls and gongs, as well as contact-mic’d sand and wobbly rocks on hardwood floors (of which I have had the pleasure of seeing live, in tandem with progressive ballet)…aaand driftwood mobiles softly clinking together. This recording doesn’t include the myriad sculptures she’s made from horns & jawbones & pinecones & turtle doves & pear trees. She’s prolific in both her soundmaking and soundmaker production. If you’re not already, get acquainted via the link to her website below. This specific release finds her collaborating with like-(out-of)-minded explorers Bryan Day and Jeph Jerman, they, themselves deft and prolific and here coaxing reverberant drones out of “household objects, invented instruments and radio transcievers”, the resultant being a surprisingly pleasant amalgam of ambient, drone, and percussive noises that feels both deeply narrative in composition and outright eternal in delivery. To note, Eh? Records, out of Sam Frnmcisco, is putting out some truly outside-the-tetrahedron experimental/noise, so go on over and have an ear-gander at the samples available on their website. - Jacob An Kittenplan