Light beams 

Just like the national and international electronic scenes, Orlando's artists are still experimenting with seemingly endless possibilities. And while some of the home-town techno-pioneers broke out years ago, many continue to pursue their uncompromised sound visions -- to lesser public avail, perhaps, but certainly with promise: Eyelight is such a project.

Eyelight is voice-centric music by Jehn Cerron, and as Eyelight implies, her vibrant music displays complete clarity of vision. Real-time vocals meet looping and layering, and the resulting sound accurately accepts tags like "spiritual," "uplifting" or "ethereal," in part because Cerron isn't confined to singing words. Her voice might well be an alto sax, mimicking songs of praise or blues. The sound even achieves a neo-classical sensibility, but the musically self-taught Cerron (inspired by a school teacher who recognized an exceptional voice in a "bratty loud-mouth" ) bridges the primitive voice with electronic manipulation. She's just ... that ... close to being electronic.

Before focusing on Eyelight about six years ago, Cerron, now 28, sang with Tick Tick Tock, an early '90s Orlando band that merged American indie-rock sensibility with a Cocteau Twins vibe and beats. Other Tick Tick Tock members included acclaimed electronic producer Michael Donaldson, a.k.a. Q-Burns Abstract Message, and emerging dance engineer David Cassetta, a.k.a. Atmosphere.

Through the years, her music-as-free-expression approach is as unchanged as her unpredictable delivery and collaborative work ethic. But her voice always leaves its signature. Contrast a raw recording from the early days, "Boo," produced by Q-Burns using a four-track, against Cassetta and Cerron's fresh vinyl "She's in Light" on Phattraxx Records (and the "1998 Orlando Music Awards CD"), a polished hypnotic house track uplifted by her more-structured-than-usual vocal strains.

It's hard to believe there were five years between those projects. But when Cerron was eight-months pregnant, she drove to Atlanta for what would be her last show for a couple years, as she pulled out of the scene to be close to her daughter, now 3.

While motherhood was fulfilling, Cerron felt estranged from music, herself and the musical community, where she continues to command respect. So she made some changes.

"I'm making [music] a priority. It took me a long time not to worry where the next meal is coming from. You have to survive like your life is depending on it, because it does," she says. "Now I just want to play some more -- that's what's driving me."

Playing more, she is. At a recent Performance Space Orlando show with Lydia Lunch and Numb Right Thumb, Eyelight held a captive audience, her voice a stepping stone to emotional release. And Cerron performs Friday, July 16, at the same venue as part of the "Blair Witch Afterparty."

A huge boost to her reaffirmation was the positive experience at last May's W.E. Fest in Wilmington, N.C. The festival, a sort of "indie day camp," was 'Net-cast, celebrating musicians and audio/visual folks who work independently, pushing their art. Cerron's connection with festival founder Kenyata resulted in nationwide contacts with like minds. And there was her standing ovation for what was reported as the "single most stunning set of W.E. Fest."

Granted, most of Cerron's converts are open to a different aural experience. Perhaps her greatest challenge will be to reach the "idiots in the back," as she says, who just don't get it. Or maybe she'll always be an artist's artist. Then again, the mainstream could catch up with her. No matter, the music remains uncompromised.

And thus Eyelight champions interpretation, avoiding any obviousness, realism, politics or sexuality. No doubt Cerron's heart is on her sleeve during performances, but didactic she's not. The audience must do the work, and that work seems best done with eyes closed and mouths shut. For some she might sing praises to God, and others might hear a soulful seduction. The removal of lyrics is quite freeing.

"I'm taking voice out of [the] context, removing the attack and removing the decay, sampling parts in between with tones and overlay like trying to build one big sine wave," she says.

Onstage and in her home studio, production is self-inclusive: Using only microphones, effect boxes and her voice, she creates loops that transcend the sounds into otherworldly connections. Her music is driven by her dreams.

Cerron's next recording project, targeted for a fall finish, will be her most ambitious to date. Some of the tracks will be captured in a church for ideal acoustics, along with other experimentations. "I'm not trying to be especially weird, but I will draw a number of elements into it," she says.

Cerron foresees assembling an a cappella group, an idea spawned after hearing the Zap Mama's "Adventures in Afropea." "You want people to have some kind of outlet where they can join people, without being shy about their voice, having the confidence in realizing everybody's got one [voice]. ... Back in the day, voices were used for healing."

She practices what she preaches, volunteering at a healing-arts program for children at a local hospital. She sings, the kids sing, too, and Cerron tape records for instant playback. In a cynical world, sharing like this is waaaay too open, but it's commensurate with Cerron's sense of responsibility. "I think it's my own therapy, for the most part, but it is something that opens up communication -- it's like that anytime that the music you're doing is heart-felt.

"We need to be able to tap into the processes of using our voices as healing tools, to not be afraid of voice, to not be afraid to sing, to not be afraid to sing in public, realizing singing does not start and end with lyrical songs. The way that children create their own songs spontaneously, we should be doing that as well, instead of talking on a therapist's couch."

More by Steven Garnett


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