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coverpic flag US - Illinois - Full Moon 65 - 01/28/02

Jim O'Rourke
I'm Happy, and I'm Singing, and a 1, 2, 3, 4

For me, Jim O'Rourke is something of a musical genius. When you really start to obsess about an artist or band it's not just the music that matters: you read any interview you can find, check out their discography (and Jim's is HUGE) - just generally try and understand the human being(s) behind the sound, the thoughts and feelings behind their expression.

That's why I find Jim O'Rourke such a genius: everything that I've read about him is interesting. He's intelligent, funny and wildly talented, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the challenging, beautiful music you can think of. So when he releases an album of laptop compositions on Austria's Mego label I'm as excited by it as the release of Insignificance on Domino, even though Insignificance is more the style of music I generally listen to. But this is Jim, and I'm more expectant and listening harder than if it was the music of anyone else on earth.

And you know what? I find it hard to think of what to write about the music itself. It's certainly engaging - hypnotic at times; it sounds better on headphones that out loud; it demands your complete attention to get the best out of it. What does it sound like? Well, this is where I become unstuck.

The problem with modern music-making on Powerbooks and G4s is that unless you're wealthy enough to purchase the equipment and get stuck in yourself, the actual mechanics of producing and manipulating the sounds are a mystery. How can I begin to describe what's going on here? At least with a band I can identify the instruments and convey in some way what the album sounds like. Is that the point of a review, or should I just tell to buy this or not?

Personally, I really enjoyed this 40 minutes of music. The three tracks are each distinctive and cleverly structured to maintain interest without becoming predictable. (After all, isn't that one of the joys of computer-generated music? Any sound can effectively be played next to any other sound so there's less anticipation of where the 'song' is going.) There does seem to be a general thematic cohesion to the album - the transcience of feelings of happiness or sadness; emotional confusion; the ambiguity of expression. If nothing else this is intriguing listening.

The subtle layers of delayed synth beeps and instrument samples in the opening "I'm Happy" are underpinned later by warm, dark double bass tones, and the gradual transformation of the drones maintains interest. It certainly doesn't sound particularly happy to me, but I'm sure Jim's being ironic. The sound sort of falls over itself, doubting where it's heading next; the only certainty is the repetition of the mournful strings.

The strings return in the concluding 'And a 1, 2, 3, 4', repeating over and over a mournful theme that is gently showered with digital static and manipulations. It unfolds over the course of aabout 20 minutes and makes for sad, wistful listening.

In between, 'And I'm Singing' is the most upbeat, unpredictable track, with bells, chimes and unidentifiable bloops tripping over one another and creating a rhythm that's almost groovy. It's also the track that I most itch to return to, trying to get my head around the jumps and starts of melody. Hell, it's almost pop, but of an extremely perverse kind.

Overall this is an enjoyable album, but not one for those expecting more Eureka or Insignificance. It's a challenging listen, but ultimately rewarding.

Copyright © 2002 Tim Clarke e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Jim O'Rourke articles/reviews: Insignificance, Simple Songs, The Visitor.

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