The press-release accompanying Jim O’Rourke’s latest laptop exploration - I’m Happy, and I’m Singing, and a 1,2,3,4 - confidently and rightfully reminds that “The novelty is over – it’s time to get to work.” The recent proliferation of laptop-music artists, shows, and festivals has brought with them much of the easily forgettable music of the new millennium. If it weren’t for the inspired work of Kid 606’s deranged A.V. kids at Tigerbeat6, the melancholy musings of O’Rourke’s labelmate (and collaborator), Christian Fennesz, and a handful of others, the mere sight of a glowing apple would induce groans.
This being said, I’m Happy, and I’m Singing, and a 1,2,3,4 lives up to its bravado by drawing from and playing with a range of influence that goes far beyond the solipsistic world of electronic music. This should be no surprise to fans of O’Rourke’s recent string of releases for Drag City, each of which lovingly conjures up the sounds and methods that John Fahey, Charles Ives and Van Dyke Parks used in their radical, at times, dissonant variations on traditional pieces. However, gone is the buzz of acoustic guitar, the queasy bleat of horns, and the pop-song deconstruction that has come to characterize O’Rourke and many of his laptop contemporaries.
On the first track, “I’m Happy…” O’Rourke begins by using his laptop to expand upon the ideas brought up by Steve Reich’s early work with the phasing of tape loops. O’Rourke’s original recording of an accordion phrase becomes all but unrecognizable as it splinters, overlaps, pulses, and intensifies it into a shimmering digital cloud. As the track progresses, the playful experimentation is contrasted with the low-end drone of manipulated cellos building upon each other - just enough to fill the listener with a powerful sense of foreboding.
The second track “and I’m Singing,” opens with what sounds like a typewriter’s clicking or a clock’s ticking, and then stumbles into a complex wash of disembodied bells, chimes, and chopped-up synths that simultaneously recall John Cage’s prepared “Suite for Toy Piano” or Nobukazu Takemura’s digital lullabies. The feeling of innocence does not last long however, as the song free-associates to a snippet of musique concrete and then to digitized variations of the Vox organ and steady drumming reminiscent of the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray.” The Reichian repetitions hurl the track forward at breakneck speed, blending all these elements together and connecting the gaps between their dots in a smooth yet relentless display of affection for the narrative context that surrounds them.
The album closes with the 21-minute "And a 1, 2, 3, 4," in which O’Rourke sends the listener through the laptop’s building and rebuilding of melancholy string variations (recalling a less dissonant but more resonant version Ives’ “The Unanswered Question”). By this time O’Rourke has us right where he wants us to be, and the mood is excruciating....
By Daniel Dineen