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Jim O’Rourke - Tamper / Mimidokodesuka

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Artist: Jim O’Rourke

Album: Tamper / Mimidokodesuka

Label: Drag City

Review date: May. 23, 2008

These two albums inaugurate a Drag City Jim O’Rourke reissue series. Tamper dates from 1991, while Mimidokodesuka, previously only issued in Japan, from 2006. If you came to O’Rourke via Gastr Del Sol, Murray Street, Loose Fur, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or O’Rourke’s own Nic Roeg trilogy, you’ve got your work cut out for you. These two records are several leaps away from anything on that list… and even further away from each other. Lest anyone were in any doubt, they amply demonstrate the huge breadth of O’Rourke’s music, as well as his roots in free improvisation and experimental music.

Tamper (originally released on the Australian Extreme label) compiles three O’Rourke pieces he wrote while getting his degree in composition. One of O’Rourke’s intentions was to make ‘acoustic’ instrumental music through imaginative mixing and mic’ing. In this, he succeeds; it’s frequently impossible to decide if the sounds one hears are electronically or acoustically produced, much less identify the instruments. So, although “He Felt The Patient Memory Of A Reluctant Sea” opens with eight oboe parts constantly cross-faded together, smoothing out their attacks and decays, they actually create a sustained drone. Likewise, on “Ascend Through Unspoken Shadow,” O’Rourke achieves the effect of eight bass clarinets, eight bass trombones, eight cellos and four violins. The resulting taped parts were painstakingly edited together by O’Rourke; he claims that no splice lasts for more than twenty seconds. I say “claims” not to doubt his veracity, but because the listening experience makes it barely credible; the instruments fade in and out seamlessly, frequently creating a modulated drone effect that at times could come from a didgeridoo. Throughout its 13 minutes, the pitch is constantly rising, from bass trombones at the start to high violin notes at the end, giving the whole a sense both of drama and menace.

The opener, “Spirits Never Forgive” starts with a prolonged period of barely-audible low-intensity sound before building into a synthesised drone, the only non-acoustic sound on the record – it would be right at home on an Erstwhile Records release. Indeed, the most striking thing about the whole of Tamper is how contemporary it sounds. It sounds better than most recent drone releases, despite dating 17 years ago. Collegiate O’Rourke was way ahead of his time.

Mimidokodesuka (meaning “Where’s my ear?”) features the guitar-bass-drums trio Osorezan, consisting of O’Rourke, Darin Gray and Chris Corsano. O’Rourke put the trio together especially for the visit to Japan, and it was recorded live at the Pit Inn in Tokyo in 2005. He and Gray have a long history together, which reportedly started with O’Rourke asking, “Do you like Derek Bailey?” That question signals a shared interest in improv, which makes up most of Mimidokodesuka, but here it’s filtered through an affinity for rock music. Typical is the central section of “All We Know So Far,” a sustained three-way collective improvisation that owes as much to Cream as to Bailey, with all three players going flat out, before a more subdued and contemplative final passage. Corsano is vital to the mood; he generates a propulsive rhythmic barrage that drives the guitar and bass forward, brooking no argument. When added to O’Rourke’s high-energy torrent, the results are pure adrenalin and fully justify the recording’s accompanying instruction to “play it loud” ... or, rather, “PLAY IT LOUD.” (An instruction too often used inappropriately elsewhere, but here fully justified.) But none of the three pieces here is simple, unbridled thrash improv. Each has its own clear, dramatic curve, the full-on sections being well contrasted with more reflective passages.

If you are looking for ethno-musicological Americana, look elsewhere. Looking for high-energy free improvisation and experimentation? Stick around. On this showing, the reissue series promises to be eclectic, unpredictable, highly listenable and great fun.

By John Eyles

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