The most intriguing recordings today blur boundaries among design, impulse, and happenstance, leaving us wondering which sounds were planned as opposed to captured or encountered. On It’s Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry, a joint album by Jim O’Rourke and Christian Fennesz, technological fluency channels emotional nuance in a performance that makes definitions of these terms moot.
“I Just Want You to Stay” and “Wouldn’t Wanna Be Swept Away,” the two tracks that comprise the album, are driven by purposeful movements of pitch — contrapuntal passages and meandering microtonal fluctuations alike. Heavily effected guitar melodies complement sustained ambient beds, producing what sounds like a high-fidelity rendering of something washed out. Sounds are diffused into every crease, crack, and crevice of the soundscape. Textures waver between the abstract and the programmatic, hinting freely at a range of physical sources: video games, ocean echos, apartment pipes, the resonances of our inner ear.
I would have loved to witness this music’s making, both to feel the original crashing of the music’s waves coming at me and to peer into its process of production. Wild glissandi loping in nimble exchange with one another recall the expansive improvisations on Bill Frisell’s Silent Comedy (2013), about which Frisell was careful to note: “All music improvised in real time with no overdubbing.” Here, there is no such indication, but we do sense that the performance similarly unfolded spontaneously in time, even as the melodic motifs — which come and go and return again — suggest premeditation. As Bill Callahan once put it, “All music is improvised, just at different speeds.”
With artists as active as O’Rourke and Fennesz, every album feels like a brief snapshot of an ongoing experiment. It’s Hard For Me to Say I’m Sorry feels brief, too, but it’s still highly allusive and transportive, dense and beautiful, like a field recording without a field.