Jim O’Rourke Old News #6

[Editions Mego; 2011]

Styles: experimental, musique concrète, analog synth/laptop music
Others: Christian Zanési, Pierre Schaeffer, Fennesz, Oren Ambarchi

Old News #6 is the second release in a “nearly regular” series of vinyl albums documenting analog synth and tape works “from the depths of Jim O’Rourke’s archive.” But where Old News #5 was retrospective in orientation, covering some 20 years of output across its four tracks, #6 zooms right in on the present. The album comprises a single piece entitled “All That’s Cold Is New Again.” It was commissioned in part by Christian Zanési, a French composer and former student of Pierre Schaeffer, and recorded in studio by O’Rourke between 2009 and 2011 in Tokyo, where he’s now, of course, a resident.

Idiomatically and in terms of sonic palette, the record’s in a pretty similar ballpark to “It’s Not His Room Anymore” off the last release, which was recorded in Japan in the same period with, seemingly, a comparable studio setup. But the most obvious point of difference with “All That’s Cold Is New Again” is that, unlike any of the recordings on Old News #5, it incorporates ‘found sound’ in and among all the electronics: the slow wash of water, tolling bells, the gentle rumbling of traffic, children playing, the briefest snippets of conversation, as if caught accidentally from a passer-by.

In general, this works really well. Indeed, O’Rourke’s deployment of overtly musical sounds in particular create some of the album’s most interesting moments. A solo piano will occasionally intervene, say, buried under a layer of decay and fuzz, and pushed back in the mix beneath the faintly menacing drone of O’Rourke’s synth. And the effect is really quite dramatic. In the wake of all the meandering and (mostly) atonal electronics, it’s genuinely difficult not to hear these passages as moments of attempted resolution or even, dare I say it, ‘humanity’ in the face of all the Cold, bloodless, ‘machinic’ sonics.

I appreciate that this is a bit of a cliché, of course: electronics — and particularly of the non-melodic sort — as the necessary counterpart to every good sci-fi dystopia. But I think it says a lot about the ghettoization of these sorts of sounds in the contemporary audioscape, thanks to the likes of the BBC’s famous Radiophonic Workshop, that they can be so hard to hear any other way. This simply is what outerspace sounds like, isn’t it?

Whether or not you want to hear the melodies here as memories — of humanity? of earth? of a simpler past? — desperately trying to push through into the mix, they certainly do produce an uncanny effect. And that’s very much to O’Rourke’s credit. Old News #6 is an engaging, powerful listen. And besides, there’s much more to this record than the found sounds anyway. This is another excellent release in an excellent series. If it weren’t for the fact that it’s already sold out (and moreover has been for some time), I’d highly recommend that you get your hands on it. Such are the (necessary?) politics of dissemination, I guess, in a digiconomy where scarcity — along with mystique and some of the old pleasures of hardcore fandom — can be virtually impossible to manufacture.

Links: Jim O'Rourke - Editions Mego


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