Being absolutely honest, Jim O’Rourke, (alongside John Cage) have been constant features since what I’d consider to be my creative birth. That birth happened around the time I started art school in the mid 90’s and it’s easy to tie together all sorts of stories, events and inspirations in my life since then through both their sprawling and uncompromising discographies.
As far as O’Rourke is concerned, I still remember the absolute delight of the bleeping door of an Aberdeen bus syncing with part of Cede on Terminal Pharmacy. That same broke student, being 10p short of the asking price of a CD the day Eureka came out but finding a forgotten 10p coin in a phone box outside Fopp on Byers Road in Glasgow. Once I’d even managed to zone out on a post party listen in the Scottish Highlands, to Disengage, cosy in my sleeping bag, only to realise this new section I’d apparently discovered deep in the night was in fact the unending droning’s of the hosts fridge. Even the engagement ring my wife designed for me as a surprise proposal was based on a Gastr Del Sol track.
Like many others, O’Rourke is never far from our ears. Perhaps as a reflection on the way we consume music, and his hunger to create it, the pace of releases has continued at almost a blur. More recently, I lost weeks in the huge knotted space of To Magnetize Money And Catch A Roving Eye, and still can’t quite get over how beautiful Sleep Like It’s Winter is. And of course, randomly, what feels like every month, another volume of Steamroom drops from the heavens. The next release in that series will be the 50th in a project that’s less that 7 years old!
Despite what at time feels like a creative avalanche, the quality of all these releases is superbly high and maps out a whole universe in delicate variants of interstellar drones and extended electronic abstraction. O’Rourke recently stated he’s not a musician so it’s easy to see these ongoing voyages as a process where the journey is as important as any sense of destination. Sound as a question rather than as an answer.
So, during the assumed very short window that this remains his newest release Shutting Down Here, it’s one that similarly reflects over a fairly huge spread of events. This concise 35-minute piece configures two sessions, 30 years apart, that O’Rourke undertook at one of the most revered temples of experimental electronics – the GRM studio in Paris.
Quite what parts are old and new is difficult to say and perhaps not important. Fragments of piano, violin, viola and trumpet colour and form crusts over rising and falling slabs of electronic bedrock. After the misty slow pan through a swamp in the opening minutes, the music expands out with ragged tendrils into a stringed theme. A huge dramatic panorama expands then instantly folds into a corkscrewing, squealing atom. The listener is linking between the micro and macro, the alien and familiar like a chain of infinite Venn diagrams…
There are parts that feel like a revisit through the mangled roots of Flat Without A Back or the spine of Rules of Reduction. Even the ghost of The Visitor after it’s been sanded away for centuries hangs in the spaces. Everything smoothly morphing into something else or bouncing in and out of nowhere. 10 minutes in and that warm organ swell with corroded acid etching electronics gives way to a hugely surging beauty of Sinking Of The Titanic strings.
Shutting Down Here never sits anywhere for long, some elements hesitate in the background revealing a whole other universe of possibilities. Imagine a sonic needle in a haystack, moving 1mm in any direction creating a whole new bundle of relationships. The quieter expanses allow you time to imagine the frankly obscene complexity dripping off everything. The continual gentle slices of reality through the instrumentation keeps a human aspect seeping through. The sensitive smudged ghostliness of the piano in the closing minutes is bizarre, beautiful and deeply filmic.
In the short time we have listened to Shutting Down Here, it’s also immediately obvious that this isn’t an album just listen to, and then leave. It’s one to loop for a chunk of your day and as the sleeve instructs “Due to the wide dynamic levels, please adjust your volume accordingly”. The quiet bits are thick and syrupy, the dynamic parts are brain tingling, sharp and vectored. Each listen feels like a dense unveiling, each time picking out new signposts and buried treasure in the drizzle.
O’Rourke’s hugely prolific output is undoubtedly daunting but it’s clear that whatever historical, thematic or conceptual elements are going on with this album it feels hugely concentrated and significant. It’s both a primer for the curious and an absolute wonder for those already caught in his remarkable and unique tractor beam…
Shutting Down Here is out today on GRM Portraits