Sunday, September 6, 2009

Jim O'Rourke: Once Insider, Now Outsider, and Liking It

The American producer and musician Jim O’Rourke, whose new album “The Visitor” was made in his home studio in Japan.

from the article,

Consisting of one 32-minute track, “The Visitor” took three years to make, including a year to mix. Mr. O’Rourke had exhausted his savings, and for one of those years, he said, he was prevented from earning an income in Japan because he didn’t have a work visa. (It finally came through early last year.) He lived off royalties from his past albums, some of which have sold upward of 50,000 copies in America.

“The Visitor” runs through chapters of folk, chamber-pop, progressive rock and jazz bucolia, and it’s crazily broad: a Leo Kottke fan might like it, a Pat Metheny fan might like it, a Morton Feldman fan might like it. As the piece moves along, holding together with its long-form logic, it can be difficult to discern that most of the music relates back to the album’s simple opening chords and theme. That theme develops through different rhythms and arrangements for an array of instruments — piano, pedal-steel guitar, organ, cello, banjo, clarinet — some of which he learned how to play for the purposes of this record.

The trombone, for example, which comes in after about 20 minutes, took six months of practice before Mr. O’Rourke could play the lines he’d written for it in a perfect take. (He kept a no-edit rule.) The trombone is mixed low, but it’s the loudest instrument he used; when he was ready to record it, he waited until his next-door neighbor left for her grocery run.

Mr. O’Rourke’s production style is precise and dry; he creates a sound picture in which tiny sonic details matter. But where his Drag City records are concerned, everything matters: the pacing, the length, the sound, the cover images. For this reason he won’t allow “The Visitor,” or any of his albums, to be sold as downloads, on iTunes or anywhere else. He’s taking a stand against the sound quality of MP3s; he’s also taking a stand in favor of artists being able to control the medium and reception of their work.

“You can no longer use context as part of your work,” he said, glumly, “because it doesn’t matter what you do, somebody’s going to change the context of it. The confusion of creativity, making something, with this Internet idea of democratization ...” he trailed off, disgusted. “It sounds like old-man stuff, but I think it’s disastrous for the possibilities of any art form.”


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