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Jim O'Rourke's new cd on Mego is a powerbook affair that hints at classical composition. The 3 songs, "I'm Happy", "And I'm Singing", and "And A 1,2,3,4" were recorded live in New York, Osaka, and Tokyo. It's a very impressive listen that somehow fuses glitch aesthetics with Jim's songwriting sensibilities.

"I'm Happy"

The first track begins with the sort of glitchy sounds you'd expect to hear from a laptop composition. Tonal snippets dance about in a way that initially sound sloppy and choppy, but they slowly become locked into rhythmic patterns. The tonal mistakes actually sound very harmonious together and remind me of a Philip Glass piece: somewhat tense but uplifting.

Halfway through, a low cello-sounding tone begins to fill out the sound, adding some depth to the glitch-fest. The bass tones stretch out and change pitch in time with the music, giving the digital composition that chamber music feel. Everything sputters a bit towards the end, allowing the low notes to enjoy some brief movement, but the composition catches itself eventually and fades out nicely.

"And I'm Singing"

The first track, with its austere, malfunctioning melodies, is somewhat musically ambiguous. The sound source remains a mystery, and its application proves to be a challenging, modern approach to songwriting. However, the second track is more approachable. "And I'm Singing" is a rise-and-shine, strummy number that retains the previous track's digital tonality, but you'd swear there's a guitar in there somewhere.

This short little number has a lot going for it. It kicks off with the sound of tinkling alarm clocks, then quickly segues into equally tinkly piano-esque arpeggios. O'Rourke throws in some clanky percussion samples in the mix for a brief moment, again throwing the song into a brief sputter, then crescendos into a beautiful electronic composition on par with the best of Harmonia's back catalogue.

Somewhere under all of this, i swear, is the sound of an acoustic guitar. This sound holds the low end down while the digital melody is freaking out, then towards the end, makes itself known in a nice breakdown.

"And A 1,2,3,4"

The last track is the least melodic of the three. I guess you could call it ambient, but it more or less picks up where "I'm Happy" fades out. The low cello tones return, holding out their resonating notes and building upon the resultant mood as the track plays out. Some of the tones almost end in silence, adding brief moments of stillness and calm.

One wonders how well these songs translated in the live context, i.e., how much detail was lost, and how effective the soft touch of the last track was conveyed to a live audience.

All three of these songs are a testament to the potential of powerbook composition beyond the realm of chin-stroking experimentation. Jim O'Rourke's unique songwriting style somehow shines through the digital process, especially on "And I'm Singing," and it's equally amazing to me that he does so in such a contemporary way. Glitches, time-stretched breakdowns, and digital samples give his Mego cd the new-millenium stamp of approval, while effectively showcasing his unique brand of melody and composition.

- SK

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| February 2002 | Issue 23
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