Name: Jim O'Rourke
Occupation: Performer, composer, producer
Current release: Jim O'Rourke's Additive Inverse, a collaboration with Jos Smolders, is out September 17th via Moving Furniture.
If these thoughts by Jim O'Rourke piqued your interest, visit his steamroom bandcamp account (which collects performances recorded at the Steamroom in Tokyo) or his Jim O'Rourke bandcamp account (which focusses on the studio albums under his own name) for more music.
Tell me about your instrument and/or tools, please.
For about the last ten years my main tools are Kyma for programming / dsp and Pro Tools 9 that just acts as a replacement for a tape multitrack. I still use the Serge Modular and nord modular a lot, but have moved more and more towards doing everything in kyma.
How would you describe the relationship with it?
What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results and your own performance?
With Kyma, it is basically just limited to whatever I can do, essentially, so it keeps me studying, keeps me heading into areas of study that I may have not known before. So it is simultaneously a great student and a great teacher.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
I’ll tell a story that pretty much sums it up.
I had a professor in college who was a great pianist, with incredible technical skills, and his pieces were quite interesting, and to my ears at the time, approached areas of reintegrating material in ways that reminded me of Cecil Taylor. I told him that, and a few months later, he went to a solo cecil Taylor concert. During our next lesson, he expressed his admiration, but added “If he would only just sit down and write it out so he could refine it …”
I never learned very much from that professor ...
Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?
Derek was of course extremely insightful, and stuck to his guns. Repetition has in particular been an area I like, not in the rhythmic/pulse sense, but using material from before, making a reference which also provides a frame for transformation. Masahiko Sato is particularly good at this.
Purportedly, John Stevens of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble had two basic rules to playing in his ensemble: (1) If you can't hear another musician, you're playing too loud, and (2) if the music you're producing doesn't regularly relate to what you're hearing others create, why be in the group. What's your perspective on this statement and how, more generally, does playing in a group compare to a solo situation?
I would agree wholeheartedly with his first statement. Not to disagree with his second statement, but looking at improvisation in that way doesn’t allow for the possibilities of collage or even downright antagonism, which was in full evidence in may Stevens/Bailey duos. So I think his words may have been reduced a bit in nuance ...
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind for your improvisations and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I don’t believe in the idea of “creativity”, that’s all outside social/reflective stuff and frankly doesn’t interest me. To me, it’s about the work, and the work needed to continue the work. So, I just get up every day and work.
Can you talk about how your decision process works in a live setting?
It of course depends on each show, and I have only done 2 shows in the past 4 years, and both of those were made for the places in mind.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
Performance is the one aspect that I have to approach differently every time: Where is it, the context, the presentation. (this is in regards to my own shows). In improvisation, you sit down and start playing (or waiting) (laughs).
How is playing live in front of an audience and in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally?
Not the same at all, the whole sense of time is different. Live, you are on the train, whether you want to be or not … studio time is an hour, one, day week, maybe years ...
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I couldn’t possibly think of anything I have made that way, but there are a few that have been, I guess, punctuation marks.
Of my own things, "Scend", I’m happy and I’m singing, "Happy days", and "The visitor". A Ghost is Born, The Dream my Bones Dream, and Knock Knock are three records I produced that I feel as happy as I can be about.
In a way, improvisations remind us of the transitory nature of life. What, do you feel, can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I’m not sure that it does …it is probably only those rare moments of connection, which are different for everyone, with their life and context unique to them, and I’m not sure that I can say that something is different, when it already is at that level of difference for everyone.
I know, for example, of an edit on a record I love, it means the world to me, but I have friends who have no idea what I am talking about, (laughs), so...