Jim O’Rourke’s artistic life seems to have come full circle in recent times. As a child-prodigy composer, he ascended to relative fame in the early 90s through indispensable works like The Ground Below Above Our Heads (Entempfuhl), Tamper (Extreme) and Disengage (Staaltape/Korm Plastics), first snapshots of an acousmatic vision that remains unique to this day; trod a hundred paths constellated of out-of-the-ordinary guitar playing, laptop composition, top-rank improvisation and longstanding associations (Gastr Del Sol, Illusion Of Safety); traveled in the business class of modern rock with his participation in Sonic Youth while becoming an in-demand producer and a collaborator with the crème de la crème of minimalism (Niblock and Conrad, to name just two). In recent years, a lot of the Chicagoan’s early music has been released in various formats, which suggests that his erstwhile dissatisfaction with some of his old pieces has mellowed.
O’Rourke’s recent activity in the world of cinema and his current Japanese residence have now brought him to tackle yet another challenge that, in a way, meshes snippets of his whole career in a single disc. And although Corona was composed decades ago by Toru Takemitsu – himself a prolific composer of soundtracks – O’Rourke’s approach clearly affects the music, transforming it into a creature of his own. Scored for prepared piano, Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes electric piano, the two long segments are dissonant reflections broken by necessary gestural decisions. The sense of tension created by static organ clusters and piano resonance is magnified by spastic arpeggios, sudden irritations and abrasive detours that mostly take place in the piano’s innards, which O’Rourke seems to know like his own pockets. This intensely pregnant atmosphere forces the listener to repeatedly reconsider bits of sonic information, which at first seem peripheral, but later are revealed as fundamental elements of the piece. The recording seems to have been made on analog tape, as a little crossover is audible in the most rarefied sections on headphone listening; but really, the best way to appreciate the music’s interlocutory reverberations and heartstopping ruptures is by listening to it on a stereo with the speakers at medium-to-high volume. Either way, Corona remains an important chapter in O’Rourke’s career, as well as a notable addition to the list of recordings of Takemitsu’s work. But it is also a very elusive album that won’t reveal its shrouded beauty to the first comer.