In conversation with Jim O'Rourke recently, I mentioned how much I was digging the sound of his new LP, Hence, a duet with Oren Ambarchi, and a special guest named U-Zhaan. In typically O'Rourke-ian fashion he apologized for the way the album sounded, even though I'd just told him I thought it was great. Almost 15 years after his expatriation to Japan, O'Rourke remains antic and impenetrable. He is also one of the musical geniuses of our age, with an ear and sensibility so acute it's hard to think of anyone who is his equal. Perhaps the best, most easily accessed evidence of this is Jim's “Invisible Jukebox” blindfold test in issue #179 of The Wire. O'Rourke nails every selection with ecstatic ease, all the while performing physical comedy worthy of Buster Keaton (at least that's how Rob Young reported it). Jim demonstrates such an insane enthusiasm for sounds, you may start to wonder if this approach was a calculated reaction to the wildly abstract Derek Bailey blindfold test that had run the previous issue. But it's not. That's just Jim — a goddamn maniac for detailing. We should all be thankful he's still pumping out records, no matter how much he may attempt to downplay their worth.

When Jim does a song-based solo record, he tends to take his time. Bad Timing ('97), Eureka ('99), Insignificance ('01), The Visitor ('09) and Simple Songs ('15) all gestated for a while, but when they finally appeared, each brimmed with the sort of strange, brainiac qualities you only expect from artists like Van Dyke Parks or Jean-Claude Vannier. So the wait was always worth it. Some of O'Rourke's other recordings might seem relative toss-offs (at least in temporal terms), but I don't think there are many weak links in his massive discography. Can't claim to have heard 'em all, but the amazing breadth and sheer, brute quality of the work never fails to stun me when I really sit down and consider it.

The other major player on Hence is Australia's Oren Ambarchi. Although he'd been around for a while, we first became aware of him as a guitar noise champ during the early '90s with Australian band, Phlegm. Their CDs were anarchic post-skronk bleating, and when they stopped being, we were sad. Until we found out about their follow-up group — the Menstruation Sisters, whose post-tongue trio aktion really kinda fucked every hole in the room. Pretty amazing stuff. Just about the time the Sisters were beginning their (still intermittently ongoing?) reign of terror, Oren started recording solo as well. The Stacte series began with raw solo guitar improvisations run through electronics, and continues to this day in unusually mutating fashions. Ambarchi also began collaborating with various international explorers like turntablist Martin Ng and guitarist Keith Rowe. Lots of improv and drones also eventually led him to join Stephen O'Malley (and his peers) for adventures in the avant garde wing of the metal universe. His first documented collaboration with O'Rourke came on his 2002 album, Suspension, on which Jim and Tim Barnes collaborated on a chopped/channeled remix of a track called “All Acrostics.” And obviously O'Rourke and Ambarchi were on the same page, since the first release on Oren's newly-formed label, Black Truffle (which replaced his earlier Jerker Productions), was Tima Formosa, a live trio CD with Oren, Jim and Haino blasting down the walls of a Tokyo venue.

This 2009 event is one that has been repeated more or less on an annual basis, resulting in a string of amazing trio LPs: In a Flash Everything Comes Together As One There is No Need for a Subject (2011), Imikuzushi (2012), Now While It's Still Warm Let Us Pour In All the Mystery (2013), Only Wanting to Melt Beautifully Away Is It a Lack of Contentment That Stirs Affection for Those Things Said to Be as of Yet Unseen (2014), Tea Time for Those Determined to Completely Exhaust Every Bit of This Body They've Been Given (2015), I Wonder If You Noticed “I'm Sorry” Is Such a Wonderful Sound It Keeps Things from Getting Worse (2016), and This Dazzling, Genuine "Difference" Now Where Shall It Go? (2017). All of them are on Black Truffle and are mind-bleedingly intense gouts of improv madness. Jim told me that during their last trio gig he broke all his bass strings during the course of the evening. Who could ask for better testimony to SHEER GUT POWER?

Credit: Mike Kubeck

Interspersed with these thunderous live sessions, Jim and Oren also began doing duo recordings for Mego. The first was released as Indeed (2011), a wonderful piece of electro-acoustic assemblage. You may be able to tell who's doing what, but I can't. The long single piece (broken into two sides) moves like a beautiful slithering snake that sounds as though it's capable of squeezing tall buildings in its coils, collapsing them with a crunch and a jingle. There are traces of MEV (Musica Elettronica Viva) and other such aleatory ensembles in the music, collaging some parts together, moving others around like slabs of bacon on a three-dimensional chessboard. But the whole thing is weirdly pleasant for such a refined endeavor. And highly recommended.

The second installment in this series is Behold (2015). Again, there is one piece broken in twain, but this time the sides have more distinctively different personalities. The first is a pan of altered field recordings blended into a swoosh of electronics, feedback arcs, tiny raga figures, and various other slow-wound sound clusters. As layered as a properly-made scallion pancake, the music moves in all directions simultaneously. The second side begins with a series of rising tones crossing, then segues into long rhythmic sprongs backed by Heldon-like figures. A motorik pulse arises, Jim kicks in on piano and everything falls into a stream that is starting to go out of control. The headrush is gorgeous. And then, like a puff of smoke, it's gone.

The latest offering is Hence. On this one, Jim and Oren host a special guest, U-Zhaan. U-Zhaan (aka Hironori Yuzawa) is a tabla player first associated with some of Japan's psychedelic outfits. His earliest known associations with O'Rourke and Ambarchi date to 2014 when he appeared on Eiko Ishibashi's Car and Freezer album (produced and then some by O'Rourke) and again on Ambarchi's Quixotism LP (which also features O'Rourke). On Hence he is a driving presence, providing a pulsing (somewhat hippie-esque) ground for the others to move across. The music up top is equal parts drone and chop. The synth tones and rippling guitar shards feel altered or cut up, but it's not clear they are. There's a kind of organic propulsion (enhanced by the tablas) that makes it feel as though everything is moving towards a soft climax of some sort. Which it is. The second side makes me think a bit of Areski Belkacem's way of using the tabla, which turns my brain in a French direction. Meaning, I hear shards of Vincent Le Masne's Guitares Dérive, John Livengood's organ surges and other splats of the French free-prog you find on labels like Futura and Pole (some of which has been reissued by the great Souffle Continu). When you listen to the production sound, the clarity is so advanced you know this ain't some lost '70s session, but it works in the same sort of way. Drifting and piercing in equal measures. Just an astounding slab of sonics.

So I don't care what O'Rourke says. Hence is a stone motherfucker.

Byron Coley, November 2018

Oren Ambarchi & Jim O’Rourke with special guest U-Zhaan - Hence

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