He's with the band 

Producer Jim O'Rourke and Sonic Youth make it official

Meet Jim O'Rourke, music lover. With as broad and eclectic a list of collaborators and projects as you're likely to find in modern music, the engineer/ producer/ multi-instrumentalist has the kind of pedigree that would make him the envy of any AKC member (were he a canine). He's explored both the avant-garde and the underground, playing with improvisational guitar heavyweights Derek Bailey and Henry Kaiser, sound collagist John Oswald, and ambient noise artists John Hampson (Main) and K.K. Null, along with a range of more traditional artists such as Red Krayola, Stereolab, Guided By Voices, Smog and David Grubbs (as a member of Gastr del Sol). Besides his prolific chops, O'Rourke has mixed and/or produced artists as disparate as Wilco, the Jesus Lizard, Superchunk, Kid Loco and the High Llamas.It's in this latter role that O'Rourke first worked with Sonic Youth, seemingly the perfect match for his fascination with experimentalism, guitar and drone. They apparently felt the same way, making him an official member with the release of their new album, Murray Street.

O'Rourke first encountered the band through guitarist Lee Ranaldo when the two worked on the 1998 release Clouds, with William Hooker. Given his background, O'Rourke must have seemed a natural to produce the next of Sonic Youth's instrumental releases on their SYR label. O'Rourke worked both on the free-jazz-inflected SYR3, and the follow-up Goodbye 20th Century (dedicated to the work of avant-garde composers John Cage, James Tenney and Christian Wolff, among others). And that might have been it, were it not for one thing.

"They were having trouble -- nobody wanted to play bass," says O'Rourke, describing how he was recruited onto his first "proper" Sonic Youth album, NYC Ghosts & Flowers. He joined them on tour, and was invited back for their next album.

"I didn't know exactly how it was going to go," he admits. "I had done all this other stuff with them, but I hadn't done writing from the ground up. So this was completely new to me."

Though O'Rourke is customarily humble about his contributions, his addition seems to have brought Sonic Youth into a new balance. The prickly, dissonant guitars that have characterized the band are still there. But on Murray Street, they're more subdued, and they don't overwhelm the compositions. The driving and melodic aspects are spread evenly throughout, enticing the listener into the subtle nooks and intricate crannies. Songs like "The Empty Page" unfold at a crisp, legato pace that places the album among the most enduringly beautiful works the band has ever recorded, with each subsequent listening unveiling more layers.

"Everyone has a very distinct way of playing," says O'Rourke. "It's a much more democratic, collaborative band situation than the ones I have experienced before."

While O'Rourke looks forward to a sustained relationship with Sonic Youth, he will continue to pursue his critically lauded solo work, the foundation of which is his interest in uniting disparate, competing elements and examining extra-musical considerations that bleed into a work.

"A lot of music is done with certain things accepted as rote. This equals this, do this, get this response -- it's all conditioning. I think it's important to question and draw attention to that," he says. "I can't do that as much on other people's stuff because that's my aesthetic."

True to his improvisational roots, O'Rourke isn't about to suggest what he'll do next. "Like most everything with me, I don't really plan things," he says. "I just do it."


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