I had heard Jim O'Rourke, a member of Illusion of Safety, was playing a gig at the Heinz Afterworld Lounge in Oakland. It was billed as an evening of solos, duos and trios with Henry Kaiser and Bruce Anderson (MX-80). His performance of solo prepared guitar was really amazing, one of many great memories from the now-defunct Heinz. Luckily, I was able to track Jim down a few days before the show and talk with him on January 27, 1992.
Tell me a little about the Illusion of Safety CD Historical.
Jim: These are all things we did in the past year or so. Most of it is Dan Burke, the group leader. But on every track, there are guests from the other people in the band. I'm on one track, "Autoprotect," except for the first two tracks where it's like one big piece where everybody is on. Otherwise, it is Dan and some member. "Autoprotect" is all car sounds that we just manipulated using a computer.
Oh, wow, I would have never known. That's a really nice ambient piece.
One real interesting thing about this CD is the packaging job.
Jim: I don't like it.
It's this big leather pouch with the name of the band branded in the leather and the CD is held in place by a .22 caliber bullet.
Jim: Oh, you got the bullet with yours! They actually shipped bullets from the Netherlands here.
I wonder if there is no powder in...
Jim: No, they are real bullets. It's really stupid, I think...and no better reason to kill a cow than for a CD cover.
JIM O'ROURKE PHOTO: Gail Butensky
I've always wondered about Illusion of Safety. I have a few of their releases, but there is always a real limited amount of information in the liner notes.
Jim: Usually, it is fake too.
Jim: On a few of the releases, Dan put fake information about who is on it and all that. It's sort of his little joke.
So it's mostly Dan.
Jim: Yeah, it's mostly Dan Burke. Certain people can do certain things. Two of the members were in a band called Cheer Accident, which is the best rock band on the planet.
Illusion of Safety has been around since 1984. How long have you been with them?
Jim: The band started off with another band called Dot Dot Dot, which had two members who are also in...well, Dot Dot Dot turned into Cheer Accident. Dan Burke met up with Dot Dot Dot, which was sorta like this jazz-improv-fusion thing. They used to do improvisations with sound as more the object, and bit by bit he then started Illusion of Safety with two other friends. The original lineup is Dan, Mitch Enderle, Mark Klein, Mark Sorensen and the two guys from Cheer Accident. Dan heard me four years ago doing the guitar thing that I do, and asked me to open for Illusion of Safety about three and a half years ago. So I opened for him and later he asked me to join. So from then on I just sort of...for a while I was really heavily into it because...uh, I hadn't started to do what I wanted to do on my own yet. This was a way for me to get out and play and do things...
Being out in a live environment?
What kind of guitar thing was he seeing you do? Was it solo work?
Jim: Yeah, a lot of solo prepared guitar. I had just started doing it in public. He saw it and wanted me to do it with them. Which is funny, because after three years we still haven't done a show where I play prepared guitar. I'll bring it, and have it all set up, and then we'll start playing and I'll walk off to a corner and start playing a chair or something. 'Cause I don't want to do it.
Jim: He's never gotten me to do it yet after three years.
So you think you might be playing it this Thursday at the Heinz Afterworld Lounge?
Jim: Oh yeah. I'll probably be doing it there. (pause) I'll have to. (laughs)
There is a disc on Victo that is a duo of you and Henry Kaiser entitled 'Tommorrow Never Knows Where You Live.' What brought you two together to start recording?
Jim: We met at a festival in England called Company Week, which is put together by Derek Bailey, another guitarist. Derek asked me to play there because he met me in Chicago. Of course, he knew Henry, because...he's Henry. A week before the festival, Derek gave Henry my number, we got together and we liked what each other did. So when I got back, we got together a few months later to do this.
You've done other collaborations as well. There was one with K.K. Null.
Jim: That one is a cassette and we have a CD that's gonna be out. I don't know when because...for technical reasons it isn't done [ed. note: the CD is now available from Charnel House]. But it's just guitar duets. Although in that case, it isn't really a duet because he sends me tapes of his guitar sounds and I'll multi-track stuff. It isn't literally a duet. There'll be more than two guitars, y'know, 'cause I use multi-track tape. On the cassette tape that's out, the one that he put out, I think mostly it's duets. But, um, on this new CD there is a lot of stuff where I...it's more like we just use guitars for the sound source, instead of trying to do a guitar thing. So it's more of a textural electronic thing, even though all the sound sources are guitars. [ed. note: this CD ended up being guitar duets]
Right, so you manipulate it and create...
Jim: No, it's only manipulated by mixing them together in such a way...and EQ'ing them. But nothing like any effects. I try to keep away from effects.
So on the album with Henry Kaiser, there aren't any effects?
Jim: Well, not on my guitar. Henry has his effects...like, the Henry effects. But I use things ON the guitar. Henry basically plays it with his fingers and a pick. I do a lot of things where I put...I'll use bows and pieces of metal and a letter opener and...
I saw Null solo live once and he does things like hitting the back of the guitar and the back of the neck in ways to create sounds like that. The disc that you and Null recorded, was that more of an ambient sound?
Jim: Very much so. Definitely more ambient.
...so it was away from the usual Null crushing...
Jim: Oh, definitely. He's never done anything like this before. Everybody who hears it finds it hard to believe it's him. 'Cause he's actually very good at making very...I don't want to say pleasant, good textural music. He's actually quite good at it. Most people know him for going crazy with the amp, y'know.
Did you say you had heard some YBO^2 which is a little less bombastic?
Jim: Yeah, it's not as bombastic as his Zeni Geva stuff, but it is a little bit noisier. And then, um...I'm in a group called Organum, the English group.
You are! I didn't know that.
Jim: That's another collaboration, and then...
You seem to be in a lot of collaborations. Do you prefer that as a way of working?
Jim: Yeah, 'cause then I don't hate it. If it's my thing, I hate it. If it's someone else's, then I can live with it.
Jim: I met David Jackman, the guy who is Organum, through some of the guys in AMM--the English improvisational group. Eddie Prevost, the drummer in AMM has worked with him. David became friends with him during the early AMM times. I met him through that. So I do that too. I do the guitar thing. Most of things that have come out in the past year, and everything that is coming out from now on, is co-produced between me and David.
Gettin' equal billing then (laughs).
Jim: I do. But he doesn't bill anybody at all.
I know. There is no information on the records.
Jim: Do you have that clear seven-inch, Iuel/Wolf ?
Yeah, I do.
Jim: We did that two years ago in England. And there is a new 12" he just put out, which is old stuff with the New Blockaders. That's really noisy. And then there's another double album coming out, stuff we recorded two years ago and a few months ago.
Wow, a lot of stuff coming out all at once. And you have your own solo CD 'Tamper.'
Jim: It's all composed music. Like stuff I've written. All of the instruments are acoustic. I record everything to multi-track tape. A lot of it has to do with the way I mix the instruments in order to get the resultant sound. It isn't like a live recording of a chamber ensemble, 'cause the pieces couldn't be done that way. A lot of it has to do with where I put the instruments in the stereo picture. A lot of it has to do with the way I mix it. Otherwise, they are normal scored pieces.
On 'Tamper' how many players were there on the track "Ascend through unspoken shadow?"
Jim: There were 8 bass clarinets, 8 bass trombones, 8 cellos and 4 violins. That's what it was scored for.
And you did all the mixing?
Jim: Yeah. I recorded it at DePaul University. I was finishing up my bachelor's degree there last year . I recorded it in their really crappy studio and managed to make it sound halfway decent. I couldn't get that many musicians to play the stuff right, so I had to multi-track the one musician I could trust on each instrument. And then mix that down and put that on and...it was hell.
It's a really nice piece. I like the way it came out.
Don't you have a few other discs that are going to be available soon?
Jim: I'm going to have another solo guitar CD on Extreme. They just came out with a compilation called X-X Section. I have a small piece on there. There should be two Organum things this year...and another CD on La Legendes des Voix. *
Jim O'Rourke Discography
(as of summer 1993)
The Ground Below Above Our Heads LP (1991, Entenpfuhl EMM LP03)
Tamper CD (1991, Extreme XCD 009)
X-X Section CD compilation (1991, Extreme XCD 010)
Scend CD (1992, Divided DIV01)
Remove The Need CD (1993, Extreme XCD 018)
Disengage dbl-CD (Staaltape, STCD048)
Rules of Reduction CD (Metamkine)
X-X Section CD (1991, Extreme XCD 010)
Frontieres CD (1992, La Legendes Des Voix)
HENRY KAISER & JIM O'ROURKE
Tomorrow knows where you live CD (1991, Victo CD014)
Quartet (upcoming CD release)
Passed Normal 4 CD (Fot Records, CD One)
No Smoking Littering or Radio Playing CD (WNUR/Cargo)
KAZAYUKI K. NULL & JIM O'ROURKE
Neuro Eco Media cassette (Nux-20)
New Kind of Water CD (1993, Charnel House CHCD-6)
EDDIE PREVOST & JIM O'ROURKE
Third Straight Day Made Public CD (1993, Complacency CPCD 9302)
with ILLUSION OF SAFETY
Historical CD (1991, Staalplaat)
Probe CD (1992, Staalplaat)
Cancer CD (1992, Tesco 008)
The False Mirror 7" (1993, State of Flux)
"Iuel" b/w "Wolf" 7" (Dom)
"Aeo" b/w "Shining Star" 7" (Dolphin)
Delta CD (upcoming)
with GASTR DEL SOL
Food and drink synthesizer 7" (4AD/Teenbeat)
Mimyriad CD (Streamline)