Jim O'Rourke's 'Shutting Down Here' Favours Subtle Contemplation over Big Payoffs

BY John AmenPublished Aug 11, 2020

With Shutting Down Here, singer-songwriter, composer and former Sonic Youth member Jim O'Rourke elaborates on previous electronic forays, including 2018's Sleep Like It's Winter and 2001's I'm Happy and I'm Singing and a 1, 2, 3, 4, crafting soundscapes that explore the postagricultural, postindustrial and uber-synthetic nature of 21st century life. Comprised of a single 35-minute track, the first two-thirds of the project bring to mind Brian Eno's late '70s and early '80s gossamer templates and the spaciousness of Aphex Twin's early albums, with O'Rourke navigating ambient sounds both earthy and celestial, protean and futuristic, buoyant and contractive.

It's not until the third section of the work – from approximately the 24 minute mark until around the 32 minute mark, if you're keeping track – that the composition integrates distinctly melodic elements. Atsuko Hatano's textural violin and viola interweave with Eivind Lønning's languorous trumpet, one part Kind of Blue meets one part free jazz meets two parts avant-garde digitalia. Around the 29-minute mark, Eiko Ishibashi's Erik Satie-esque piano part enters the mix, surrounded by static alternately reminiscent of water and wind. The composition closes with the instrumentation fading into a feathery ambience, a motific return to the album's minimalistic opening.

Some listeners may regard Shutting Down Here as lacking in sublimity or sonic theatrics, the type of riveting evocations one encounters contemporarily with the music of Nicolás Jaar or the Soft Pink Truth. Shutting Down Here is indeed more subtly rendered, and O'Rourke is more interested in sustaining a low-grade tension than facilitating seismic conflicts and resolutions. In this way, his new album can be regarded as a sonic illustration of existential ambivalence, a fundamental and irresolvable human state that transcends cultural, social, and political trends. A committed listen to O'Rourke's latest iteration reveals the piece to be understatedly eloquent, its movements and progressions restrained yet effective.
(Portraits GRM)

Latest Coverage