Disappearance is a recurring theme in this month’s issue of The Wire.
In The Boomerang, Richard Pinnell reappraises Morton Feldman and Samuel Beckett’s ‘anti-opera’ Neither, in which these two grandmasters of the art of disappearing conspire to bring word and music to the point of extinction in one fell swoop.
On the cover, Zomby hides behind a mask to preserve the anonymity that in part protects him from disappointed fans and exasperated promoters after one of his notorious no-shows. More significantly, writes Lisa Blanning, Zomby’s anonymity “feels like a stratagem” that permits him to engage with the outside world on his own terms – like only talking to journalists through electronic interfaces such as iChat. Breaking cover for his first-ever face-to-face interview, Zomby touches on the deeper reasons for keeping his face out of the frame and freeing the music from the cult of personality.
Jim O’Rourke no doubt had many reasons for moving to Japan in 2006, but you get the impression he’s not at all unhappy that, from a Western perspective, he might just as well have disappeared from the face of the Earth.
His ‘disappearance’ is remarked upon in The Primer – the reappearance of which is long overdue. For any number of reasons – well, OK, lame excuses – one of the magazine’s most popular features had slipped off the editorial radar, and might well have stayed out there in limbo a lot longer, if writer Yusef Sayed hadn’t pitched to us his desire to pick through O’Rourke’s ever-growing discography and pull out the key recordings from the various fields this omni-musician has been operating in since his early, youthful discoveries of the joys of wrong noises while messing with tapes and amplifiers and disobeying his guitar tutors.
Assessing O’Rourke’s formidable catalogue is a massive undertaking, rendered even more difficult by the knowledge that excluding any one disc runs the risk of shutting down discussion on an important chapter of his lifework.
When O’Rourke ended his run as the fifth member of Sonic Youth and moved to Japan, his absence quickly filled with rumours that he had retired from music, or that he’d left music to make films. Well, as Yusef’s research makes clear, far from slowing down or stopping altogether, O’Rourke has continued making records and performing with artists and musicians from across a spectrum of Noise, ad-hoc Improv, Japanese art song and more. He has also acted on his love of film, soundtracking United Red Army, Koji Wakamatsu’s coolly observed and harrowing account of a group of militant activists descending from 1960s idealism into outlaw terrorism, infighting and murder.
It would be absurd to claim any single disc could truly encapsulate O’Rourke’s philosophy of music in its entirety, yet each one is somehow fully inscribed with the aesthetic shaping the whole of it. On first listening, his United Red Army soundtrack is not the most promising entry point. The disc opens with a listless rock jam, like something you might have heard a Z-grade Pink Fairies tribute group play at a free festival in 1970, unspooling flat, colourless guitar lines over perfunctory timekeeper boogie. Once it has rendered you uncomfortably numb, however, you begin to hear it differently, as a fascinating exposure of the mechanics of rock that reminds you why you love this stuff, even as it is laid out bare in front of you.
And as functional music underscoring the utopian dream of 1960s Japanese radicals warping into a fascist nightmare with murder in its eyes, it is perfect. Chris Bohn
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Issue 330 August 2011 £4 ISSN 0952-0680
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Words Steve Barker, Mike Barnes, Clive Bell, Marcus Boon, Michael Bracewell, Nick Cain, Philip Clark, Byron Coley, Julian Cowley, Alan Cummings, Sam Davies, Brian Dillon, Phil England, Kodwo Eshun, Mark Fisher, Phil Freeman, Louise Gray, Andy Hamilton, Adam Harper, Jim Haynes, Richard Henderson, Ken Hollings, Hua Hsu, David Keenan, Rahma Khazam, Biba Kopf, Tim Lawrence, Alan Licht, Dave Mandl, Marc Masters, Bill Meyer, Keith Moliné, Will Montgomery, Brian Morton, Joe Muggs, Alex Neilson, Andrew Nosnitsky, Ian Penman, Richard Pinnell, Edwin Pouncey, Nina Power, Simon Reynolds, Nick Richardson, Tom Ridge, Bruce Russell, Peter Shapiro, Chris Sharp, Philip Sherburne, Nick Southgate, Daniel Spicer, Joseph Stannard, David Stubbs, Dave Tompkins, David Toop, Dan Warburton, Val Wilmer, Barry Witherden, Matthew Wuethrich
Images Thomas Adank, Jon Baker, Florian Braun, Leon Chew, Perienne Christian, Tara Darby, Jonathan de Villiers, Glen Erler, Jason Evans, Estelle Hanania, Jessica Haye & Clark Hsiao, Brad Harris, Pieter Hugo, Drew Jarrett, Jak Kilby, Seba Kurtis, Kalpesh Lathigra, Armin Linke, Mark Mahaney, Joss McKinley, Donald Milne, Chris Mottalini, Manfred Naescher, Niall O’Brien, Fergus Padel, Leonie Purchas, Shawn Records, Savage Pencil, Michael Schmelling, Mathew Scott, Bryan Sheﬃeld, Wolfgang Tillmans, Viktor Timofeev, Daniëlle van Ark, Eva Vermandel, Muir Vidler, Kai von Rabenau, Jake Walters, Jeremy & Claire Weiss, Henk Wildschut