We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Jim O’Rourke: I’m Happy, And I’m Singing, And A 1,2,3,4 (Expanded Edition)
From his collaborations with Sonic Youth, to his abstract guitar improvisations, to his seemingly bottomless catalog of drone compositions, Jim O’Rourke has made a lot of records. However, if one were to name the quintessential O’Rourke LP, it would have to be I’m Happy, I’m Singing, And A 1,2,3,4. Originally released in 2001 by the Austrian electronic label Mego, “I’m Happy” was O’Rourke’s attempt at solo laptop composition, using an array of max/msp patches to generate heavilly textured compositions in the style of Brian Eno’s Discreet Music. But every major O’Rourke calling card is here—from his preferred instruments (acoustic guitar and accordion), to influences, to the music concrete-style trickery (are those strings, or synthesizers, or both?) that he employed so effectively on earlier compositions like Tamper. But what’s most striking is O’Rourke’s use of melody.
Laptop music at the time—and especially among his peers on the Mego label—was an extremely noisy pursuit. At the time, to listen to a record by Pita, the alias of Mego founder Peter Rheberg, was like plugging a dial-up modem into a marshal stack and sticking your head in front of the speaker cone. On I’m Happy, And I’m Singing, And A 1,2,3,4, O’Rourke brought a more directly musical sensibility to laptop music—he swept out the noise, and instead, concentrated on manipulating simple and harmonious sounds.
The record’s first track “I’m Happy” dices up organ and accordion figures, creating a blurry digital update of Terry Riley’s organ/tape piece “Poppy Nogood & the Phanton Band.” The final track, the somber 21-minute “And A 1,2,3,4,” uses string section samples of varying length to create a gradually shifting drone somewhat similar in spirit to Gavin Bryar’s “Sinking of the Titanic.” But O’Rourke’s voice is so present here that it’s easy to hear elements of “I’m Happy, And I’m Sining, And A 1,2,3,4” popping up in his other work, even with rock bands like Sonic Youth (Murray Street’s “Karen Revisited”) or Wilco (A Ghost is Born’s “Less Than You Think). Not just in the noisy parts, either.
This recent repressing, by Editions Mego, brings the album back into print for the first time in years with new cover art and a second disc of unreleased material. That new material is largely inessential—noisy asides that lack the coherence of the record’s original tracks. But those three compositions hold up remarkably well, and listening to them again, you can hear how their influence has come to bear on numerous contemporary records, in both the pop and electronic worlds. Most of all, it sums up what O’Rourke’s other work always suggested—that technology and musicality are not mutually exclusive.