American post-classical composer Jim O'Rourke has been a key component in the increasing overlap of the American and European experimental music avant-garde, working in everything from jazz and rock to ambient and electro-acoustic, and building many a bridge in between. A Chicago native, his work has found equal luck with experimental jazz and noise fanatics, chill room denizens, and bedroom experimentalists, and has had the resultant effect of cross-pollinating many otherwise isolated compositional communities. Dealing most often with prepared guitar in improvisational group settings, O'Rourke has also released a fair bit of material as a soloist, although more often in the electro-acoustic musique concrète vein. He's collaborated with such contemporary improv heroes as Derek Bailey, Henry Kaiser, Eddie Prevost, and Keith Rowe (of English improv group AMM), KK Null, David Jackman (Organum), and early Krautrock experimentalists Faust. O'Rourke is also engaged in an ongoing exploration of experimental rock as a member of Gastr del Sol, who've released albums through the Teen Beat and Table of the Elements labels. Beginning with guitar at the age of six, it wasn't until his collegiate career at DePaul University that O'Rourke's interest in the less obvious possibilities of the instrument led him through the early catalogs of the post-classical and electro-acoustic traditions. While at DePaul, O'Rourke completed much of the work that would constitute his first few releases. He also had the opportunity to meet up with noted improvisational guitarist Derek Bailey, whose invitation to O'Rourke to play at the British Improv Festival Company Week led to further collaborative projects with Bailey, Henry Kaiser, Eddie Prevost, and David Jackman. O'Rourke began working with Dan Burke's Illusion of Safety project in the early '90s, releasing three albums through Staalplaat and Tesco before moving on to form experimental "rock" group Gastr del Sol with David Grubbs. Although focusing more on collaboration after a string of solo releases in the early '90s, O'Rourke has shifted back to solo work of late, releasing Terminal Pharmacy through John Zorn's Tzadik label and completing commissioned pieces for the Kronos Quartet and the Rova Saxophone Quartet. In 1995, O'Rourke was invited by German experimental electronic label Mille Plateaux (Oval, Steel, Microstoria) to conduct an extended remix of their entire back catalog. He also produced and co-wrote a good portion of innovative German outfit Faust's Table of the Elements release, Rien. Subsequent releases include 1997's acclaimed Bad Timing and its equally brilliant follow-up, 1999's Eureka. O'Rourke began a long-running collaboration with Fennesz and Peter Rehberg in 1999, with the release of The Magic Sound of Fenn O'Berg on Rehberg's Mego label. The label also released O'Rourke's 2001 solo laptop album I'm Happy, And I'm Singing, And A 1, 2, 3, 4.
In 2001, O'Rourke released the album Insignificance featuring appearances by guitarist Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche of Wilco. The trio also later collaborated in the side project Loose Fur, releasing a self-titled album in 2003 and Born Again in the U.S.A. in 2006. A sideman and collaborator as much as a solo artist, O'Rourke has performed as a member of several ensembles including (and most famously) joining the legendary noise-rock band Sonic Youth. He appeared on several Sonic Youth albums including 2002's Murray Street and 2004's Sonic Nurse. Leaving Sonic Youth in 2005, O'Rourke relocated to Tokyo, Japan and continued to perform, produce, and record. He released the experimental Hagyou in 2008 featuring saxophonist Akira Sakata. In 2009, he delivered the 38-minute extended work The Visitor, which was dedicated to his hero, influential experimental guitarist Derek Bailey. In 2011, the album Unreleased?, a collaboration with Fire!, appeared on Rune Grammofon. The same year, O'Rourke began releasing a series of archival solo electronic recordings on Editions Mego, starting with Old News #5. In 2015, O'Rourke made his long-awaited return to vocal-based singer/songwriter material with the announcement of Simple Songs, released on Drag City. O'Rourke's first duo collaboration with Fennesz, It's Hard for Me to Say I'm Sorry, appeared on Editions Mego in 2016. ~ Sean Cooper