Kassel Jaeger / Jim O’Rourke- Wakes on Cerulean (2017)
Note: This is a slightly modified and expanded review, originally published by SoundOhm
Jim O’Rourke is the great musical polymath of his generation. Initially emerging in Chicago during the late 80’s, over the ensuing decades he has sketched a path across the globe – weaving a remarkable, restless tapestry of sound – a body of work, the range and quality of which, has no parallel. For many, he alone is responsible for opening the door to the avant-garde, for others, a window into appeal of Pop.
Within such a singular discography – stretching into the hundreds, marked by such range and diversity, it’s easy to get lost – to be distracted by the patchwork and miss the thread. O’Rourke’s great theme is conversation. His work is a collaboration with the history of sound, the listener, and with others like himself – a discourse, led by the ear as much as the mouth.
Wakes on Cerulean, yet another jewel in a distinguished career, embraces the spirit of collaboration so deeply, that it’s unfair to approach it through the lens of O’Rourke. Made in Japan with Kassel Jaeger – the once mysterious moniker of François Bonnet, artistic director of the legendary Parisian collective and studio Groupe de Recherches Musicales, the album is a conversation fed by countless streams, joined as a single force – those of its creators, woven with the diverse histories and temperaments from which they both draw. Its imprint is timeless, leaving little impression of when and where – imbued with a cohesiveness that offers no indication where one artist ends and the other begins.
In recent years, at a formidable pace, François Bonnet’s voice as Kassel Jaeger, has joined O’Rourke’s as one of the key figures within the landscape of those composing through electronic process and modular synthesis. Their joint effort, offers everything that such a distinguished pedigree might lead you to expect. It is a stunning feat in elegant subtlety – elevating the synthetic to an organic state, while offering the organic sonic distinction, rarely achieved on its own.
Electronic music was once seen as a bridge between worlds – technology as an aggregator of creative potential – its products to be integrated with the existing landscape of sound. Many of its early pioneers conceptualized it as the logical successor to a long history – progress, which would ultimately replace music as it had been formally known. For most listeners, the leap was too great – locking electronic composition into a world of its own – half an image of two parallel realms. Within Wakes on Cerulean, these long held distinctions begin to dissolve. Like its creative approach, it is a collectivist vision of sound. Clues, hierarchies, and demarcations quickly dissolve – sounds become resistant to definition and constraint, taunting the ear to doubt what it knows. The signifiers of electronics, found in the natural world? Or is it the same in reverse? It is a decisively deceptive effort, within which sources and impressions often remain unclear.
Wakes on Cerulean seems to begin again – returning to the spirit which marked electronic music’s earliest days – building anew – sculpting an alternate future from the past. Its two works are threaded with an almost utopian optimism. Ego lost in the service of sound – a new more democratic world, where elements join, are equal, and have a natural place. Its subtle constrained sounds and structures shimmer and writhe with energy and intertwine – discrete and playful as they are serious and austere. Its tempting to presume the sources – synthesizers, organ, field recordings, or anything else – but it seems these presumption are what it attempts to defy in a more optimistic pursuit of organized sound.