Organum – Vacant Lights/Rara Avis
Few figures in contemporary music are as mysterious and opaque as David Jackman, the main force behind the extraordinary sound-experimentation unit Organum. This situation can be attributed to Jackman’s unfashionable reluctance to excessively theorize about his work. The music has every conceivable potential for critical abstraction, for grandiose statements all dolled up in the language of the avant-garde and post-free-jazz intellectual blather. But it is, in fact, a very simple music – one which, in Jackman’s own words, is humane.
The name Organum refers to a genre of Christian vocal music that evolved from unison chanting. Ostensibly, the direct link for Jackman between that music and Organum is his interest in drone. Though this affection is parlayed back into his work, the final sound rarely mirrors any of the more conventional forms of the genre.
Jackman’s involvement in the experimental music scene dates back to the seminal Scratch Orchestra, an incubator for some of experimental music’s liveliest minds. Among those who participated were writer/composer Michael Nyman (who has scored many Peter Greenaway films) and the core members of the vastly influential AMM. It was in this fertile atmosphere that the seeds for Organum were sown. For Jackman, making music is an intuitive process. As he stated in a 1988 interview with Unsound magazine, “Intentions, which are a sort of fantasy about a track, generally go out of the window pretty fast. I find that it’s no use in my trying to force sounds to fit ideas. Sounds have a life of their own which I have to respect if I’m going to get anything done.”
Indeed, the music is improvisational – a sort of extemporaneous process of inquiry. The sounds are often incidental or accidental, created with ordinary objects such as metals and bicycle wheels and sometimes punctuated with handmade bamboo flutes. Though one can sense within every Organum track a direction, the music seems to drive blindly ahead, careening outward along its edges. Its cohesiveness lies in texture more than any relationships of notes that may or may not happen. Now, with the Die Stadt label’s reissue of Organum’s most notable works, Vacant Lights (coupled with a disc of rarities, Rara Avis), an excellent entrée into Jackman’s soundworld has been provided. With collaborators like Jim O’Rourke and Steven Stapleton (Nurse With Wound) aboard, the sound is universal, sublime and undeniably unique.