David Torn is a self-described "textural guitarist" as well as a producer, film composer, recording artist, and sideman. He is well-known for his sophisticated, innovative playing style which employs a self-developed digital looping style that has become pervasive in the 21st century. His urgent, atmospheric, effects-drenched atmospheric sound blurs the seams between rock, jazz and avant music. A New York native, Torn was a member of the Everyman Band, whose two '80s recordings for ECM are foundational documents in his transition from jazz fusion to avant and abstract jazz-rock. Torn's 1987 ECM date, Cloud About Mercury, with Bill Bruford, Tony Levin, and Mark Isham, is universally considered a classic of progressive music. His work with the late bassist/clarinetist Mick Karn that began on 1992's Door X led to a years-long collaboration and the recording of Polytown (1994), a touring and recording trio with drummer Terry Bozzio. Torn is a prolific sideman who has worked in studios and on stages with David Bowie and David Sylvian, Madonna, Laurie Anderson, Meshell Ndegéocello, Tori Amos, and John Legend, among others. His groundbreaking textural work has influenced film scoring via his unique musical contributions to scores by Carter Burwell, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Howard Shore, and Isham, as well as his own scores for Friday Night Lights and Drumline: A New Beat. After nearly two decades of recording and producing for other labels, Torn returned to ECM for 2007's Prezens, which peaked at 34 in the Top 200; he's also produced recordings for Berne and Michael Formanek. In 2015 he issued the acclaimed, completely solo outing Only Sky, and four years later, Sun of Goldfinger in a power trio with Berne and drummer Ches Smith.
Torn left ECM and cut Door X, his 1990 experimental singer/songwriter solo offering for Windham Hill, that featured guest spots from Bruford, Gordon, and Chris Botti. The set included a cover of Hendrix's "Voodoo Child." Two years later, after working as guitarist and producer for Karn on Bestial Cluster, Torn was diagnosed with a brain tumor called an "acoustic neuroma" that required a full craniotomy. The operation left him deaf in the right ear and burdened by several other health obstacles. But Torn proved indomitable. Undertaking a years-long recovery, he first contributed guitar to the score for the film Kalifornia in 1993 and re-entered the studio with Karn and drummer Terry Bozzio to cut Polytown, issued in 1994. A largely volatile power trio outing, the finished product was the result of some personally explosive recording sessions. Torn and Karn remained close, however, and he appeared on the bassist's follow-up, The Tooth Mother, in 1995. Torn's film career was also underway; that same year he contributed to the score for Airheads. Torn re-entered the studio alone to cut 1995's Tripping Over God, an ambitious solo project. Its only other musician was his son Elijah Torn, who employed fretless bass and noise loops on a cover of Muddy Waters' "Rollin' & Tumblin'." The following year, he issued What Means Solid, Traveller? for CMP with bassist Fima Ephron and former Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell. Two years later, he and Botti made up the rest of the Bruford-Levin quartet for the avant-rock set Upper Extremities. Between 1996 and 1999, Torn immersed himself in session, production, and film work. He appeared on no less than ten scores during this period, including those for Velvet Goldmine, The Big Lebowski, and Three Kings, and played on recordings by Ryuichi Sakamoto (Discord), k.d. lang (Drag), Chocolate Genius (Black Music), Meshell Ndegeocello (Bitter), and Robert Rich (Seven Veils). CMP also released The David Torn Collection in 1998.
As the 21st century dawned, Torn was in demand as a sideman and producer, and issued his own experimental abstract rock-cum-electronics set Splattercell. Over the next few years, he worked with Tim Berne extensively, playing in the saxophonist's bands as well as producing his records. He also played on David Bowie's Heathen and Tori Amos' Scarlet's Walk. He engineered a couple of tracks for Jeff Beck's Jeff set for Epic in 2003, and composed and recorded the score for The Order. Over the next two years, he produced albums by Kaki King, Drew Gress, Berne, and Dave Douglas, and composed the score for the acclaimed film Friday Night Lights. Torn's work in cinema and television has been constant ever since, his credits too numerous to mention.
Given his work for both big and small screens and his ever-growing resume as a sideman and producer, he didn't record an album under his own name until 2007's Prezens, which marked his return to ECM. Regarded by the music media as an event, the set featured the Berne quartet with the saxophonist, Tom Rainey, and Craig Taborn, along with Matt Chamberlain on additional drums. After touring, Torn resumed his work in cinema and television and played on and produced recordings by others, including John Legend's Once Again and Manu Katche's Playground.