Jon Hassell is a creator of connections. He's an
artist with uncommon intuitions about how music, visual art, language,
history, food, scents, "culture," the body, the brain and just
about everything else forming our beliefs about human nature can be viewed
as individual threads in a single, very large fabric, and how that fabric
might be endlessly rewoven.
Hassell has called what
he does "Fourth World," which in his music indicates a way of
proceeding that crossbreeds rhythmic and tonal wisdom from the ancient
world with the very latest in digital technology, along with evolved
conceptions of form, texture and harmony; his music is both composed and
improvised, reconciles Eastern and Western, and increasingly Northern and
Southern. Fourth World music and methodology have been enormously
inspirational, to put it politely, among the hungry hordes of electronic,
New Age and world-music artists of the last 20 or so years, owing primarily
to the widespread influence of Hassell’s collaborations with Brian Eno and
good-humored, lanky Hassell was born in Memphis, where he daydreamed to the
music of Les Baxter and Eden Abez but went on to earn a degree in theory
and composition at the renowned Eastman School, and to study electronic and
serial music with
Stockhausen. Through his initial recordings with
minimalist divinities La Monte Young and Terry
Riley, he met
Hindustani raga sage Pandit Pran Nath, whose teaching emboldened Hassell to
invent a new way of playing his trumpet, one that would hybridize
traditional jazz/classical technique with Pran Nath’s tone-bending Kirana
Hassell’s current Maarifa
Street / Magic Realism 2 on
his own Nyen label is another jaw-droppingly beautiful ride into a steamy,
throbbing realm where Hassell’s hybrid of Indian and gamelan microtonality merges
with fat dub-style bass lines, gauzy electronic chordings and Hassell’s
octave-split horn voicings to create a distinctively futuristic gleam. As
always, the emotional ground has to do with mystery and awe, rather than a
mere tippy-toe dance on the clouds. Among other things, this sound
addresses clichés of the "world music" kind, e.g., vocal samples
by Indian classical soloists over Pygmy or Burundi-derived beats. This is
strictly by design.
"You can divide
things into hip, pre-hip and post-hip," he says. "Pre-hip and
post-hip have things in common: hip is a dangerous part, because you’re
totally involved in being au courant. Post-hip means that you’ve punched through the sound barrier, and
you’re discovering that clichés can be true; you’re discovering that what
we call a cliché can be fundamental. And you then have the courage to be
Maarifa (the word means knowledge or wisdom in
Arabic) is a recombination/reconstruction by Hassell’s bassist and
co-producer/programmer Peter Freeman, via digital editing and
distortion/treatment, of material that Hassell and his band worked out live
in three European concerts, which material had already been based on music
culled from various Hassell recordings. The concept is similar to what Hassell
did in his first Magical Realism disc in 1983 and on 1997's The Vertical Collection, and allows for astounding possibilities ––
the idea, for example, that Hassell never has to record one new note for
the rest of his life, such is the depth and infinitely variable substance
of his recorded work.
Hassell also draws
recombinative inspiration from the things that move us sensually.
watermelon and prosciutto or whatever," he says. "It's there, and
therefore you think about it when you're making something to eat. Why not
put that in there? Then
you listen to other people who come into contact with it freshly. You’re
lucky enough to have this kitchen full of ingredients, and then you throw
them together in a mad burst of appetite..."
And then 20 restaurants
on Melrose charge $90 for it.
It's like avant cuisine, but you want to avoid the fact that somebody else
heard about your earlier restaurant and is making dishes like that –– so
you’re searching out new technology, more ways to mix.”
One danger in modern digital music-making is
in the infinity of possibility. As we have heard from the vast bulk of
recent electronic pop artists, and have seen on 10 billion Web sites, the
technology is clearly there, but the content isn’t. The potential vastness
of sonic variation makes it easy for the vision-challenged composer to get
lost –– paralyzed, even. And it’s very easy to make complex and shiny music
literally at the push of a button.
architect Rem Koolhas called that a 'premature sheen,' says Hassell.
"Premature because you didn't go to school and the conservatory and
learn how to write for strings and become a Claude Debussy and know how to
write the real sheen,
the mature sheen." I wonder sometimes why people listen to music
throughout their waking hours. Actually, too much is bad for you. On his
Web site, (www.jonhassell.com), Hassell notes that one ought to
differentiate between gourmet and gourmand. "The iPod –– 5,000 songs?
We need to go on a music diet," he says. "With the Web and cheap
recording technology and all those elements that killed the music 'industry'"
–– he laughs –– "Big Brother is still is up there saying, 'Listen to
music, it's good for you!'"
"revolution," too, has brought new ways of disseminating
information about music, useful for non-Top-40 types like Hassell, whose
site is a fertile wonderland of far-reaching ideas about the
interconnectivity and uses of the past and the future in music, language,
food and sensuality explored in ever-shifting form (audio, visual, text).
This all will be further detailed in his forthcoming The North and South
of You, "a book of
ideas toward creating a personal and social paradise rooted in the musical
paradise of the Fourth World paradigm."
In order to
grasp some of these potentials for creativity, and how we’re being cheated
out of it, Hassell suggests that we consider this current dilemma:
axis-of-evil, good-bad, with-us-or-against-us are the norm in the EGN (Era
of Great Numbers)," he writes. "Maybe we've arrived at the
condition of Americans Not Knowing What Other People Think (of Them and
Why) reaching critical mass. A scale effect: more and more Americans
knowing less and less (as a percentage of what there is to know)."
What to do? "In
order to grasp the enormity of the situation –– that we are living in a
psychologically geometric space, carved from words, slogging our way
through a multidimensional traffic jam where accidents are happening all
around you every second –– you have to suspend disbelief and try to imagine
the unimaginable, to feel intuitively that which is not yet