Aug302018| August 30, 2018
“Discovering Possible Musics and Dream Theory in Malaya changed everything for me.”
Unlike Fourth World pioneer and one of ambient music’s heavyweights Jon Hassell, Michal Turtle may require some introduction. Familiar to fans of Dutch reissue label Music From Memory, who released a collection of his ’80s works on a 2017 compilation Phantoms of Dreamland, Michal Turtle grew up in South London, where, at the age of 22, he set up a four track studio in parents’ home and began recording.
The resulting synthesiser experiments and improvised analogue jams would become Music From The Living Room, the overlooked 1983 album that would lend several tracks to Phantoms of Dreamland. Continuing to work in music, whether as a jazz musician or writing musicals for horses, Turtle has returned 35 years on, with a new suite entitled Middle of the Road Less Travelled.
To mark the release, Turtle turned to one of his main inspirations, Jon Hassell. You can listen to the mix and read a short interview with Turtle below.
How has Jon Hassell influenced your work?
Discovering Possible Musics and then Dream Theory in Malaya when I was in my early 20s changed everything for me. I was working with some guys (Tim who co-wrote ‘Are You Psychic?’ was one of them, and Lucianne – Phantoms of Dreamland was another) and we were always discovering and exchanging interesting music, as well as making our own. I had already started working with the 4-track machine, noodling around with synths and whatever I could lay my hands on, when this new world of possibilities suddenly appeared.
Who else have you looked to for inspiration over the years?
The music I was involved with at this time (we were collectively known as The Duplicates) was already treading its tentative footsteps along this road, and getting to know these two albums, and others from around this time pushed us all to new places of discovery. Other artists whose work influenced us were Holger Czukay (Movies and On the Way to the Peak of Normal) Brian Eno, of course, also around this time, David Byrne’s non-Talking Heads stuff, Robert Fripp, as well as countless obscure one-off projects. Soon after this early period, samplers became available, and this again changed the way we all made music.
What continues to attract you to using analogue hardware as opposed to digital systems?
When I started doing all of this, analogue was the only possibility. A 4-track was the only realistic option for a poor student type. There were no loops, and no samples. Any voices you heard were just recorded on tape, and anything that might have sounded like a sample was either played in real time, spun off tape, recorded on tiny 2 1/2 second cassette loops, or treated with a pitch shifting echo machine.
Over the years, elements in my collection of synths have come and gone, and much of my set-up today is virtual. I still use an old Alpha Juno 2 and a Wasp synth on new music I make, as well as lots of live percussion, and as always, “whatever I can get my hands on”. With percussion tracks, I tend to play complete tracks rather than loop a couple of bars. Synth bass lines are also played from beginning to end (when we did ‘Are You Psychic?’ this was the only possibility) I tend to use a drum loop when starting on a track, which will get dropped in the final version.
How do you feel your music has progressed since that which was collected on Phantoms Of Dreamland?
After doing the original record in 1983, which was basically ignored at the time, I went more “commercial” playing with bands, and eventually touring Europe, which is the reason I ended up living in Switzerland. Here I have been working as a producer, and musician, playing quite a lot of jazz and even country music.
I created a pop band in the mid 2000s, which released three CDs and two online albums. I also wrote the score for a musical with horses and I have produced almost 30 albums for various artists.
1. Jon Hassell – live track
2. Jon Hassell – Ba-Benzele
3. Holger Czukay – On the Way to the Peak of Normal
4. Jon Hassell – Empire iii
5. Jon Hassell – Toucan Ocean
6. Holger Czukay – Ode to Perfume
7. Jon Hassell – Gift of Fire
8. Blurt – Tube Plane
9. Jon Hassell – Charm
10. Jon Hassell – Paris 1
11. Holger Czukay – Persian Love
“The more invisible technology becomes, the better it is”: The multi-dimensional genius of Jon Hassell| June 8, 2018
Fourth World originator Jon Hassell’s first new album in a decade, Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One), is released this week. Hassell talks to Chris May about Fourth World aesthetics, the painterly concept of pentimento, Stockhausen, exotica and why the new record is dedicated to the artist Mati Klarwein.
Hassell introduced Fourth World music in the late 1970s and refined it at the turn of the decade on Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics and Dream Theory In Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two. There is an umbilical cord directly linking the Fourth World albums with the style’s latest incarnation, Listening To Pictures, a masterpiece which will delight admirers of the earlier albums while also delivering some surprises.
Hassell’s adoption of the Italian term “pentimento” to describe the new album followed a recent “eureka” moment. In art, the word refers to the appearance in a painting of existing images or brushstrokes that have been altered in some fashion and then placed in new contexts. Applied to Hassell’s music, pentimento describes fragments of found sounds or performances that have been sampled, manipulated and recontextualised. As Hassell explains below, Listening To Pictures employs pentimento both in the sleeve art and in the grooves.
Listening To Pictures is dedicated to the late Mati Klarwein. Klarwein shook up record sleeve design with the cover of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew in 1970 and went on to create several sleeves for Hassell including Dream Theory In Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two. The new album also connects to Klarwein through a recording of what Hassell calls a “goat gamelan”, which he taped while staying at Klarwein’s house in Majorca in 1995. The name of Hassell’s newly formed label, Ndeya, also references the Majorcan village Deya, where Klarwein lived.
Pentimento is an elegant metaphor with which to describe the process of making Listening To Pictures. But you were in effect using the same technique on the Fourth World albums. Is it the metaphor that is new rather than the process?
It is more the metaphor that is new, yes. But a metaphor can change the way you think about things. Over the last year, making Listening To Pictures, I’ve been doing a lot of manipulation of sounds. When I’m in the studio and using 24 tracks and the software that’s available these days, there is this gigantic library of sounds. That’s really where the idea of pentimento caught fire in my imagination. I thought, what else is 24-track recording except pentimento? Layers are scratched off and other layers show through – or you can have a temporal pentimento à la Natalie Cole and Nat Cole [Natalie doing a virtual duet with her late father on his 1951 hit ‘Unforgettable’ in 1991]. But I thought the idea of pentimento, of a painting or a fresco with something that was done before showing through, was an attractive metaphor to describe the starting point of something new.
The album’s sleeve uses pentimento in the traditional art-world meaning of the word.
It’s a pentimento of near and far in terms of both time and space. That’s the Nile she’s holding on to. It goes between her legs in the uncropped version. The Nile and those geometric surfaces are actually the satellite shot on the cover of Fourth World Volume One. The girl is the cover of a Hindu pulp-romance magazine that I brought back from India when I was studying raga with Pandit Pran Nath [in the mid 1970s]. The view through venetian blinds is of plants outside my bedroom window.
When Pran Nath accelerated your thinking about Fourth World music, “exotic” music required effort to access. Today, music from everywhere is available on a smartphone. Does the Fourth World concept still mean something?
It will become meaningless if it becomes a cliché, but I don’t think it has reached that point yet. To me, Fourth World is still a useful description. It conveys the idea of the best of this world and the best of that world – the idea of not simply championing one side over the other, the idea that they’re all equal. Though I can easily launch into some championing of the south in the north/south [economic and cultural divide] debate. I can definitely champion the south side more readily than I can champion the north side.
You have long been ahead of the curve there. How about exotica composers such as Les Baxter in the 1950s? Would you agree that they were also early exemplars of outward-looking music making?
I was aware of exotica when I was starting out and I loved it. I still love it. I did a couple of things in that direction and I’ve always enjoyed Les Baxter. When I was young, that was what was available in world music terms. The snaky cobra woman kind of vibe or the Tarzan movies that had jungly music, albeit written by exiled European composers. It’s been a big love of mine ever since. Those arrangements that Les Baxter did for Yma Sumac, those are incredible.
How important has advancing technology been in enabling your music? Do you think you would have continued in the same direction if the world had stayed analogue?
It’s always a matter of working with whatever tools are available at the time. Technology has opened up possibilities for me from the start. When I started learning to play raga on the trumpet – trying to sway, trying to play the curves – I started thinking to myself, the trumpet’s a lonely instrument so why don’t I add another trumpeter? And the harmoniser allowed me to do that. The realisation that through technology you could make a monophonic instrument into a polyphonic instrument, so to speak, was wonderful. And the more the technology becomes invisible, the better it is. But we don’t ever want to lose the joy of hearing a string vibrate up close, or lose any [acoustic] instrument that you might find in a so-called unsophisticated culture. The raw sound of Pygmy music, for instance, or imitating bird calls and so on. These are joyful things.
Do you think modern technology presents any sort of threat to music? Generative music’s bypass of a human compass, for instance?
I don’t think there’s anything to be eschewed, to be denied – if it sounds good it’s open season. I was thinking about Stockhausen recently and what first attracted me to his music. The first piece that drew me to him was Gesang der Jünglinge [electronically assembled in a radio studio in 1955]. It was made à la musique concrète, using samples of a choir boy’s voice. The whole structure was in an atonal mode and was done in such a way that the voice came out like sine tones. But it was made in such a very warm, humanised fashion. On the other hand, you can carry the electronic thing too far. We are too deep now into being digitized ourselves. We’re being formatted, being asked to accept only things which are made for us to imbibe by, say, Google. On that level technology has taken over. We’re simply puppets.
Are you working on any new tech yourself?
Oh certainly. I’ve got notes on ideas that are really extensions of things that exist already. I have an idea for a certain kind of harmoniser which is not just something that replicates the input. It would be much more refined than that. But I’d better not say too much about it or someone else will do it first!
Your friendship with Mati Klarwein inspired the name of your new record label. Did it make any direct input into Listening To Pictures?
Flocks of goats roamed in the hills [near Klarwein’s house on Majorca], each one with a slightly different neck bell. One balmy summer midnight in 1995 when I was staying there, I stayed awake to record the floating, constantly changing “gamelan” that enters in the distant background of [the track] ‘Pastorale Vassant’. When I was asked to say something about the piece recently, I listened again and, sure enough, Twittering Machine, the title of a Paul Klee painting popped into my mind. Although I knew his work for years and his Pedagogical Sketchbook was in my library, the “twittering “ title was what stuck to me and I had only a vague memory of the painting. But when I looked at the painting while listening I was amazed at how they reflected off one another in a kind of unintended “tone painting” way, where the picture sounds like the music and vice versa.
Listening To Pictures is subtitled Pentimento Volume One. Is the next volume in the can?
Almost. We had over an hour’s worth of music and somebody had the idea, we’re in a world of shortened attention spans, so why don’t we break it up into two? I’m still doing adjustments to what will be in the second volume. I’m responding to the first volume and thinking what I would like to hear next, what would represent an extension and/or a continuation of it.
Jon Hassell’s Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One) is out now on Ndeya Records.
Apr302018| April 30, 2018
Dreamy Fourth World inspired soundscapes meet Balinese instrumentals.
Spencer Clark’s 2010 record Make Mine, Macaw, originally released under the Monopoly Child Star Searchers moniker will be reissued on vinyl for the first time, this June via Discrepant.
Read more: An introduction to Jon Hassell in 10 records
Second in the Tropical Bird Romance Audio trilogy between 2010’s Bamboo For Two and 2011’s The Garnet Toucan, Make Mine, Macaw is also the rarest. While the other releases had vinyl pressings on Olde English Spelling Bee and Underwater Peoples, Macaw was a tour-only CDr.
The trilogy features some of Clark’s most hypnotic soundscapes, melding exotica, Fourth World music, gamelan and more. It also includes contributions from his Skaters partner James Ferraro, Dolphins Into The Future’s Lieven Martens Moana and Orphan Fairytale.
Pre-order a copy of Make Mine, Macaw here ahead of its 1st June release, listen to ‘Tangerine Taxi’ and check out the track list below.
1. Tangerine Taxi
2. Frawn Perched Macaw
3. Wind’s Emotive Inner Key
4. Sirens Spotlight Natures
5. Veranda’s Moonglared Surveillance
Apr052018| April 5, 2018
Hear its beautiful first single.
Fourth World founder, composer and musician Jon Hassell is releasing new album Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume 1), this June via Ndeya.
Read more: An introduction to Jon Hassell in 10 records
The LP is Hassell’s first new material in nine years, and follows 2017’s Dream Theory In Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two reissue.
“Most of the world is listening to music in terms of forward flow – based on where the music is “going” and “what comes NEXT.” But there’s another angle: Vertical listening is about listening to “what’s happening NOW” – letting your inner ears scan up and down the sonic spectrum, asking what kind of “shapes” you’re seeing, then noticing how that picture morphs as the music moves through Time,” explains Hassell.
“Robert Irwin’s subtle art installations are based on what he calls “perceiving yourself perceiving.” Vertical listening is related to “listening to yourself listening. So this is where the title Listening to Pictures comes from: The process of vertical listening creates the picture.”
Listening to Pictures will mark the inaugural release on Hassell’s new Ndaya imprint, a label dedicated to both new and archival releases.
Pre-order a copy of the album here ahead of its 8th June release, and check out the track list below.
4. Al Kongo Udu
5. Pastorale Vassant
6. Manga Scene
7. Her First Rain
(Photo by Roman Koval.)
Nov222017| November 22, 2017
The Africa album alone would previously set you back nearly £500.
Africa and Continente Nero are being reissued for the first time in a 2xLP limited bundle, this November via Dagored.
Read more: How to find library music gems
Both LPs feature experimental, Fourth World-esque sounds from the continent, composed by Umiliani and performed by some of Italy’s finest Italian and jazz session musicians at the time.
Africa, recorded under Umiliani’s M.Zalla pseudonym in 1972, includes extended liner notes curated by Stefano Gilardino. The 14 tracks move through minimal ambient to drum-laced rhythms before culminating in electronic-hued instrumentals.
Continente Nero, recorded in 1975, includes extended liner notes by Luca Collepiccolo. A follow-up of sorts to Africa, the 16-track LP explores percussion in its many forms via instruments including bongos, cowbells and flutes.
The 2xLP package follows the double album collection Grazie! of Umiliani’s iconic library work, released earlier this month.
Pre-order a copy here, listen to Cotinente Nero and check out the track lists below.
1. Africa To-Day
3. Green Dawn
4. Rhythmical Stress
5. Drums Choral
6. Lonely Village
3. African Suspence
7. Drums Suspence
2. Nel Villaggio
3. Nuove Realta’
4. Antiche Tradizioni
5. Nuovi Fermenti
6. Sole Percussioni
7. Piffero Africano
8. Continente Nero
2. Ultimo Stregone
3. Continente Nero
7. Giorno Di Mercato
8. Flauto Africano
Sep192017| September 19, 2017
To mark the first vinyl reissue since 1987 of Jon Hassell’s landmark album Dream Theory In Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two, Chris May suggests a ten-disc primer on a trumpeter and composer who defies categorisation.
Hassell is best known as the creator of Fourth World music, an acoustic-electronic blend of minimalism, jazz, drone, ambient, traditional African and Asian instruments and harmolodic signatures. Hassell unveiled the concept on his debut album, Vernal Equinox, in 1978. The name Fourth World came two years later, on Hassell’s first collaboration with Brian Eno, Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics.
Hassell’s roots go back to the early days of modern minimalism in the US. After studying with Karlheinz Stockhausen at the Centre for New Music in Cologne in the mid 1960s, Hassell returned to the US and fell in with Terry Riley and La Monte Young. He played on the first recording of Riley’s In C in 1968, and toured and recorded with Young’s Theatre Of Eternal Music collective.
In 1972, on a European tour with Young, he heard the Indian singer Pandit Pran Nath, who was performing on the same concert programme in Rome. Encountering Nath’s microtonal Kirani style was a profound, life-changing experience for Hassell and he persuaded Young and Riley to join him on an extended trip to India to study with the singer.
Hassell’s unique, transcultural approach to the trumpet – raga-like, microtone-inflected, half sung and half blown, breathy and allusive – developed out of these studies. In the four decades since Vernal Equinox he has not fundamentally changed his aesthetic, simply refined it as advances in audio technology have opened up new possibilities.
On most of his own-name releases since 1980, Hassell plays synthesisers as well as trumpet, and does so on all the records listed below unless stated otherwise. If you have yet to hear his music, prepare to have your paradigm shifted.
La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela: The Theatre Of Eternal Music
Dream House 78’17”
(Shandar LP, 1974)
Hassell’s minimalist period is documented on two historic albums – Terry Riley’s first recording of his seminal composition In C, released in 1968, which also included Hassell’s wife on piano, and La Monte Young’s Dream House 78’17”. Young performs one side on his own, using custom-built oscillators to create hypnotic sine-wave drones. On the other side he is joined by Hassell on trumpet, Marian Zazeela on voice and Garrett List on trombone. 78’17” is the total playing time of the album, a technical feat which delivers an intensely immersive outcome. Aguirre Records reissued the LP in 2016.
(Lovely LP, 1978)
Hassell’s roadmap for four decades of Fourth World exploration, Vernal Equinox, his own-name debut, is a pioneering blend of electronics and non-Western ingredients. He is accompanied by percussionist Naná Vasconcelos and lead synthesizer-player David Rosenboom (who had played viola on the 1968 recording of Riley’s In C). In 1976, synthesizers were far from standard studio equipment, and most of Vernal Equinox was recorded at Toronto’s York University, where Rosenboom was the director of the well-equipped Electronic Media Studios and Laboratory of Experimental Aesthetics. A perfectly realised manifesto.
(Tomato LP, 1978)
Recorded around the same time as Vernal Equinox, Earthquake Island is the most conventional album Hassell has released under his own name – though with Hassell, “conventional” is a relative term. The sound approximates a mid-1970s Miles Davis album, but is less dense and lacks as many dark corners. The band includes tabla player Badal Roy from Davis’s group and bassist Miroslav Vitouš and drummer Dom Um Romão from Weather Report. Sandwiched as it is between more overtly experimental albums, Earthquake Island tends to get overlooked, but unfairly. If you are in the mood for some jazz-rock with your Fourth World, it hits the spot.
Jon Hassell / Brian Eno
Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics
(Editions EG LP, 1980)
Hassell and Eno were a studio partnership made in heaven and this is the first of two back-to-back collaborations of flawless beauty. The atmosphere owes something to the studio techniques developed on Eno’s Ambient 1 (Music For Airports), but more to the transculturalism of Vernal Equinox, and it was not by accident that Hassell’s name was first up on the front cover. ‘Charm (Over ‘Burundi Cloud’)’, which takes up all of side two – with Vaconcelos joined by second percussionist Ayibe Dieng and Eno replacing Rosenboom on synthesizers – is particularly effective. Even the best partnerships, however, can run into difficulties…
Dream Theory In Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two
(Editions EG LP, 1981)
Possible Musics was a succès d’estime for which most of the acclaim accrued to Eno rather than its little-known primary creator. As Eno embarked on high-profile, Fourth World-inspired collaborations with other musicians, beginning with David Byrne’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts3, Hassell felt that a wholesale appropriation of his ideas was going on. He has said he reached tipping point when he came across Possible Musics racked under “Brian Eno” in a New York record store. So while Eno contributed to Dream Theory In Malaya as mixer and musician, his name does not appear on the front cover and the sleeve credits unambiguously state, “All compositions by Jon Hassell. Produced by Jon Hassell.” Peter Gabriel was so enthused by the album that he booked Hassell for the first WOMAD festival in 1982.
Aka-Darbari-Java: Magic Realism
(EG LP, 1983)
Parting company with Eno – temporarily as it turned out – Hassell co-produced Magic Realism with Daniel Lanois, who had engineered Dream Theory. Hassell’s liner notes describe the new album as the blueprint for a “coffee-coloured classical music of the future,” in which the “allowable” musical vocabulary is expanded to include influences from beyond the European tradition, creating “serious music” with transcultural appeal and a smile – a precise definition of Fourth World. Hindustani raga, Senegalese ritual drum-music, Central African Pygmy songs and faux-gamelan Balinese soundscapes are luminously reimagined by Hassell and his sole accompanist, percussionist Abdou M’Boup.
Words With The Shaman
(Virgin EP, 1985)
Another relatively conventional outing for Hassell, Words With The Shaman replaces the jazz-rock of Earthquake Island with European avant-rock. The musicians are ex-Japan vocalist Sylvian on synthesizers and guitars, Hassell on trumpet, Can bassist Holger Czukay on radio and dictaphone, Percy Jones, from guitarist Bill Frisell’s band, on bass guitar and Japan’s Steve Jansen on drums. A three-piece suite composed by Sylvian and Hassell, the music grew out of fragments from Sylvian’s 1984 album Brilliant Trees, for which Hassell wrote the title tune and guested on two tracks. A miniature masterpiece.
(ECM LP, 1986)
Hassell’s irritation with the way music journalists had cast Brian Eno as the inventor of the Fourth World concept did not extend to Eno personally – or if it did, it was short-lived. The partnership resumed with Power Spot, which Eno co-produced with Daniel Lanois. The mood switches between an uncomplicated propulsive drive similar to that on the second section of Words With The Shaman and the dreamier, more asymmetrical approach typically associated with Hassell.
City: Works Of Fiction
(Land LP, 1990)
Hassell has said that his intention with the EDM-focused City: Works Of Fiction was to “explore my own back yard.” The Fourth World concept was extended to accommodate incursions into hip-hop, techno and dub, and the album has an altogether more in-your-face ambience than Hassell usually favoured. For the first time, he also made liberal use of samples, from Kenyan field recordings of Maasai hunting calls to fragments of hip-hop. The experiment, an unqualified success, was continued on 1994’s Dressing For Pleasure (which has yet to be released on vinyl).
Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street
(ECM 2xLP, 2009)
Hassell’s second ECM Records album augments his Maarifa Street touring band with some of the electronicists and beyond-jazz stylists with whom he had collaborated on several occasions at Norway’s adventurous Punkt festival. The stellar line-up includes live sampler Jan Bang, guitarist Eivind Aarset, percussionist Helge Norbakken, bassist Peter Freeman and Was (Not Was) keyboard player Jamie Muhoberac. As breathtakingly inventive as Vernal Equinox was 30 years earlier.
Aug142017| August 14, 2017
“Exotically tuned melodies” inspired by tribal Malaysian dreams.
Dream Theory in Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two is being remastered and reissued on vinyl for the first time since its 1981 release, by Glitterbeat’s new imprint tak:til.
A follow-up to Hassell’s Fourth World Vol.1 – Possible Musics collaboration with Brian Eno, the LP was inspired by a “highland tribe of Malayan aborigines whose happiness and well-being were linked to their morning custom of family dream-telling – where a child’s fearful dream of fallings was praised as a gift,” said Hassell in the album’s original liner notes.
“Someplace I ran across an essay called Dream Theory in Malaya by an adventurer-ethonologist named Kilton Stewart describing a “dream tribe” – the Senoi – in Malaya (before it became “Malaysia”). Soon I’m having an affair with the cinematic sound of the world “Malaya” and all that it evokes: exotically-tuned melodies, gongs, birdcalls in the jungle.”
Hassell also took inspiration from a “beautiful watersplash rhythm with giggling children and birds from a tribe – the Semelai… that became the basis for “Malay”, the centrepiece of the record.”
The release includes bonus track ‘Ordinary Mind’, original liner notes written by Jon Hassell, as well as his updated musings on the album.
“Brian (Eno) is probably under-credited on this record – maybe a reactionary move on my part to reaffirm an independent identity after the experience of finding Possible Musics – my music – in the “Eno” bin in record stores.”
Pre-order a copy here ahead of its 29th September 2017 release and listen to track ‘Malay’ below.
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Registered in England and Wales under no. 04184222.