Jon Hassell, hyperreality and the magic of tone

Wednesday, Nov 17 1999

selected Jon Hassell discography

solo albums:

1999 Fascinoma Water Lily Acoustics

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1994 Dressing for Pleasure Warner Bros.

1990 City: Works of Fiction OpalWarner Bros.

1989 Flash of the Spirit Intuition (with Farafina)

1987 The Surgeon of the Nightsky Restores Dead Things by the Power of Sound Intuition

1986 Power Spot ECM

1983 Aka-Dabari-Java -- Magic Realism Editions E.G.

1981 Dream Theory in Malaya -- Fourth World Vol. 2 Editions E.G.

1980 Possible Musics -- Fourth World Vol. 1 Editions E.G. (with Brian Eno)

1979 Earthquake Island Tomato

1977 Vernal Equinox Lovely Music


1998 Primary Colors with Ry Cooder MCA

1997 The End of Violence with Ry Cooder Outpost

1995 Sulla Strada (1982) (theatrical score) Materiali Sonori

1993 Trespass with Ry Cooder SireWarner Bros.

1989 Passion (The Last Temptation of Christ) with Peter Gabriel RealWorld

1985 Birdy with Peter Gabriel Virgin


1998 Nomad Soul Baaba Maal Palm Pictures

1998 Little Plastic Castle Ani DiFranco Righteous Babe

1997 Drag k.d. Lang Warner Bros.

1996 Pink Noir David Toop Virgin

1995 Re-Entry Techno Animal Virgin

1993 And She Closed Her Eyes Stina Nordenstam East-West

1991 The Crocodile Smile Marc Beacco Nova

1991 Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses Philips

1986 Alchemy -- An Index of Possibilities David Sylvian Virgin

1984 Brilliant Trees David Sylvian Virgin

1982 Ambient #4 -- On Land Brian Eno Editions E.G.

1980 Remain in Light Talking Heads Sire

1973 Dream House LaMonte Young Shandar

1968 In C Terry Riley CBS

collections remixes:

1997 Deep Orient #2: Musique de Nuit Nova track: Blues Nile

1996 Ocean of Sound Ambient 10 Virgin track: Empire III

1993 Eno 1 tracks: Chemistry, Courage

1993 Ambient 1 Virgin tracks: Delta Rain Dream, Gift of Fire

1993 Ai Confini Interzone New Tone track: Pygmy Dance

1993 Voiceprint: Jon Hassell vs. 808 State OpalWarner Bros. tracks: Voiceprint, Streetfaxx

1987 White Man Sleeps Kronos Quartet Nonesuch track: Pano da Costa

1986 La Nouvelle Serenite Sub Rosa track: Map of Dusk

1982 Womad: Music and Rhythm WEA track: Ba-Benzele

Since 1977, the Los Angeles--based composertrumpeter Jon Hassell has recorded 11 solo albums that blur the boundaries separating ”serious“ and popular music. He‘s collaborated with an eclectic group of artists, including Brian Eno; Farafina, a traditional ensemble of drummers and dancers from Burkina Faso; director Peter Sellars; fashion designers Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo; choreographers Merce Cunningham and Alvin Ailey; and the Kronos Quartet.

Hassell is also the inventor of Fourth World, a hugely influential composed and improvised music that hybridizes African-derived polyrhythms, Indian microtonality and Balinese sonorities, melted through recombinant aesthetics made possible by digital technology. Quite often, Fourth World is none of the above. And lately, Hassell has explored the wonders of playing music absolutely straight.

Fourth World is not just a musical style but a way of viewing life itself, rooted in its creator’s past, in Memphis, Tennessee. ”My father had a cornet lying around the house, so I played that, used to lock myself in the bathroom, play ‘Stormy Weather’ and stuff like that. I heard Stan Kenton on the radio, I heard Les Baxter, Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol‘s ’Caravan,‘ and Ravel -- a permanent Technicolor oasis in my spirit.“

Hassell left the South for the Eastman School, where he studied composition and allied himself with the 12-tone types into Webern and Schoenberg and Berg, et al. After a stint in the Army, he earned a master’s in composition and nearly completed his Ph.D. in musicology at Catholic University of America. But by then he‘d discovered Berio and Stockhausen, and ”I just had to find out where these blocks of notes were going.“ He went to Cologne to study with Stockhausen, from whom Hassell learned a lot about the wherefores and could-be’s of electronic music. ”I saw how one applied statistical means; there were exercises where you‘d notate short-wave radio bits, you’d see how scores were constructed. Stockhausen started a different point of view: Instead of building sounds up by defining all the parameters, start with the whole and then infer the parts of that whole.“

Returning to America, Hassell met Terry Riley, who was at that time recording his classic In C. This was Hassell‘s first contact with American Minimalism, whose mesmerizing repeated figures brought him home to something he’d missed: sensuality. ”I remember Terry calling all of that other music over there, the post-Webern things, ‘neurotic.’ And it was so self-evident -- this is the sound of Freud in Vienna, and Schiele and all that.“ Hassell‘s a subsequent work with LaMonte Young found him further exploring minimalistic music that reconciled the body, mind and spirit, a ”vertical“ way of playing and listening to mutating structures created by overtones in flux.

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