By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Whence comes the Fourth World. ”I saw how Indian music had structure and sensuality at the same time, so rather than literally using the tamboura, I translated the tamboura into an electronic cluster of samples or an electronic drone, and then added whatever rhythmic elements one can infer. I didn’t want to reference; I wanted to get a new idea about what could be.“ With Pran Nath, Hassell learned that there‘s no limit to musical variation when one coils among the notes. ”There are 12 notes between B and C, and there’s all that other space in between, and you‘re doing a little tie, right? I heard Pran Nath start off, and 15 minutes into it I realized he’d gone only two or three half-steps, because of all the possible ways of making the curves.
“In the Indian tradition they say that all instruments come from the voice, and my technique came from having to learn that shape-making from the voice. Timbre and musical expression are interrelated -- a lot of Indian instruments and voices derive from that, because you can‘t drive a truck [tuba] in a graceful curve; it has to be something which is malleable enough to make all these curves [sitar, voice]. I find the tiniest vibration that I can with the mouthpiece and then try and trick myself into thinking I’m still playing only the mouthpiece. If I can do that, I can do anything.”
Hassell‘s electronic devices have often inspired the pieces themselves. “I was learning to do the vocal-like slide technique, then this harmonizer [a digital multiplying effect] came along and I started playing in parallel fourths or fifths, sort of mirroring the birth of polyphony, how plainsong began with just one line and then, given various ranges of voices, started singing in parallels, and then somebody got the idea to play on top of that, etc.” His use of harmonizer can approach the orchestral -- “Blue Night” on Dressing for Pleasure, for example, on which, via a switching device, one harmonizer plays into another and into another.
Hassell took sampling into the realms of hyperreality on the 1983 Aka-Dabari-Java -- Magic Realism, where his supercollaging found him using one second of a gamelan, one second of a voice, one second of Yma SumacLes Baxter orchestration, with a drummer playing underneath it all. He addressed “the poetic possibilities of digital transformations . . . a background mosaic of frozen moments . . . a sonic texture like a Mona Lisa which, in close-up, reveals itself to be made up of tiny reproductions of the Taj Mahal.” Here Fourth World became what Hassell called a “coffee-colored classical music of the future.”
Then Hassell heard Hank Shocklee’s stupefyingly complex collages on Public Enemy‘s It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back and saw that collage -- techniques and philosophies directly deriving from Stockhausen and the musique concrete crowd of the ’50s -- had entered the popular consciousness. “It was very related to Pygmy music -- it was based on what was around them that they picked up in the morning, what the Pygmies heard, Pygmies imitating birdcalls and rhythms coming out of spear blades and things like that. And here you‘ve got kids living in the Bronx and whose environment is the radio. Hip-hop is like the music of the loudspeaker, it’s doing the same thing Pygmies did with birdcalls.”
The advent of MIDI and sophisticated sampling technology led Hassell into new realms with the albums City: Works of Fiction and Dressing for Pleasure (whose title derives from the fetish world), complexly faceted and funky works on which he extrapolated from hip-hop into how far sampling could be taken. Not coincidentally, Shocklee had cited Brian Eno and David Byrne‘s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts as an influence, a record whose gambit of planting ethnic samples atop electric rhythms Eno and Byrne had, after consulting with Hassell, taken for themselves. “I should do a record where I sample My Life in the Bush of Ghosts,” he says. These days Eno and Hassell are good friends, though he doesn’t see much of Byrne.
Considering the devilishly electronic nature of Hassell‘s previous albums, I had to wonder about his current entirely different course, soundwise. His new album, Fascinoma, was recorded in a church in Santa Barbara, on magnetic tape, with one stereo microphone and no digital effects. Perhaps Hassell has experienced a bit of electronicmedia overload these last few years -- or suffered too much of its ensuing clever irony.
There’s also the problem of the Hassell-derived “futureprimitive” musical kitsch (ethnic samples + electronics) we suffer in every elevator. “Inevitably, you question, Well, gee, would it have been better for this never to have happened? You come to a certain point in collective thought where progressives suddenly become the carriers of orthodoxy. Of course, the ad world is all ready to pick up the latest contrarian view and turn it into a commercial -- William Burroughs doing Nike ads, like that.”
Fascinoma was produced by the ubiquitous yet unobtrusive Ry Cooder, whom Hassell calls a “spirit catcher,” a master of “authentica.” The album sees Hassell -- aided by a team that includes pianist Jacky Terrasson, bansuri (flute) player Ronu Majumdar, guitaristclarinetist Rick Cox and percussionist Jamie Muhoberac -- going back to the fragrant songs he loved as a youth (such as “Nature Boy,” “Poinciana” and “Caravan”), “touchstones, like little windows opening out of my 1950s world.”