​words about jh | article

​​lush life | mati klarwein
​rob young | ​the wire | ​1998

This interview first appeared in The Wire

Issue 167, January 1998

​The great visionary painter Mati Klarwein died in March 2002, aged 70. Several of his paintings adorn Jon Hassell's record sleeves: Earthquake Island, Dream Theory in Malaya, Aka-Darbari-Java and Maarifa Street.

​From Salvador Dali to Miles Davis, from Jimi Hendrix to Jon Hassell and beyond, artist Mati Klarwein makes the connections between surrealism, African-Americanism, hippydom and the Fourth World.


​IN 1960, AN artist called Abdul Mati sent a copy of a portrait he had made of jazz saxophonist Yusef Lateef to the musician himself. Lateef, a Muslim, liked the painting—Lateef's bald pate almost swamped by a sea of encroaching flora—and sensed a kinship: he wrote back with a salutation to his "Dear Bro", and offers of record sleeves in the future. Abdul Mati approached Lateef one evening after a gig at New York's Five Spot, but when Lateef saw that this 'Abdul' was white, he turned away without a word.

​Abdul Mati didn't let this trouble him unduly. Mati Klarwein—the name he reverted to after this incident, and which was given him by his German parents—has always been acutely sensitive to the age-old standoffs between black and white, Muslim and Christian, science and art, nature and technology. "My experience with Yusef Lateef was not 'unfortunate', as you say," he says, in philosophical mode, at his home in Mallorca. "It was very indicative of the time when 'black' had to become 'beautiful'—because it was!—and had to find its own identity and cautiously dig into its African past for that purpose. Going back to the animistic true past was too much of a jump, so they settled for Islam, being another facet of monotheism, and a provocative contrast to the Gothic Christianity that was and is still oppressively segregating them with its smug self-righteous patronising attitude."

Klarwein is prone to such outbursts (try these: "The Sistine Chapel is a pompous comic book and Yves Klein is a vulgar illustrator of Zen Buddhism"; or "Talking about drugs can be as interesting as talking about sex, depends who does the talking—William Burroughs or Nancy Reagan"), but his opinions are informed by a life of travel—not tourism, but a far deeper immersion in foreign cultures and belief systems—that has given him a wider perspective on the ideological tensions that keep the late 20th century global dynamic on the rack. His paintings since the Lateef episode are radiant with such oppositions, spangled with symbols, sex and sunlight, and refracted and intensified through the tinted shades of LSD. In fact, for an explanation of the 'Fourth World' concept furthered by Jon Hassell, Klarwein's pictures offer precise visual analogues for this conceptual dreamtime, in which ancient-to-future sounds and images converge and mutate, creating a surreal new estate founded on the eternal circling of information and cultures around the globe. As Klarwein writes: "I'll never forget the expression of the Sayonara indians from the Amazon basin when they were listening to us play the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto in B flat by JS Bachofen on the Jew's harp made from wishbones extracted from whales' clitorises while we waited for Duchamp's bicycle wheel to be repaired at the workshop of the Beijing People's Museum of the repetitious, repetitious, repet..." It doesn't get much more Fourth World than that.


​'Artist and model' (detail) (1959)

​MATTHIAS KLARWEIN was born in 1932 in Hamburg, Germany; the story of how he became the counterculture's artist-in-residence is due in part to the rise of Nazism. On Hitler's accession to power, his Jewish parents fled with Mati to Palestine. An early ambition to direct movies in Hollywood came to nothing, and instead he travelled to Paris to study under the French painter Fernand Leger. Naturally, France introduced him to the artistic and showbiz milieu that was shaping up in the capital and on the Riviera. One of his most influential meetings was with Salvador Dali: "I read Dali's Private Life Of Salvador Dali when I was 20 years old," he says, "and I have never been the same person since. I met him at the age of 30 for the first time, and we saw each other regularly in New York and Paris during the 60s and early 70s. He was my spiritual father, and some even thought I was his illegitimate son. We were also each other's pimps and cultural spies." Dali's decadent years as both king and court jester to rock stars, models and assorted hippy loons have been well documented by those who were either there at the time or wish they had been, "(Dali) hated music," is Mati's version of events. "He hung out with rock stars because of their fame and/or genius. He believed that there are three things that cretinize us humans: love, children and music. Just look at my life and you'll see that the proof is in the pudding."

As a young man, Mati became the travelling companion of an unnamed but wealthy woman with whom, as he rather grandly puts it, "I didn't leave one stone unturned; every electron that I ran into changed my life production drastically". It was perhaps during these nomadic years, passing through Tibet, India, Bali, North Africa, Turkey, Europe and the Americas, that he became saturated with the different landscapes, both inner and outer, that twist and writhe over his canvases. Once he had fetched up in New York's art scene in the early 60s, he began synthesising all these impressions into his distinctive, huge tantric paintings, aided by the surrounding climate. "Of course Sun Ra was part of it, and so was 'droogs', as Dali would call them. One of the achievements of the 60s spirit, besides ecological awareness, was the elimination of the 'either-or' mentality, and the birth of rhizomatic reasoning as postulated by Deleuze, Castaneda and Leary. And the battle isn't over yet!"

​Live Evil by Miles Davis

​No wonder, then, that at the end of the 60s Miles Davis seized on Klarwein to illustrate the sleeves for the albums he recorded to burst out of the chrysalis of jazz into the electronic age: Bitches Brew and Live-Evil. His memories of the crowded and artistic circles of New York in which he met Miles are similarly hazy. "I hooked up with Miles the way I hooked up with everything else in life: through the women I've known. be they friends or lovers, they are all mothers with excellent taste. Without them I'd be a dead spermatozoid in a dry puddle, and Miles saw that in my paintings. The only time he discussed subject matter was for Live-Evil. He asked me to paint a toad for the 'Evil' side. So I painted J Edgar Hoover as a toad in drag—which turned out to be another one of my prophetic insights."

At this time, he also counted Jimi Hendrix and Timothy Leary among his close friends, and even painted a record cover for the semi-mythical, unfinished Hendrix collaboration with Gil Evans. A sleeve for Zonked, a vocal album by Miles's then wife Betty Davis, was shelved after Miles discovered she had been sleeping with Hendrix. Meanwhile, the original painting from Bitches Brew remains lost: sold to an unknown buyer, although Klarwein claims he's not troubled by the loss of an original—the important thing is the image itself.

Klarwein's pictures re-ignite dialogue between ancient tribal history and contemporary civilisation. Paintings such as 1964's 'Crucifixion (Freedom Of Expression)', whose multiracial orgies on a backdrop of holy sites and lush jungles caused 'outrage' (as paintings seem to do) when exhibited in New York. You can almost read them like one of Cheikh Anta Diop's histories of Africa as the cradle of civilisation. In Klarwein's world, culture is a perpetual-motion machine where hierarchies are overturned and history collapses into itself, tunnels open up through the Earth allowing cultures, creeds and symbols to project themselves on each other's irises, male and female. Forms are melted through sex into a hermaphroditic anthropomorph. "As far as my own 'cultural difference' is concerned," he says, "I considered myself very lucky to have had the chance to grow up in Palestine-Israel, a land where you can walk 2000 years back in history by merely strolling down to the end of the street you live on, especially in Jerusalem. How shallow American pop music sounds compared to the chanting of Oum Kalthoum or a raga by Ameer Khan! And where would rock 'n' roll be without the pure African energy channeled over by the slave ships? The American Indians were much too proud to become anyone's slave, much too 'spaced out'. They were like us: children of the cold weather too. Life for them was not a permanent party like it is for the Africans."

​Abraxas by Santana, showing part of 'The Annunciation' (1961)

​​Nevertheless, on account of his work for Miles, Hendrix and Carlos Santana (the guitarist discovered Klarwein's painting 'Annunciation' in the Aleph Sanctuary, a small chapel in Mallorca, and used it for his Abraxas LP), Klarwein has become inextricably associated with astro-black chic. "The astro-black culture was part of the cultural process black and white America needed in order to free itself from spiritual oppression," he explains. "The esoteric and cosmic consciousness is a powerful antidote to the crass mainstream consumerism that is drowning us all, where God is just a number, any number. Esoterics pulled us through the terrible nuclear holocaust paranoia of the 50s—engendered by the traumatic battle against square-moustache totalitarianism of the 40s, caused by the blind faith we had in the machines in the 20s and 30s ... all the way back to Adumb and Evil."

Things change. By 1976, the fire of that era was reduced to embers. Hendrix was long dead, Miles had hung up his horn; Herbie Hancock was setting the scene for Electrofunk. Mati met Jon Hassell, whose own experiments with atmosphere, trumpet manipulation and textural freeplay was beginning to water the bleached deserts left by the battlescapes of cosmic jazz. "I know Jon since 1976 when I moved to SoHo and into the 'fine art' world of Lower Manhattan—before that it was just sex 'n' drugs," says Mati. "The mind took over. The synthesizing, of past experiences into something globally significant, the sublimation of our erotic and exotic fantasies into an awareness of other cultures, and our indulging into sampling them and experiencing of new outlets of expression by integrating these cultural samples in our art. This we had in common and enjoyed sharing."

The art that Mati produced for Hassell's Fourth World LPs, released on Brian Eno's Ambient label, was different: pure landscapes, jet's eye views of transfigured tracts of land. He calls these 'Real Estate' paintings, or 'Inscapes'. 'Soundscape', which illustrates Hassell's Aka-Darbari-Java, is a prime example of the way the paintings function as landscapes and maps simultaneously: nature carved up and reshaped by economic and social forces. "Your definition is brilliant," he says. "I should have called them 'Mapscapes' instead of 'Inscapes'. Also, the paradoxical fact of man's manipulation of nature can make it either a more fascinating and uplifting an experience, like the rice terraces of Indonesia, or a tragic and depressing one like the landscape of strip-mining. A lonely Chinese wall stretching for miles across a landscape can do marvels for the mind, and also for the purely abstract compositional requirements of the painting itself. Again, the balance between the concepts and emotion is the issue. The 60s were emotional times, the 70s returned to the conceptual, in music too, from rock 'n' roll to New Wave. From Beatles to Talking Heads—insects with brains

"Personally," he continues, "I prefer the 70s for music than the mushy nostalgic 60s, with its Art Nouveau conventionalism. One thing I could never figure out is why all the best pop music always comes from England. It must be the developed sense of humour has a lot to do with it. America hasn't suffered enough yet."

Paralleling Hassell's refinement of sampling aesthetics, Mati's subsequent work has incorporated a healthy dose of cultural theft in his series of 'improved paintings'. Typically, he will buy existing paintings and work over them with his own brush, executing a kind of visual 'remix'. "The urge to improve paintings started with me in the early 60s and I have done a good hundred since then," he explains. "Sampling or appropriating are just hip euphemisms for stealing and robbing. In the US, they would be illegal. They are not 'sampling', nor are they 'appropriations': they are 'improved' paintings—I buy them in flea markets for not more than $20 and proceed to improve them, remaining as much as possible within the style of the original painter. I leave the signature, if there is one, and add mine to it. It's all upfront. The only secret is: who painted what? And that is the main concept: individuals are an illusion, or elusion, only concepts are real. It's not your organ, honey, it's the way you grind."

Klarwein has published several books of his writings over the years, and it's a medium he increasingly enjoys: "A picture might be worth a thousand words but a good sentence is worth a thousand windows," he says. A Thousand Windows is, inevitably, the title of his latest book of images and text (published on his own Max Publishing imprint), and readings from it have appeared on No Man's Land, a CD released during 1997 featuring music by Swedish percussionist/composer Per Tjernberg. The two have been friends for some time—Mati contributed cover art on three previous albums by Tjernberg, who has worked with Don Cherry, Dr John and Okay Temiz. On No Man's Land, he and engineer/sound designer Tom Hofwander create weightless carpets and trailing fronds of sound with berimbaus, Chinese gongs, scraped metal, bird whistles, log drums, clay pots and a full Brazilian batucada, while Mati's lived-in voice recites flamboyant, embellished anecdotes, observations and ruminations on the cosmos. Meanwhile, he's been working on new images for projection during Jon Hassell's live performances, and admits he never turns down any commission. "Life is not a holiday camp," he says. "I don't believe in comfort. Right now I'm painting a shopping centre and I am sweating blood, but it's an offer I can't refuse. Creativity has no limits. Besides, the battle between the mind and the heart still goes on, on both sides of the River Jordan." •


No Man's Land
by Mati Klarwein and Per Tjernberg
released on Rub-A-Dub Records (RUBCD 15)


​official website:

www.matiklarweinart.com


​select bibliography

MILK 'N' HONEY (1973)
Harmony Books, New York

GOD JOKES (1976)
Harmony Books, New York

COLLECTED WORKS 1959-1975 (1988)
Raymond Martin Press, Germany

A THOUSAND WINDOWS (1995)
Max Publishing, Spain

IMPROVED PAINTINGS 1979-2000 (2000)
Max Publishing, Spain

PARADISE LOST AND FOUND (2005)
ISBN 84-96430-13-8

lush life

mati klarwein by rob young




The great visionary painter Mati Klarwein died in March 2002, aged 70. Several of his paintings adorn Jon Hassell's record sleeves: Earthquake Island, Dream Theory in Malaya, Aka-Darbari-Java and Maarifa Street.

From Salvador Dali to Miles Davis, from Jimi Hendrix to Jon Hassell and beyond, artist Mati Klarwein makes the connections between surrealism, African-Americanism, hippydom and the Fourth World.



IN 1960, AN artist called Abdul Mati sent a copy of a portrait he had made of jazz saxophonist Yusef Lateef to the musician himself. Lateef, a Muslim, liked the painting—Lateef's bald pate almost swamped by a sea of encroaching flora—and sensed a kinship: he wrote back with a salutation to his "Dear Bro", and offers of record sleeves in the future. Abdul Mati approached Lateef one evening after a gig at New York's Five Spot, but when Lateef saw that this 'Abdul' was white, he turned away without a word.

Abdul Mati didn't let this trouble him unduly. Mati Klarwein—the name he reverted to after this incident, and which was given him by his German parents—has always been acutely sensitive to the age-old standoffs between black and white, Muslim and Christian, science and art, nature and technology. "My experience with Yusef Lateef was not 'unfortunate', as you say," he says, in philosophical mode, at his home in Mallorca. "It was very indicative of the time when 'black' had to become 'beautiful'—because it was!—and had to find its own identity and cautiously dig into its African past for that purpose. Going back to the animistic true past was too much of a jump, so they settled for Islam, being another facet of monotheism, and a provocative contrast to the Gothic Christianity that was and is still oppressively segregating them with its smug self-righteous patronising attitude."

Klarwein is prone to such outbursts (try these: "The Sistine Chapel is a pompous comic book and Yves Klein is a vulgar illustrator of Zen Buddhism"; or "Talking about drugs can be as interesting as talking about sex, depends who does the talking—William Burroughs or Nancy Reagan"), but his opinions are informed by a life of travel—not tourism, but a far deeper immersion in foreign cultures and belief systems—that has given him a wider perspective on the ideological tensions that keep the late 20th century global dynamic on the rack. His paintings since the Lateef episode are radiant with such oppositions, spangled with symbols, sex and sunlight, and refracted and intensified through the tinted shades of LSD. In fact, for an explanation of the 'Fourth World' concept furthered by Jon Hassell, Klarwein's pictures offer precise visual analogues for this conceptual dreamtime, in which ancient-to-future sounds and images converge and mutate, creating a surreal new estate founded on the eternal circling of information and cultures around the globe. As Klarwein writes: "I'll never forget the expression of the Sayonara indians from the Amazon basin when they were listening to us play the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto in B flat by JS Bachofen on the Jew's harp made from wishbones extracted from whales' clitorises while we waited for Duchamp's bicycle wheel to be repaired at the workshop of the Beijing People's Museum of the repetitious, repetitious, repet..." It doesn't get much more Fourth World than that.

Mati Klarwein

'Artist and model' (detail) (1959)

MATTHIAS KLARWEIN was born in 1932 in Hamburg, Germany; the story of how he became the counterculture's artist-in-residence is due in part to the rise of Nazism. On Hitler's accession to power, his Jewish parents fled with Mati to Palestine. An early ambition to direct movies in Hollywood came to nothing, and instead he travelled to Paris to study under the French painter Fernand Leger. Naturally, France introduced him to the artistic and showbiz milieu that was shaping up in the capital and on the Riviera. One of his most influential meetings was with Salvador Dali: "I read Dali's Private Life Of Salvador Dali when I was 20 years old," he says, "and I have never been the same person since. I met him at the age of 30 for the first time, and we saw each other regularly in New York and Paris during the 60s and early 70s. He was my spiritual father, and some even thought I was his illegitimate son. We were also each other's pimps and cultural spies." Dali's decadent years as both king and court jester to rock stars, models and assorted hippy loons have been well documented by those who were either there at the time or wish they had been, "(Dali) hated music," is Mati's version of events. "He hung out with rock stars because of their fame and/or genius. He believed that there are three things that cretinize us humans: love, children and music. Just look at my life and you'll see that the proof is in the pudding."

As a young man, Mati became the travelling companion of an unnamed but wealthy woman with whom, as he rather grandly puts it, "I didn't leave one stone unturned; every electron that I ran into changed my life production drastically". It was perhaps during these nomadic years, passing through Tibet, India, Bali, North Africa, Turkey, Europe and the Americas, that he became saturated with the different landscapes, both inner and outer, that twist and writhe over his canvases. Once he had fetched up in New York's art scene in the early 60s, he began synthesising all these impressions into his distinctive, huge tantric paintings, aided by the surrounding climate. "Of course Sun Ra was part of it, and so was 'droogs', as Dali would call them. One of the achievements of the 60s spirit, besides ecological awareness, was the elimination of the 'either-or' mentality, and the birth of rhizomatic reasoning as postulated by Deleuze, Castaneda and Leary. And the battle isn't over yet!"

Live Evil

Live Evil by Miles Davis

No wonder, then, that at the end of the 60s Miles Davis seized on Klarwein to illustrate the sleeves for the albums he recorded to burst out of the chrysalis of jazz into the electronic age: Bitches Brew and Live-Evil. His memories of the crowded and artistic circles of New York in which he met Miles are similarly hazy. "I hooked up with Miles the way I hooked up with everything else in life: through the women I've known. be they friends or lovers, they are all mothers with excellent taste. Without them I'd be a dead spermatozoid in a dry puddle, and Miles saw that in my paintings. The only time he discussed subject matter was for Live-Evil. He asked me to paint a toad for the 'Evil' side. So I painted J Edgar Hoover as a toad in drag—which turned out to be another one of my prophetic insights."

At this time, he also counted Jimi Hendrix and Timothy Leary among his close friends, and even painted a record cover for the semi-mythical, unfinished Hendrix collaboration with Gil Evans. A sleeve for Zonked, a vocal album by Miles's then wife Betty Davis, was shelved after Miles discovered she had been sleeping with Hendrix. Meanwhile, the original painting from Bitches Brew remains lost: sold to an unknown buyer, although Klarwein claims he's not troubled by the loss of an original—the important thing is the image itself.

Klarwein's pictures re-ignite dialogue between ancient tribal history and contemporary civilisation. Paintings such as 1964's 'Crucifixion (Freedom Of Expression)', whose multiracial orgies on a backdrop of holy sites and lush jungles caused 'outrage' (as paintings seem to do) when exhibited in New York. You can almost read them like one of Cheikh Anta Diop's histories of Africa as the cradle of civilisation. In Klarwein's world, culture is a perpetual-motion machine where hierarchies are overturned and history collapses into itself, tunnels open up through the Earth allowing cultures, creeds and symbols to project themselves on each other's irises, male and female. Forms are melted through sex into a hermaphroditic anthropomorph. "As far as my own 'cultural difference' is concerned," he says, "I considered myself very lucky to have had the chance to grow up in Palestine-Israel, a land where you can walk 2000 years back in history by merely strolling down to the end of the street you live on, especially in Jerusalem. How shallow American pop music sounds compared to the chanting of Oum Kalthoum or a raga by Ameer Khan! And where would rock 'n' roll be without the pure African energy channeled over by the slave ships? The American Indians were much too proud to become anyone's slave, much too 'spaced out'. They were like us: children of the cold weather too. Life for them was not a permanent party like it is for the Africans."

Abraxas

Abraxas by Santana, showing part of 'The Annunciation' (1961)

Nevertheless, on account of his work for Miles, Hendrix and Carlos Santana (the guitarist discovered Klarwein's painting 'Annunciation' in the Aleph Sanctuary, a small chapel in Mallorca, and used it for his Abraxas LP), Klarwein has become inextricably associated with astro-black chic. "The astro-black culture was part of the cultural process black and white America needed in order to free itself from spiritual oppression," he explains. "The esoteric and cosmic consciousness is a powerful antidote to the crass mainstream consumerism that is drowning us all, where God is just a number, any number. Esoterics pulled us through the terrible nuclear holocaust paranoia of the 50s—engendered by the traumatic battle against square-moustache totalitarianism of the 40s, caused by the blind faith we had in the machines in the 20s and 30s ... all the way back to Adumb and Evil."

Things change. By 1976, the fire of that era was reduced to embers. Hendrix was long dead, Miles had hung up his horn; Herbie Hancock was setting the scene for Electrofunk. Mati met Jon Hassell, whose own experiments with atmosphere, trumpet manipulation and textural freeplay was beginning to water the bleached deserts left by the battlescapes of cosmic jazz. "I know Jon since 1976 when I moved to SoHo and into the 'fine art' world of Lower Manhattan—before that it was just sex 'n' drugs," says Mati. "The mind took over. The synthesizing, of past experiences into something globally significant, the sublimation of our erotic and exotic fantasies into an awareness of other cultures, and our indulging into sampling them and experiencing of new outlets of expression by integrating these cultural samples in our art. This we had in common and enjoyed sharing."

The art that Mati produced for Hassell's Fourth World LPs, released on Brian Eno's Ambient label, was different: pure landscapes, jet's eye views of transfigured tracts of land. He calls these 'Real Estate' paintings, or 'Inscapes'. 'Soundscape', which illustrates Hassell's Aka-Darbari-Java, is a prime example of the way the paintings function as landscapes and maps simultaneously: nature carved up and reshaped by economic and social forces. "Your definition is brilliant," he says. "I should have called them 'Mapscapes' instead of 'Inscapes'. Also, the paradoxical fact of man's manipulation of nature can make it either a more fascinating and uplifting an experience, like the rice terraces of Indonesia, or a tragic and depressing one like the landscape of strip-mining. A lonely Chinese wall stretching for miles across a landscape can do marvels for the mind, and also for the purely abstract compositional requirements of the painting itself. Again, the balance between the concepts and emotion is the issue. The 60s were emotional times, the 70s returned to the conceptual, in music too, from rock 'n' roll to New Wave. From Beatles to Talking Heads—insects with brains

"Personally," he continues, "I prefer the 70s for music than the mushy nostalgic 60s, with its Art Nouveau conventionalism. One thing I could never figure out is why all the best pop music always comes from England. It must be the developed sense of humour has a lot to do with it. America hasn't suffered enough yet."

Paralleling Hassell's refinement of sampling aesthetics, Mati's subsequent work has incorporated a healthy dose of cultural theft in his series of 'improved paintings'. Typically, he will buy existing paintings and work over them with his own brush, executing a kind of visual 'remix'. "The urge to improve paintings started with me in the early 60s and I have done a good hundred since then," he explains. "Sampling or appropriating are just hip euphemisms for stealing and robbing. In the US, they would be illegal. They are not 'sampling', nor are they 'appropriations': they are 'improved' paintings—I buy them in flea markets for not more than $20 and proceed to improve them, remaining as much as possible within the style of the original painter. I leave the signature, if there is one, and add mine to it. It's all upfront. The only secret is: who painted what? And that is the main concept: individuals are an illusion, or elusion, only concepts are real. It's not your organ, honey, it's the way you grind."

Klarwein has published several books of his writings over the years, and it's a medium he increasingly enjoys: "A picture might be worth a thousand words but a good sentence is worth a thousand windows," he says. A Thousand Windows is, inevitably, the title of his latest book of images and text (published on his own Max Publishing imprint), and readings from it have appeared on No Man's Land, a CD released during 1997 featuring music by Swedish percussionist/composer Per Tjernberg. The two have been friends for some time—Mati contributed cover art on three previous albums by Tjernberg, who has worked with Don Cherry, Dr John and Okay Temiz. On No Man's Land, he and engineer/sound designer Tom Hofwander create weightless carpets and trailing fronds of sound with berimbaus, Chinese gongs, scraped metal, bird whistles, log drums, clay pots and a full Brazilian batucada, while Mati's lived-in voice recites flamboyant, embellished anecdotes, observations and ruminations on the cosmos. Meanwhile, he's been working on new images for projection during Jon Hassell's live performances, and admits he never turns down any commission. "Life is not a holiday camp," he says. "I don't believe in comfort. Right now I'm painting a shopping centre and I am sweating blood, but it's an offer I can't refuse. Creativity has no limits. Besides, the battle between the mind and the heart still goes on, on both sides of the River Jordan." •

No Man's Land by Mati Klarwein and Per Tjernberg

was released on Rub-A-Dub Records (RUBCD 15)


 

This interview first appeared in The Wire
Issue 167, January 1998 | www.thewire.co.uk

 

Official website:

www.matiklarweinart.com

 

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

MILK 'N' HONEY (1973)

Harmony Books, New York

GOD JOKES (1976)

Harmony Books, New York

COLLECTED WORKS 1959-1975 (1988)

Raymond Martin Press, Germany

A THOUSAND WINDOWS (1995)

Max Publishing, Spain

IMPROVED PAINTINGS 1979-2000 (2000)

Max Publishing, Spain

PARADISE LOST AND FOUND (2005)

ISBN 84-96430-13-8

strange magic

by john payne




JON HASSELL IS a creator of connections. He's an artist with fresh 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—winner of the Best New Genre/Uncategorizable Artist at the L.A. Weekly Music Awards 2005—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 raging 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 Peter Gabriel.

The 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 vocal style.

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 there wholly."

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.

"It's like 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.

"That’s right. 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.

"The Dutch 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!'"

The digital "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:

"Formulations like 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 known." •


 

This interview first appeared in the LA Weekly Online
October 2005 | www.laweekly.com


All text, images and sound not otherwise attributed are protected by copyright © 2017 Nyen Music.
All paintings by Mati Klarwein © 2017 Klarwein-Archives. Used by permission of the Klarwein family.

A childhood in Memphis, a classical conservatory education, composition and electronic music study with Stockhausen in Cologne; a passage through the New York minimalist sphere with Terry Riley, Reich, Glass; having a window opened onto the world's music and a new approach to the trumpet via vocal master Pandit Pran Nath; a questioning and deconstruction of the European dichotomy between classical and popular, sacred and sensual; a pioneer of digital transformation and sampling—all of this led to Fourth World—the unique blend which Jon has described as "worldly music" to underline a more subtle equation at work and discourage the simplistic labeling of "world," "jazz," "classical," "minimal," or "ambient."