Listening to Pictures | Pentimento volume 1 is the first new album in nine years by Jon Hassell, a musical visionary and hugely influential figure in new music. Continuing his lifelong exploration of the possibilities of the studio, fragments of performance are sampled, looped, overdubbed and re-arranged into beguiling unexpected shapes.
Hassell applies the painterly technique of ‘pentimento’ to the arrangements, teasing out texture by the careful overlaying of sound, or a carefully timed reveal of the delicate bones pinning the frame of a track together. Smeared, gauzy, gorgeous atmospherics to perfectly soundtrack a vertical listening experience.
... Throughout the 80s, 90s and 2000s, Hassell continued to expand his sound into ever more lushly abstracted zones with the albums Power Spot, The Surgeon Of The Night Sky Restores Dead Things By The Power Of Sound, Maarifa Street and Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street. The recently re–released City: Works Of Fiction from 1990 was a step into decidedly dancier territory and included a bona fide house track, “Voiceprint” – released at the time as a 12” with remixes by 808 State. Throughout this period, Hassell’s influence continued to spread, and he appeared on recordings by Peter Gabriel, David Sylvian, Kronos Quartet, Hector Zazou, David Toop, and Ry Cooder, among others.
More recently, Hassell’s name and the term “Fourth World” have been popping up with increasing frequency in some of the more forward-thinking quarters of electronic music. The Fourth World attribute has been attached to Don’t DJ, whose kaleidoscopic tracks blur the lines between synths, drum machines and gamelan orchestras. Montreal’s RAMZi has cited Hassell as an influence on her own music, which seems to similarly exist in a distinct space-time of its own.
Adventurous DJs such as Glasgow’s Optimo crew and Salon des Amateurs resident Jan Schulte have put together compilations of Fourth World-inspired tracks from across four decades. And in the past few years labels including Music From Memory, Soave, Séance Center and RVNG Intl. sister outlet Freedom To Spend have reissued or compiled music by the likes of Michael Turtle, Roberto Musci, Michel Banabila, and Richard Horowitz, whose Hassell-inspired works of the 1980s and 90s now sound even more current than at the time of its original release.
2018 then seems to be auspicious moment for Jon Hassell to release a new album. Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One) is his first collection of new music for nine years and represents an updated reconfiguration of all the signature elements of Hassell’s magical realists soundworld: the lush chords and fine-grained textures, the oddly intricate rhythm structures that propel forward while revolving around their own axis, and of course, the treated trumpet lines, sounding somewhere between an intimate whisper and a chorus of conch shells.
We talked to Jon Hassell, now residing in Los Angeles, about musical roots, vertical listening, the rhythm of falling leaves and some of the other concepts that have informed his work over a lifetime of exploration and study with and among some of the most significant figures of 20th century music. ...