​words about jh

Jon Hassell, Trumpeter and ‘Fourth World’ Composer, Dies at 84

from the New York Times
By Jon Pareles

June 27, 2021

Blending modern technology with traditional instruments, Mr. Hassell created a genre he described as “coffee-colored classical music of the future.”

Jon Hassell, a composer and trumpeter who blended modern technology with ancient instruments and traditions to create what he called Fourth World music, died on Saturday. He was 84.

Mr. Hassell’s music floated outside the genre boundaries of classical music, electronica, ambient music or jazz. He described Fourth World as “a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques.” He also called it “coffee-colored classical music of the future.”

His music could be contemplative and atmospheric, darkly suspenseful or abstractly funky. On the 20 albums he made as a leader, his trumpet usually had an eerily disembodied sound, one that was processed through electronics and enfolded in shadowy reverberations, sometimes using harmonizers to multiply each note in parallel lines.

Mr. Hassell played vocalistic phrases that invoked the bluesy intimacy of Miles Davis along with the Indian classical music that Mr. Hassell studied with the raga singer Pandit Pran Nath. Around his trumpet, as foreground and background coalesced, there might be drone tones, global percussion, wind or string ensembles, washes of synthesizer, samples, distorted guitar, voices and more.

He delved into calm and aggression, reflection and propulsion, serenity and suspense. His polymorphous, layered, ambiguous yet sensual music helped shape decades of electronic experimentation by acts like Oneohtrix Point Never, Arca and Matmos.

In a tribute in The Guardian in 2007, the musician and producer Brian Eno wrote of Mr. Hassell: “He looks at the world in all its momentary and evanescent moods with respect, and this shows in his music. He sees dignity and beauty in all forms of the dance of life.”

Through the years, Mr. Hassell collaborated repeatedly with Mr. Eno and the American musician Ry Cooder. He also recorded with musicians from Africa, Brazil, India and Europe; composed a piece (“Pano da Costa”) for the Kronos Quartet; and played recording sessions with Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, k.d. lang, Baaba Maal, David Sylvian, Tears for Fears, Bono and others.

In a 1997 interview with the online magazine Perfect Sound Forever, he said he wanted to create “music for above and below the waist simultaneously.” He added that Fourth World music was “about heart and head as the same thing.”

“It’s about being transported to some place which is made up of both real and virtual geography.”

Jon Hassell was born on March 22, 1937, in Memphis. He picked up the instrument his father had played in college, a cornet, and studied music and played in big bands as a teenager. He attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., exploring modern classical composition and earning a master’s degree. To avoid being drafted, he joined the Army band in Washington. (Information on his survivors was not immediately available.)

Fascinated by the emerging field of electronic music, Mr. Hassell made tape collages and won a grant to study with the avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen for two years in Cologne, Germany. His classmates included musicians who would go on to start the German band Can; he took LSD with them.

He received a fellowship at the Center for Creative and Performing Arts at the State University of New York at Buffalo. There he composed music on one of the early Moog synthesizers. He also met the composer Terry Riley, who first recorded his Minimalist landmark “In C” in 1968 at SUNY Buffalo with Mr. Hassell and other musicians.

Mr. Hassell performed in concerts with Mr. Riley and in the drone group Theatre of Eternal Music, which was led by another pioneering Minimalist, La Monte Young. Like them, Mr. Hassell became a student of Mr. Nath, the Indian singer whose subtleties of pitch and inflection would profoundly influence Mr. Hassell’s music; he applied raga singing to his trumpet playing.

“It’s about making a beautiful shape in air,” he said in a 2009 interview with All About Jazz. “I call it calligraphy in sound.”

Mr. Hassell’s musical direction was already clear on his 1977 debut album, “Vernal Equinox.” His electronically altered trumpet is joined by African mbira (thumb piano), Indian tabla drums, maracas, tropical bird calls, electronic drones, ocean waves and crickets.

“This record fascinated me,” Mr. Eno wrote in 2007. “It was a dreamy, strange, meditative music that was inflected by Indian, African and South American music, but also seemed located in the lineage of tonal Minimalism. It was a music I felt I’d been waiting for.”

In New York City, where in the late 1970s art-rock, punk, pop and jazz shared a creative flux, Mr. Eno sought out Mr. Hassell, and they collaborated on “Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics” (1980). As the marketing category “world music” arose, its sounds and ideas strongly influenced musicians like Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel. Mr. Eno was also producing Talking Heads, and Mr. Hassell’s ghostly trumpet is prominent in “Houses in Motion” on Talking Heads’ 1980 album, “Remain in Light.”

Mr. Hassell helped conceptualize the 1981 Byrne-Eno album “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts,” which merged found recordings with studio rhythm tracks and introduced a broad audience to ideas of sonic and cultural collage. But he later said that he could not afford the airfare to join the recording sessions, and he told Billboard magazine that he considered the results “too poppy.”

Writing in 1982 for the science-fiction magazine Heavy Metal, Mr. Hassell championed both preserving and extending local traditions, in order “to understand which music made sorrows bearable and expressed the mystery of creation before the entry date of the first transistor radio into the village.”

Through the decades, he continued to record, experiment and recombine far-flung musical elements.

He collaborated with the African percussionists and singers of Farafina, from Burkina Faso, for “Flash of the Spirit” in 1988. He wrote theater music for “Sulla Strada,” an Italian stage adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” He recorded with Mr. Cooder and Indian musicians — Ronu Majumdar on bansuri, a wooden flute, and Abhijit Banerjee on tabla drums — on the 2000 album “Hollow Bamboo.” In 2005, he began touring internationally with a group called Maarifa Street, which he named after a street in Iran; “maarifa” means knowledge or wisdom.

Mr. Hassell learned evolving technology and made it speak for him, incorporating samples and complex signal processing. He also held on to the physicality of breath and lips on the trumpet.

He conceived his two final albums, “Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One),” in 2018, and “Seeing Through Sound (Pentimento Volume Two),” in 2020, as “pentimento,” a visual-arts term for the reappearance of images an artist had painted over.

Mr. Hassell described his approach to the music as “seeing it in terms of a painting with layers and touch-ups and start-overs, with new layers that get erased in places that let the underlying pattern come to the top and be seen (or heard).”

In 2018, he told Billboard that he was working on a book titled “The North and South of You.”

“It’s the analysis of our current situation in terms of our overemphasis on the north of us, the rational and technological, instead of the south of us,” he said. “North is logic, south is the samba — and how much more of each would you rather have when the time comes to depart the planet?”



The following is the full of text of a note, directed at the Penn (U. of Pennsylvania) community, that was enclosed in one of the packages of materials that Kathy Change distributed the morning of October 22nd 1996, the day she set fire to herself.

(Note that this was written in the atmosphere surrounding the first Gulf War. -jh)

All that you have and cling to in fear

Is as worthwhile as a poisoned pie.

A universe full of love and wonderful possibilities

Would be yours if only you would reach for it.

You are sitting in timid conformity

On a hayride to hell.

You’re just about there.

Get off that truck now.

Break out of the ranks of evil

Do a dance for freedom.

I am angry, impatient, full of anxiety

And full of hope and love

But after 18 years of trying and being rejected

And being a pariah and a fool

I have finally concluded that my charism

And social magnetism register high on the negative scale.

Now that I’ve put in the first word,

This movement that I’ve tried to start,

Would probably do better without me,

So I will try to make a dramatic exit.

I’ve tried to do this several times before,

And failed.

If this is the right thing to do,

Heaven will help me.

If not,


Nevermind. I’ll be seeing you around.

I look at you and you are so beautiful

It makes me shy.

Your sympathy makes me want to hide

Because I feel unworthy.

For the cause I want to grab you

Drag you to meetings and demonstrations

But I’m afraid of putting you on the spot

Making you uncomfortable, scaring you away

So I am frozen in wanting

to merge my mind and heart with yours

Imprisoned by the invisible barriers

That I know must be broken through

I scream shrilly

I am an ungainly presence

Trying to break through the complacency

with my wild rage.

I have crashed this party

I do not belong here.

But you do. You are the children of the host.

You can talk to each other as peers

And take your rightful places

At academia’s table

with calm and gracious poise.

As crazy as I have been,

You can be cool.

Have confidence in your beliefs

You are a step ahead of everybody else.

Underneath their herd stupidity

Even the demo emulating morons and their sold out mentors

Who appear to be the majority in your milieu,

Are human beings

Who long for the world to be freed and set right

Even though they don’t know it.

Do them the great kindness of forgiving their stupidity

And put them in touch with the real heart

Of humanity.

To reach through the mask

Is your task.

There is so much at stake;

The country, the world, the future.

Don’t be put off by trivialities.

With you as its champion

Good will surely triumph.

How great will be your glory

How multitudinous will be your blessings

The highest happiness will be yours.

For many years I have though that Penn

Would be a good place to start the Transformation.

If this action I am taking succeeds

I hoped it might spark some interest

In what I was trying to say.

I hoped my writings would be printed and made available.

Maybe Transformation Parties could be held.

I am taking this action out of hope

Not despair.

By destroying my material corpus

I want to free my spirit

So that it can jump inside of you

I think that you would enjoy being filled

with conviction and can-do optimism

I think you would feel good

to be cleansed of the blase brain rot that clogs your mind

Yes there is such a thing as true morality, a real

distinction between good and evil, right and wrong.

Decisive moves must be made on behalf of good.

These are the addresses of some Penn people to whom

I have sent my packages.

Maybe you would like to meet and talk.

I have also sent packages to WXPN

and the Daily Pennsylvanian.

October 7, 1996

The multitudinous war crimes and crimes against humanity of the U.S. government have been documented and detailed, and every American is more or less aware of the criminality of his government, and yet we continue to respect its power and authority. We continue trying to work through the electoral process. We plead with our congress people to work for the well being of all the people and the planet instead of catering to the special interests of big money and organized crime. It is as though Gary Heidnik, the man who imprisoned, tortured and murder women in his basement, was the headmaster of a girls’ prep school; and upon discovery of his crimes,he was duly criticized, but allowed to remain in his position of power and responsibilty, presumably to continue his atrocities. The U.S. government is a much bigger and far worse criminal than Gary Heidnik, and it must be relieved of its duties immediately without further bureacratic hemming and hawing. The crimes of this present system are so enormous, an the dangers to which it is exposing us are so deadly and world threatening, that a sincere and forthright call to the American people to depose this evil system and come together now to peacefully replace it with true democracy, would be received with an overwhelmingly positive response from the people. Media workers are in a position to make this call and it is their responsibility to do so.

It is a waste of energy to get angry and gripe at the government. The government must be replaced by a truly democratic selfgovernment of, for and by the people. Those people working in industries essential to maintaining life should democratically take over their work places and organize an emergency economy to supply the needs of the people. The rest of the people should meet in their communities to organize a new directly democratic community based selfgovernment. This should be done immediately, because every day that we continue with business as usual, the problems just get worse. I want to protest the present government and economic system and the cynicism and passivity of the people in general.

I want to protest this entirely shameful state of affairs as emphatically as I can. But primarily, I want to get publicity in order to draw attention to my proposal for immediate social transformation. To do this I plan to end my own life. The attention of the media is only caught by acts of violence. My moral principles prevent me from doing harm to anyone else or their property, so I must perform this act of violence against myself. Around twelve years ago, I don’t remember the exact year, a woman from Boston set herself on fire in Independence Square. For the next five days the Philadelphia Inquirer was filled with reports of investigations into who this woman was and speculation as to why she did this act. Since I have been in Philadelphia for fiften years, all the while making myself very visible demostrating my position opinions, dancing and waving my flags on the streets of this city, I believe I should create at least as much as a sensation in the press. If the news media buries this story it will be proof of the extreme prejudice of the media. I want this statement and my other writings to be printed in the newspapers of this city. I want the people of this city who have been seeing me around for so long to finally hear what I’ve been saying. I want my ideas to be publically discussed. If people talked about my ideas, they would realize that transformation of our society is possible, and they would feel better.

I first planned to take this action a year ago. I wrote up final statements, xeroxed them, and then I backed down. A year ago, economic collapse seemed to be the most imminent danger threatening us. Today the likelihood of the impending war with Iraq rapidly escalating into a nuclear holocaust eclipses the likelihood of economic collapse as being by far the more serious and scary crisis. I am propmted to take this action by the dire urgency of the world’s environmental crisis, and the enormous unnecessary suffering and repression being endured by all the world’s people because of the oppressive geopolitical system. Of all the world’s people, only the American people have the power to change this global system of abuse, and therefore, it is their responsibility to do so. I hope my action will not be viewed as tragic, but rather, in the light in which it is intended. I am performing this ritual sacrifice in hopes that it will increase the efficacy of my prayers to all the people to have faith in the ideals, choose the path of peace and transform this nation and world.

I also want to make a statement about life and death. Death is natural and inevitable. Death is good, because it allows life to make a fresh start. The spirit is everlasting and always returns to life through rebirth. I am not certain exactly how this happens, but I believe that the spirit recycles itself somehow. It’s true that we are each special individuals whose lives are precious, but we are also part of a great spirit body, the universal collective spirit. By dying, we dissolve our individual ego personality and rejoin the spiritual totality, before returning to alife in a new body. It’s a completely wonderful process, and not sad at all, except perhaps for the people we leave behind, who may miss us. But there are so many beautiful people in the world, that they should not miss the departed for too long. There are always plenty of people around to love.

This society places too much emphasis on the unconditional sacredness of life. Anti-abortionists believe that it is more important to save life than to guarantee the quality of the life they save. This belief in survival as the highest priority contributes to the deterioration of the quality of life for everybody. When people do not practice birth control and all the babies are saved, then we overpopulate. We kill wild animal species, strip the earth of its forests and wilderness, and the planet becomes ecologically imbalanced and punishes us with environmental disasters. When there are more people than we can care for, the quality of life diminishes for everyone. A life is worth saving only if it is worth living. It could be argued that to live with physical handicaps and adversity may be good for spiritual growth. But to live in moral degradation is not good in any way. Because our society is so corrupt, unfair, environmentally destructive, and in a state of deterioration, rather than improvement, we are all living in a state of moral degradation. Our society is like a cancer on the planet. The goal is for everybody to improve, not to commit mass suicide.

For eighteen years I have been trying to urge people to throw off the corruption and go for the good, but I don’t see my efforts as being successful in any way, except that it’s given me something to do. I do not want to live off of this evil society any longer. My life is dependent on this society, and so I want to end my life. I demand that life must meet a standard of true morality or else it is not worth living. In Orwellian fashion, this society equates repression with morality. But in truth, repression of people who are only trying to enjoy themselves and not hurting others is utterly immoral. The real struggle is not between races, or classes. It is not people versus the elite.

The real struggle is between good and evil; between intelligent behavior and blind obedient conformity. Good is what promotes health and happiness. Evil is what causes deterioration and disease. If we choose good, it will be a triumph for everybody. Every person from the poorest to the richest, from the humblest to the most powerful, will gain. Everybody will discover real joy and peace of mind. The benefits will be so absolute that I cannot imagine any other outcome.

We are entering an age that will be as different from what came before as day is to night, or as summer is to winter. Throughout this passing age, humanity has had to work very hard at being constantly on the defensive, and prepared for war. Now as we dissolve the enmity, we can all relax and enjoy life.

As a plan my action, I think of all the things that might hinder it. What if the post office fails to deliver my press statements? What if someone stops me from carrying out my intentions? I don’t know if I will succeed, but I will drop this statement in the mail and proceed, trusting in fate to bring about whatever is meant to happen.

Call me a flaming radical burning for attention, but my real intention is to spark a discussion of how we can peacefully transform our world. America, I offer myself to you as an alarm against Armageddon and a torch for liberty.