​words about jh | article

​​taboo
 jon hassell, hyperreality
and the magic of tone
john payne | LA Weekly Online | ​1999

​​SINCE 1977, THE Los Angeles–based composer/trumpeter 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 subsequent work with La Monte 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.

There is an instantly identifiable "Hassell sound." On his best-known albums, including Possible Musics (1980) and Dream Theory In Malaya (1981), it's not at all like "trumpet"; amid the pitter-pattering rhythms and generally steamy ambience, you think you're hearing voices, huddled together, cooing, giggling, chanting. In fact, you're hearing Hassell's voice, or, rather, his mouth and voice box—he's singing with his trumpet. It's a technique he developed in his studies with Indian vocal master Pandit Pran Nath, whom he met in the '70s through both Young and Riley, who had studied with Pran Nath in India. At around the same time, Hassell got into Miles Davis—On the Corner, that era—and started playing with a wah-wah pedal. "That's when the daylight world and the night world came together; the daylight world is, you're painting white-on-white painting, as in the minimalist-school compositional effect, and then at night, when it comes to groove, you're putting on Miles."

Whence comes the Fourth World. "I saw how Indian music had structure and sensuality at the same time, so rather than literally using the tambura, I translated the tambura 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 Sumac/Les 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 concrète 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 electronic/media overload these last few years—or suffered too much of its ensuing clever irony.

There's also the problem of the Hassell-derived "future/primitive" 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, guitarist/clarinetist 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."

Fascinoma digs deep into the mysteries of pure tone—almost. While it boasts an authentic audiophiliac analog experience, that's not quite an authentic way of describing it, as the players also employed samples, and the performances were edited. But the technology is minimal, and most of the cuts were played straight through, with little rehearsal. The church setting allowed Hassell to build on the idea of not creating something from scratch, but having to harmonize with the beauty that's contained in a room.

"There clearly is a relationship between timbre and what kind of music you play; they're organically related. So, when a certain quota of beauty is already fulfilled when you walk into the room, 'Nature Boy' feels as right to do as the B-minor Mass."

Fascinoma's way of recording has given Hassell ideas for future projects. "I'd love to do a record with Jimmy Scott, in that intimate one-microphone way. And I'd like to do a record with João Gilberto, just me and him up in the church. I've been so enchanted by his sensuality and his rhythmic grace and everything, you could put it up with the masterworks of the world." Gilberto's music, says Hassell, is unassailable.

"There is beauty, like naked beauty. If you want to talk yourself out of it, okay, go ahead and talk yourself out of it."

Digital technology has given birth to musical methods by which one can easily mix 'n' match elements from as many "cultures" as one pleases, a situation that has led to cries of "colonialism" toward artists who weren't deemed to be "respecting the source material." It's always phrased this way—and one wonders how such respect could be sufficiently demonstrated. One is reminded of the Brazilian Tropicalistas of the late '60s, early '70s, proudly proclaiming their "cannibalization" of all and any music (European included) they could get their hands on, or the Indian musicians who adapted the violin for their ragas.

Who may cannibalize without guilt? Jon Hassell? Maybe so—one has only to listen to see that he has consistently created something new out of his lovingly borrowed elements.

"The crux of it is, Is this better than the thing you've appropriated? Does this add anything to the world, or would it be better to hear the source that you took from?" Remember that Hassell's early inspiration came from career inauthenticists such as exotica king Les Baxter, whose purpose in life was to provide people with pleasurable escape. It's a stretch, but you could say that Les Baxter's fake music was honest in its guileless hunger for adventure.

"It's so simple and yet it's so difficult. I keep saying, 'Put yourself in a dark room and keep asking the question, What is it that I really like?' There are things you've been told that you like, things you've been commissioned to like, and things you've been told it's not right to like. I don't see the difference in kids playing out now; I pray that they hit the spot where they start thinking, 'What is it that I really like? And not what has been foisted on me.'"

Hassell, like a lot of musicians in LA, has had his stab at composing for big Hollywood films, including the soundtrack for Wim Wenders' The End of Violence. He recently scored Wenders' upcoming The Million Dollar Hotel, in which he also appears onscreen as a down-and-out musician living in a Skid Row dive. For his acting debut, Hassell drew on his musical side, and he enjoyed it.

"In attempting to present yourself, you have to groom yourself to perform onstage; it's the same dynamic—you want to be yourself as much as possible, be as comfortable as possible. It's a lot easier being myself without an instrument on my mouth. So it was fun, a lotta fun." He laughs. "I play a shabby trumpet player." •

This interview first appeared in the LA Weekly
November 19th, 1999 | www.laweekly.com

taboo: jon hassell, hyperreality
and the magic of tone

by john payne




SINCE 1977, THE Los Angeles–based composer/trumpeter 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 subsequent work with La Monte 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.

There is an instantly identifiable "Hassell sound." On his best-known albums, including Possible Musics (1980) and Dream Theory In Malaya (1981), it's not at all like "trumpet"; amid the pitter-pattering rhythms and generally steamy ambience, you think you're hearing voices, huddled together, cooing, giggling, chanting. In fact, you're hearing Hassell's voice, or, rather, his mouth and voice box—he's singing with his trumpet. It's a technique he developed in his studies with Indian vocal master Pandit Pran Nath, whom he met in the '70s through both Young and Riley, who had studied with Pran Nath in India. At around the same time, Hassell got into Miles Davis—On the Corner, that era—and started playing with a wah-wah pedal. "That's when the daylight world and the night world came together; the daylight world is, you're painting white-on-white painting, as in the minimalist-school compositional effect, and then at night, when it comes to groove, you're putting on Miles."

Whence comes the Fourth World. "I saw how Indian music had structure and sensuality at the same time, so rather than literally using the tambura, I translated the tambura 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 Sumac/Les 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 concrète 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 electronic/media overload these last few years—or suffered too much of its ensuing clever irony.

There's also the problem of the Hassell-derived "future/primitive" 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, guitarist/clarinetist 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."

Fascinoma digs deep into the mysteries of pure tone—almost. While it boasts an authentic audiophiliac analog experience, that's not quite an authentic way of describing it, as the players also employed samples, and the performances were edited. But the technology is minimal, and most of the cuts were played straight through, with little rehearsal. The church setting allowed Hassell to build on the idea of not creating something from scratch, but having to harmonize with the beauty that's contained in a room.

"There clearly is a relationship between timbre and what kind of music you play; they're organically related. So, when a certain quota of beauty is already fulfilled when you walk into the room, 'Nature Boy' feels as right to do as the B-minor Mass."

Fascinoma's way of recording has given Hassell ideas for future projects. "I'd love to do a record with Jimmy Scott, in that intimate one-microphone way. And I'd like to do a record with João Gilberto, just me and him up in the church. I've been so enchanted by his sensuality and his rhythmic grace and everything, you could put it up with the masterworks of the world." Gilberto's music, says Hassell, is unassailable.

"There is beauty, like naked beauty. If you want to talk yourself out of it, okay, go ahead and talk yourself out of it."

Digital technology has given birth to musical methods by which one can easily mix 'n' match elements from as many "cultures" as one pleases, a situation that has led to cries of "colonialism" toward artists who weren't deemed to be "respecting the source material." It's always phrased this way—and one wonders how such respect could be sufficiently demonstrated. One is reminded of the Brazilian Tropicalistas of the late '60s, early '70s, proudly proclaiming their "cannibalization" of all and any music (European included) they could get their hands on, or the Indian musicians who adapted the violin for their ragas.

Who may cannibalize without guilt? Jon Hassell? Maybe so—one has only to listen to see that he has consistently created something new out of his lovingly borrowed elements.

"The crux of it is, Is this better than the thing you've appropriated? Does this add anything to the world, or would it be better to hear the source that you took from?" Remember that Hassell's early inspiration came from career inauthenticists such as exotica king Les Baxter, whose purpose in life was to provide people with pleasurable escape. It's a stretch, but you could say that Les Baxter's fake music was honest in its guileless hunger for adventure.

"It's so simple and yet it's so difficult. I keep saying, 'Put yourself in a dark room and keep asking the question, What is it that I really like?' There are things you've been told that you like, things you've been commissioned to like, and things you've been told it's not right to like. I don't see the difference in kids playing out now; I pray that they hit the spot where they start thinking, 'What is it that I really like? And not what has been foisted on me.'"

Hassell, like a lot of musicians in LA, has had his stab at composing for big Hollywood films, including the soundtrack for Wim Wenders' The End of Violence. He recently scored Wenders' upcoming The Million Dollar Hotel, in which he also appears onscreen as a down-and-out musician living in a Skid Row dive. For his acting debut, Hassell drew on his musical side, and he enjoyed it.

"In attempting to present yourself, you have to groom yourself to perform onstage; it's the same dynamic—you want to be yourself as much as possible, be as comfortable as possible. It's a lot easier being myself without an instrument on my mouth. So it was fun, a lotta fun." He laughs. "I play a shabby trumpet player." •


 

This interview first appeared in the LA Weekly
November 19th, 1999 | www.laweekly.com
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."