When speaking of his musical journey — a journey that that spans more than five decades — Jon Hassell recently noted: “without overstating it too much I don’t know who else has had the kind of experience that I’ve had in various kinds of music.” It is very hard to argue with his self- estimation. Hassell’s soundworlds have been varied and bold and their influence on contemporary musics, discernable and ongoing.
A childhood in Memphis; a classical conservatory education studying the trumpet; composition and electronic music study with Stockhausen in Cologne; a passage through the New York minimalist sphere with Terry Riley, Lamonte Young and Phillip Glass; a singular and radicalized approach to the trumpet developed after a mentorship with the Indian vocal master Pandit Pran Nath; collaborative excursions with Eno, The Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, David Sylvian, Bjork and Ry Cooder; a continuous questioning of the dichotomies between North and South, sacred and sensual, primitive and futurist.
These cross-pollinating influences and pan-cultural musical educations led Hassell to seek sonic solutions outside of the didactics of western music. The result of this search was the gradual development of musical concepts and gestures that he grouped under the umbrella theory: “Fourth World.” In a 1997 interview he describes the genesis of these ideas:
“I wanted the mental and geographical landscapes to be more indeterminate- not Indonesia, not Africa, not this or that…something that could have existed if things were in an imaginary culture, growing up in an imaginary place with this imaginary music…I called it ‘coffee-colored classical music of the future’…What would music be like if ‘classic’ had not been defined as what happened in Central Europe two hundred years ago. What if the world knew Javanese music and Pygmy music and Aborigine music? What would ‘classical music’ sound like then?”
In the late 1970’s in New York, Hassell began to produce a series of astonishing albums where his trumpet explored both non-western modalities and dramatic sound processing (deftly rendered by nascent digital effects like the AMS harmonizer). Brian Eno, who was living New York at the time was thrilled by Hassell’s debut album Vernal Equinox and sought out its creator. Eventually they began an in-depth (and at times contentious) collaboration that resulted in the classic album Fourth World Vol.1: Possible Musics (also reissued by Glitterbeat Records).
While the partnership with Eno surely introduced Hassell’s music to a wider audience, it also left raw feelings and unresolved issues. As Eno charged headlong into “Fourth World”-ish collaborations with a new partner, David Byrne from The Talking Heads (My Life in The Bush of Ghosts / Remain in Light), Hassell began to feel that at best they were heavily borrowing concepts and sounds he had introduced them to, and at worst, that a full-scale appropriation was taking place.
As Hassell undertook the process of recording and finalizing Dream Theory in Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two — the follow-up to Possible Musics — Brian Eno was again present, as both mixer and musician, but this time the album was clearly ascribed to Hassell. The back cover credits leave no room for interpretation or confusion: “All compositions by Jon Hassell. Produced by Jon Hassell.”
01. Chor Moiré
03. Dream Theory
04. Datu Bintung At Jelong
06. These Times…
07. Gift Of Fire
08. Ordinary Mind (bonus track)