The iconoclastic composer and trumpet participant Jon Hassell died on June 26 on the age of 84. An early scholar of musical serialism, Hassell went overseas after commencement to check at Stockhausen’s Cologne Course for New Music. He returned to the U.S. and met composer Terry Riley in 1967. Their kinship led to Hassell’s participation within the landmark CBS Masterworks recording of Riley’s “In C,” launched in 1968. His circle quickly expanded to incorporate La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, whose curiosity in Indian music led to their joint research with Indian classical singer Pandit Pran Nath.
Electrified by the teachings he realized from the Kirana gharana vocal custom, Hassell developed his “fourth world” idea: a powerfully summary synthesis of contemporary electronics and conventional musical modes. He first explored the idea in his groundbreaking 1977 solo debut, “Vernal Equinox,” however his most indelible recording in that vein is “Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics,” a 1980 collaboration with Brian Eno.
Any variety of Hassell’s albums at the moment are thought-about obligatory listening for music followers seeking to develop their consciousness of music’s prospects. (We advocate “Dream Theory in Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two.”) He launched his remaining album, “Seeing By way of Sound,” in 2020.
An in-demand sideman, Hassell additionally lent his unmistakable model to data by Speaking Heads, Peter Gabriel, David Sylvian, Stina Nordenstam, Tears For Fears, ok.d. Lang, and numerous others.
From the archives, we current a long-unheard interview from KCRW’s “SNAP!” program. Hassell appeared stay on the night of September 18, 1985, in dialog with host and DJ Deirdre O’Donoghue. “SNAP!” was, in O’Donoghue’s phrases, the epicenter of “new and unusual and weird stuff that you simply don’t have a tendency to listen to on a lot of the FM airwaves.” Her present ran on KCRW from December 1982 to June 1991. That is the primary put up in a sequence supposed to carry extra of O’Donoghue’s interviews and in-studio performances to gentle.
Deirdre O’Donoghue: There is a fixed curiosity in your work right here at “SNAP!,” in addition to the style by which you current the concepts that you have been creating during the last couple of a long time and the variety of completely different initiatives you’ve got been concerned with. Describe what it’s that you simply’re doing right here in Los Angeles away from New York, right here with all the sunshine and shiny and colours, not the darkish canyons.
John Hassell: “True. I am doing one thing completely different right here. There is a string quartet known as the Kronos Quartet, which does very creative programming and commissions individuals like Frank Zappa, Terry Riley, and so on, and so on. And I did a chunk for them which premiered in San Francisco [on] Friday, and so they’re doing it once more right here at UCLA in Schoenberg Corridor, additionally on Friday.”
And the piece is entitled “Pano de Costa.”
“’Pano de Costa’ means ‘Material from the Coast.’ There is a guide by Robert Farris Thompson known as ‘Flash of the Spirit,’ which is concerning the contribution that, I believe, 5 African tribes have made to the Western world. And this explicit one refers to a way of a loom placing collectively the slender strips of fabric which might be attribute of African weaving, perhaps six inches throughout or eight inches throughout. And there is a explicit aesthetic that goes with that whenever you need to make a bigger piece of fabric.
The sample that is on the small items of fabric need to be put collectively in a really particular manner, a really musical manner. ‘Rhythmized textiles’ is his time period for it. And so there is a type of counterpoint of design and colour and sorts of colour that one ought to start with, the type of colour that one ought to finish with, issues that could possibly be utilized to any type of time artwork. So that is the inspiration for it.
And there is one other Brazilian twist to it since I am utilizing the berimbau à la Nana Vasconcelos. The [performer] taking part in the berimbau holds these devices known as caixixi, or shakers, these little wicker baskets. So I’ve among the devices doing that, the cello and the second violin. They’re doing a barely berimbau-type rhythmic really feel. In order that has a barely Brazilian contact, and that is the inspiration for the title, and so on, and so on.”
So you’ve got tailored the sensation of these devices to plain European stringed devices.
“As in all of the issues I attempt to do … I assume the time period [is] ‘creating a practice,’ which, after all, isn’t a simple factor to do. I imply, ‘custom’ in citation marks, because it’s my very own custom. I contemplate myself a tradition, and that is my very own thought within my head after I’m making these items. However sure, it has this Brazilian tinge to it, nevertheless it’s not all there. It is different locations, too.”
While you speak concerning the custom of weaving the fabric and such, [is that] African or Brazilian?
“Nicely, it is Afro-Brazilian, it is transplanted. Sure, I did not make that clear. The entire thesis of this guide is how issues had been remodeled through the slave commerce, and the way it was remodeled on this hemisphere.”
So the theories of the weaving, the patterns of the colour, [and] the event of the patterns is a gestation level for the event of the piece that Kronos Quartet will probably be acting on Friday night.
“That is proper. It is a fairly little thought. I imply, one may apply it to plenty of different issues, however this occurred to be the factor I used to be serious about after I began doing this.”
You may have additionally been doing with an ensemble some stay performances in Europe.
“Sure, I am very blissful to have a gaggle doing issues which I like higher than something I’ve ever accomplished earlier than. And it is all taking place stay. Jean-Philippe Rykiel is taking part in synthesizers and J.A. Deane is taking part in percussion. These names might not imply a lot to an American viewers, however Jean-Philippe has his personal following in Europe. Are you aware the designer Sonia Rykiel? It is her son.
The attribute of that is that there is plenty of crossover. You could hear issues which sound like percussion which are literally being performed by synthesizer. You could hear trumpets which are literally being performed by the percussionist through digital recollections. And so it is a very good combination of conventional issues, pores and skin (as in drums), pottery, earth issues, and high-tech issues.”
So this will probably be a chunk that we will hearken to from a kind of performances in Europe this spring.
“That is proper. As I defined on the morning show, we did a bit of tag on the top of all of the concert events that was a growth of the final piece that we performed and normally stretched out. And at every live performance it turned a distinct factor. This explicit one occurred in Hamburg.”
That individual piece, which has no particular title, however was an experiment? Would that be a manner of describing it?
“No, not likely an experiment. I imply, that is saying that one actually would not know what is going on to occur. However, as I mentioned earlier than, I contemplate that by now the group and the data and the vocabulary [are] there. In order that, in actual fact, it features as a type of tradition. There are motifs and issues which might be exchanged and are available again in numerous types all through. So there are little parts that could be within the background which can be in a distinct place on one other piece.
I’ve to discuss with my research of Indian raga — which I proceed to level to as a really, very lovely kind — which is an ideal steadiness between the pre-thought and the improvisational. And so I’ve tried to mannequin every thing I do on that. So there’s positively construction. As in ice skating, proper, there are faculty figures and free-skating. I believe that is a mandatory ingredient for what I name ‘true’ classical music. I believe that classical music as meant in different traditions — Indonesian custom, African custom — that is what “actually classical” means. I may say Miles Davis is actually classical, far more classical music to me than different issues that are fully notated and which occur the identical time and the identical manner in each efficiency.”
That notion may be very attention-grabbing to me about classical music and Western ‘civilization’s’ perspective towards classical music, which may be very formal, very stiff, very notated, [and] for probably the most half till this century, definitely very inflexible. And the differentiation with Indonesian or Indian cultures, which you’ve got been carefully related to, by which there’s a way more fluid sense to the event. There is a construction which modifications on a regular basis. Was that what first drew you to Indian music? The fluidity of the construction?
“In a way, it was an try to resolve issues in my very own life, which was to say: Why did I like to show off the lights, make love, and hearken to Brazilian music, after which after I bought up the subsequent morning, I am going to work on some white-on-white kind of abstraction, musically talking. And asking myself why these items need to be separate. After which having the nice fortune to run throughout Pandit Pran Nath, my Indian instructor through Terry Riley and La Monte Younger.
I started to see how classical Indian tradition was, for instance, fairly central. You are not leaving issues out. Within the Western world, there is a strict dichotomy which occurs not solely in musical life, but additionally in a single’s bodily life, too. There is a type of separation between mental over right here and attractive over right here, and our sensual and erotic. And [in] a really balanced outlook on what life is about, these items all have to return collectively. And due to this fact unique beats and this type of factor, why ought to they be omitted of probably the most superior expression that one can give you? It is strictly a matter of Western confusion of the child and the bathwater.”
You talked about Terry Riley and La Monte Younger. You grew up within the American South, and I do know that you simply ended up going to New York to the Eastman Faculty of Music and finding out with a variety of these individuals. And from Terry Riley, for instance, assembly and turning into aware of plenty of Indian music. However how does a younger lad from Memphis, Tennessee, initially grow to be conscious of and aware of the concepts of somebody like a Stockhausen or a Webern, and resolve to go to New York and research this type of music?
“Nicely, truly, that got here later. That was after I went to Europe to check with Stockhausen, and naturally, these issues come out of being in an instructional surroundings. I believed you had been going to ask me, how did I come round to this quasi-tribal mind-set, coming from the place I got here? And I had a fantastic reply for you …”
Oh, properly, reply that then, by all means!
“… since this Robert Farris Thompson guide is strictly about that type of factor. Though I wasn’t conscious of it after I was there, Memphis is sort of a melting pot, an Afro-American melting pot. And that complete space, I imply, it is a tri-state space. Mississippi and Arkansas and Tennessee and even Alabama. And actually one of many continuations of this rhythmized textile custom reveals up within the South in quilt-making. Conventional Black quilt-making is a change or a continuation of that aesthetic. In order that’s the reply I’ve for you, should you had been going to ask that query.”
That solutions one other query that I used to be going to ask you later. So, you see, you are prescient. You are studying my thoughts concerning the nature of the folks patterns and the folks music that exists right here, the music of the Appalachians. A few of which I discover fairly compelling. While you get again into [what] individuals do with the bathtub basses and the Jew’s harps, mouth harps, and quite simple stringed devices that aren’t attuned to the inflexible structuralism of … it has been taken out into the woods and handled. There’s not even a construction as there could be with the raga. However I discover a few of it very attention-grabbing. And I used to be questioning should you had ever delved into any of that.
“No, I share your like of issues like bluegrass and that type of factor. It is wealthy in fourths and fifths and open intervals, which I clearly like. However I do not find out about the true roots of that custom.”
Let me return two steps. I will faux I am the reporter on the Presidential information convention. How was it in Memphis, Tennessee, that you simply grow to be conscious of digital musics such that [it] instigated a transfer to New York to check there, and from there on to Europe? Since you’ve labored with among the most revolutionary and imaginative musical minds of the twentieth century. And [you] definitely are one your self in creating new concepts and patterns, methods for us to listen to and cope with sound.
“I did not do any digital issues earlier than I went there. Eastman Faculty of Music is, by the best way, in Rochester, as a part of the College of Rochester. And that is the place I did [my] undergraduate and grasp’s diploma. And it is a very conventional faculty within the sense of … Are you aware the composer Howard Hanson? A terrific open plains-type sound. An Aaron Copland-type sound, though Aaron Copland wasn’t there at the moment.
There are at all times younger turks in these conditions, so there was a bit of coterie of younger turks who had been deeply into the twelve-tone custom, finding out Webern scores and following the tone rows via all of the competitions and doing their very own. So my grasp’s thesis was twelve-tone orchestra variations, which was fairly superior for that point. However the European stuff and the Stockhausen and all of the digital issues got here after that.”
Because the development from that. Which has come up up to now in 1985. As I perceive, it has been delayed by a few months, however you’ve got a brand new studio recording popping out shortly.
“It was accomplished in January, and that is already 9 months in the past, sadly. I do not like to go away these items round on a shelf that lengthy. Nevertheless it was produced by Brian Eno and Dan Lanois, who additionally … I used to be overhearing your U2 feedback earlier than, and so they additionally had been the producers of that record. It is known as ‘Energy Spot,’ and it is a piece known as … I believe my present title for it’s ‘Wing Melodies.’ And it’ll be out first of the 12 months, as an example.”
So January of 1986, the start of the 12 months, ought to see a brand new Jon Hassell album. And a small ensemble? 4 individuals once more, 5?
“This complete file — in actual fact, all of the stay issues that I am taking part in — are the results of taking … After I make a file, we play extensions as if the file is the start of the composition, and the stay performances which observe are the true growth of these concepts. So that is a kind of authentic concepts.”
“Wing Melodies.” Your titles of each albums and musical items … You do appear very a lot primarily based within the bodily world, an appreciation of the bodily world and an acknowledgement that there is one other stage to it. I believe “magical realism” is what’s coming to thoughts, in order that strikes me as fairly acceptable.
“This quartet mission … was fairly a hurdle for me to get again into writing notes for individuals once more. [That was] one thing I ended doing after a sure interval after I began finding out Indian music. And I noticed that [in] notated music, generally the notation started sounding via, as if as an alternative of listening to ideas being expressed by a speaker, one heard the commas and the durations. So I’ve typically tried to steer clear of that, because the Indian custom is an oral custom anyway. And so when the Kronos requested me to do that, it was an enormous transfer.”
While you focus on an oral custom of music, is that to say that it’s not written down in any respect, however merely transmitted sonically? In order that should you had been to be taught one thing from an Indian Grasp, you’d do it solely by means of imitation and private acculturation?
“That is proper, simply by imitating him. He sings the phrase, you play the phrase. If you happen to do not do it proper, he sings it once more. If you happen to do not do it, proper once more, he’ll normally again up and go to a phrase which is barely more easy. It is a very lovely and systematic manner of doing [things]. All of their artwork has that side to it. [In] tabla taking part in, the rhythmic buildings are all introduced in a step-by-step manner, from including a easy factor to a extremely attention-grabbing type of complexity. On this day, when concepts enter the media tube and make an enormous circle all over the world very quick and grow to be very diluted, it is a battery cost for me to keep up a correspondence with that, at all times. Once I’m in San Francisco, for instance, with Pran Nath,, it is simply the transmission of this phrase that was transmitted … I imply, one can hint it again traditionally 500, 600 years, and there is nothing written in any respect of it. So it is superior, is what it’s.”
The style by which it is traveled … would that be the style in which you’d talk with the musicians in your ensemble?
“Nicely, largely, sure. I imply, there are issues which might be notated. However this mannequin of Indian raga that I informed you about, the place there is a construction, after which there’s freedom inside that construction, it is a bit of this concept of 1’s personal private tradition. And it is also a little bit of appearing as a director in a film, working with superb actors whom he is chosen to play in a selected situation.
That’s to say, if Robert De Niro needs to do one thing on his personal, you will let him do it and see the way it comes out. As a result of he has an intuition, and that intuition is value noting. And generally, in actual fact, I am a bit of shocked. For example, Jean-Philippe is a younger virtuoso. And generally I hear him going locations that I am not likely so blissful that he is going with. After which, listening at one other second after the live performance, I say, ‘It is not dangerous,’ . So it is a mixture of all three issues which might be working.”
While you’re there on the stage performing with the ensemble, to what diploma would there be throughout the group improvisation, as in jazz? and to what diploma? Is it just about preordained?
“Nicely, primary, every thing I’ve is in the important thing of C. C equals 256 cycles. And it is a closely-related interval to that noticed, as they are saying in Indian music. And in Indian music, one performer at all times has his personal noticed, and he pertains to that, at all times. In different phrases, you do not say, ‘Nicely, we’ll play this in the important thing of C tonight. And tomorrow, we’ll do it in the important thing of F sharp.’ And Western musicians spend plenty of time working towards all of the patterns in numerous keys, whereas Indian musicians, they’ve one noticed, in order that they get grooves worn into their ear about intervals, and significantly in very refined relationships to that noticed.
In order that’s one factor that offers what I do a sure sound. After which there’s sure intervals that I at all times use, and there [are] sure chord progressions that I like. And naturally, when somebody performs with me, they be taught these issues. So the a part of improvisation is relying on somebody’s sensibility as to when they might really feel that is the precise place to do that. Nevertheless it’s as if the vocabulary is already there, and one simply decides, utilizing the identical textual content, one creates a distinct type of play. And if one thing occurs [that’s] actually uncommon and delightful, then hopefully everybody has the identical sensibility to maneuver away from that. That’s to say, to observe that and to go away from any type of preordained spot. In order that’s at all times great when that occurs.”
This interview was initially broadcast on KCRW’s “SNAP!” on September 18, 1985. Audio courtesy the Deirdre O’Donoghue archives.
“Tag (Fabrik, Hamburg, DE, 5/15/1985)”
“Tag (Beursschouwburg, Brussels, BE, 5/17/1985)”