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Interviews

Jon Hassell: Fourth World and Balancing the North and South of You

By Published: May 4, 2009
Fourth World and Technology

In the credits to Last night the moon came, there's an acknowledgement, in the section titles "Contributions": "The sampling software ("Cognition"), developed by Arnaud Mercier, that has created little sparks of inspiration throughout the last year or two." Of "Cognition," Hassell says: "Mercier is not simply a guy who does our technical setup and does great mixes. He actually is a very well-trained acoustic engineer—beyond an engineer. And he made this software. Basically you put a sample into it and it randomly samples within that sample and seamlessly binds it together. So it's like you put the sample in one end, and out the other end comes a kind of cubistically arranged version of it. You've already scrambled the original sequence of the sample, so interesting combinations are made and a lot of things that I had originally played with as a kind of first attempt—'I wonder what this sounds like; I wonder what that sounds like?' It became quite useful, and then I'd take little sections of that and introduce them into the sound."

Despite increasingly sophisticated advances in the technology that has given Hassell the freedom to explore and expand his Fourth World music, he's the first one to say there's no telling what the future might hold. "There always the caveat that there may very well come a time in which I'll do that Jobim record," Hassell says. "One thing I'm aware of is pushing things beyond its lifespan, when it stops being interesting. When it stops being in that category, what it is that I really like, I'm quick to express my intolerance for it and move on to something else. Of course the technology allows you to integrate things and move things around, which is like all things: the easier it becomes, the more accessible it becomes and the more people are doing it and then it kind of gets deflated, so you have to find a way to keep it fresh or to simply use it without calling too much attention to it and just let it serve the music without it being spotlighted."

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Self-Management

The challenges of managing one's own career are facing many musicians, for whom the overhead in a time of increasing recording and touring costs mean something has to go. "I do understand the small is beautiful concept for sure," Hassell agrees. "I know that's one of the reasons that I really haven't reached a good management situation for myself ever. It's because I find that I'm sweeping up after people and trying to do things the right way, and it winds up being as much trouble or more for me to have to deal with it on that level. And then having to put two or three other people in the loop. Management these days—I say these days—in essence seems like you're in a room and you've got a wall full of wires coming in on one side and a wall full of wires on the other side and you basically have to connect this wire to that wire because this one needs to know about that too. It's all about networking, I guess.

"It's really gotten to me this year," Hassell concludes. "I've never worked so hard in my life, and I keep dreaming of the perfect person or entity. But for the moment, sometimes you just have to take things the way they are and work with them.

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Going Forward

Hassell has a busy summer lined up, between music performances and conversation pieces with Eno. "I'm doing Roskilde in Denmark, and the Stockholm Jazz Festival—that's in July; and in June, Australia. Hopefully there will be another couple of dates other than Sydney, maybe one in Auckland, New Zealand. I'm trying to mull it over now and see if I can come up with something. It's a problem because theoretically I'm going out to support the record and they may want to hear the record. And I wanted to use Eivind; I love what he does but he's also got some conflicts.

Jon Hassell"I'm not bitching about it [being busy], except from the fatigue point of view," Hassell continues. "I'm certainly happy it's happening and I do think that, given the reception that we've gotten around the country and in Vancouver during this tour, I am more informed about how many people there are out there—just the streams and correspondences. I hardly ever look into this info on my own, but just the other day I did. I wanted to clean it out and there were these amazing things in written correspondences. One guy said he'd had this bunch of other correspondences too, like he lived on North Moore Street in New York where I lived before. But there's this one kid, and he was talking about the cover picture on Last night the moon came. 'How did you get that picture, with the left side of the coast?' He was the grandson of one of the presidents of France, and spent all of his summers at this place and he recognized it. I never even knew what it was. It's actually a seascape, a coastal seascape. And he had spent every summer there from age zero to 24."

Hassell's influence may be insidious, but it's often a surprise to him. "I'm kind of blown away by the number of people that have been following me," he says. "It makes such a difference. In fact, I had become kind of upset—what's so difficult about this? Make some records, hire a PR person and reap the benefit. Get a distributor and reap the benefits. Well, that's a big thing. There's a lot of people at the ECM office with the PR, the history and all of that. So I think the answer is certainly 'yes' to continuing. But these days I don't think you think about it in terms of the kind of exclusivity of previous days because of the whole web-o-sphere.

ECM has never been about contracts; every album is a new one," Hassell concludes. "Between you and me I haven't even signed one yet; we don't even have a contract. We just let the legend go on."

Selected Discography

Jon Hassell, Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street (ECM, 2009)

Punkt/Sidsel Endresen/Jon Hassell, Live Remixes Vol. 1 (Jazzland, 2008)

Ry Cooder, My Name is Buddy (Nonesuch, 2007)

Jon Hassell, Maarifa Street: Magic Realism 2 (Nyen, 2005)

Ronu Majumdar-Bansuri, Hollow Bamboo (Water Lily Acoustics, 2000)

Jon Hassell, Fascinoma (Water Lily Acoustics, 1999)

Ani DiFranco, Little Plastic Castle (Righteous Babe, 1998)

k.d. lang, Drag (Warner Bros., 1997)

Jon Hassell, Sulla Strada (Materiali Sonori, 1995)

Jon Hassell and Bluescreen, Dressing for Pleasure (Warner Bros., 1994)

Jon Hassell and Bluescreen, Personals (Warner Bros., 1994)

Jon Hassell, "Voiceprint (Blind from the Facts)" (Warner Bros., 1993)

Jon Hassell, The Surgeon of the Nightsky Restores Dead Things By the Power of Sound (Intuition, 1992)

Jon Hassell, City: Works of Fiction (Warner Bros., 1990)

Jon Hassell/Farafina, Flash of the Spirit (Intuition, 1989)

Peter Gabriel, Passion (Geffen, 1989)

Jon Hassell, Power Spot (ECM, 1986)

David Sylvian, Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities (Virgin, 1985)

Jon Hassell, Aka Darbari Java: Magic Realism (Editions EG, 1983)

Jon Hassell, Fourth World Volume Two: Dream Theory in Malaysia (Editions EG, 1981)

Jon Hassell/Brian Eno, Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics (Editions EG, 1980)

Talking Heads, Remain in Light (Sire, 1980)

Jon Hassell, Earthquake Island (Tomato, 1979)

Jon Hassell, Vernal Equinox (Lovely Music, 1978)

La Monte Young, Dream House 78' 17" (Shandar, 1974)

Terry Riley, In C (CBS, 1968)

Photo Credits

Maarifa Street on Stairs: Gérard de Haro / ECM Records

Performance Photos: Carsten Stolzenbach

Jon Hassell / Brian Eno "Conversation Piece": Jan Hangeland (also at MySpace)

Transcription services provided by Bob Rogers, Rogers Word Service, Inc.

Email: brogers@rogersword.com

For more coverage, go to NPR's World Cafe, broadcasting out of Philadelphia, to hear Jon Hassell's live performance and interview, available as streaming audio after 4:00PM EST on May 6, 2009.


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