Fourth Worlds: A Jon Hassell Mix

As noted in the previous post, Jon Hassell has a new and very well-received album out this month, his first in several years. To honour the occasion I thought I’d finally post the Hassell mix I’ve had in mind for some time. The delay was mainly a consequence of not settling on a final version, so the album release has at least forced my hand. This still doesn’t feel completely satisfactory but it has the benefit of not being a recycling of familiar works.

About ten years ago I made a CD compilation of Hassell-related odds and ends: one-off works from compilations, interesting collaborations and the like. The CD set forms the basis of this mix although I’ve blended everything into a single piece rather than present separate tracks. Some of these pieces are either rare or overlooked so even those familiar with the Jon Hassell discography may hear something new.

Note: I only noticed after uploading the mix that the presence of more than five tracks by the same artist means that people in the US may not be able to play this one. Sorry about that: blame your laws/politicians, etc.

Malay (edit) (1981) by Jon Hassell

Shadow (1982) by Brian Eno
From Eno’s On Land.

Ba-Benzélé (1982) by Jon Hassell
A different version to the piece from Possible Musics which appears on Music And Rhythm, a WOMAD compilation album.

Passaggio A Nord-Ovest (1982) by Jon Hassell
One of several unique pieces on Sulla Strada (1995), a collection of music created for an Italian stage work based on Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

Map of Dusk (1982) by Jon Hassell
A special commission for Myths 3. La Nouvelle Sérénité, a Sub Rosa compilation.

Sketch Pad With Trumpet And Voice (1985) by Peter Gabriel
From the soundtrack to Birdy.

Heroin (1993) by Ry Cooder
More soundtrack work, this one being for Walter Hill’s Trespass which features Hassell’s trumpet timbres throughout. I always regard this album as a darker, nightscape parallel to Hassell’s sunnier City: Works Of Fiction, not least for the way both albums are hip-hop related. There’s more from Trespass later in the mix.

Tycho City (1997) by Bluescreen Project
From The Vertical Collection (Sketches). Bluescreen Project was a collaboration with Peter Freeman which remixes works from the Hassell catalogue to create new hybrids.

Pygmy Dance (1993) by Jon Hassell
Another unique commission, this time for Ai Confini / Interzone on New Tone Records.

Slow Loris Vs. Poison Snail (1997) by David Toop
A guest appearance with tabla player Talvin Singh.

Power Malay (1997) by Bluescreen Project

Anima (1991) by Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses With Hector Zazou
A collection of Corsican songs given contemporary settings by Hector Zazou.

A Day For Trade Winds (2000) by Ronu Majumdar, Ry Cooder & Jon Hassell, Abhijit Banerjee

Amsterdam Blue (Cortege) (2000) by Jon Hassell, Gregg Arreguin, Jamie Muhoberac And Peter Freeman
From a soundtrack for a film that few people have a good word for, Million Dollar Hotel. It does, however, feature a Jon Hassell cameo and this excellent piece of music.

The Seeds Of Fate (1998) by The Insects & Richard Grassby-Lewis Featuring Jon Hassell
From the soundtrack to Richard Kwietniowski’s film of Gilbert Adair’s funny and touching novel, Love and Death on Long Island.

Made To Measure

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When you’ve sated yourself on a group’s back catalogue there’s always the solo albums. In the case of Tuxedomoon there are a number of these to choose from, thanks to several of the band members being both multi-instrumentalists and talented songwriters. Some of the more offbeat solo outings may be found among the albums released as part of the Made To Measure series, an offshoot of the excellent Belgian record label, Crammed Discs. Crammed have been Tuxedomoon’s label for some time, and seem increasingly unique in a world where independent labels tend to cater to narrow genres and small, select audiences. Crammed’s roster of artists is extremely eclectic, ranging from the expected Euro-pop and dance releases to a wide range of traditional and contemporary music from around the world.

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Made To Measure Vol. 1 (1984). Painting by Fernand Steven.

From 1984 to 1994 the Made To Measure series released over 30 albums that represent the more esoteric side of an already fairly esoteric label. All of the early releases were numbered, and Tuxedomoon happen to be on the first release, Made To Measure Vol. 1, together with Minimal Compact, Benjamin Lew, and Aksak Maboul. The series title refers to all of the music being “made to measure” some pre-existing work—film, theatre, dance performance, etc—although some of the later releases were simply an excuse to put out new music by an established Crammed artist. In addition to the first release, Tuxedomoon members Blaine L. Reininger, Peter Principle and Steven Brown were regular contributors to subsequent albums. Two of the Steven Brown albums, A Propos D’Un Paysage (MTM 15, 1985) and Douzième Journée: Le Verbe, La Parure, L’Amour (MTM 16, 1988) are marvellous instrumental collaborations with Benjamin Lew that are very different in tone to Tuxedomoon but well worth seeking out. Brown also recorded a soundtrack album, De Doute Et De Grace (MTM 22, 1990), with readings by actress Delphine Seyrig. The series has been discontinued in recent years but the MTM numbering was resurrected for the latest Tuxedomoon album, Pink Narcissus, which is MTM 39.

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Desert Equations: Azax Attra (1986). Photography by Georg Gerster.

I’ve still not heard all of the Made To Measure series, and I don’t like everything I have heard—I have to be in the mood for Hector Zazou’s quirkier moments. Aside from those mentioned above, the notable releases for me would include Desert Equations: Azax Attra (MTM 8, 1986) by Sussan Deyhim (here credited as Deihim) & Richard Horowitz, an album that led me to acquire almost everything Sussan Deyhim has recorded; If Windows They Have (MTM 13, 1986) by Daniel Schell & Karo; Nekonotopia Nekonomania (MTM 29, 1990) by Seigen Ono; Water (MTM 31, 1992) by David Cunningham; Sahara Blue (MTM 32, 1993) by Hector Zazou; Glyph (MTM 37, 1995) by Harold Budd & Hector Zazou. Sahara Blue exemplifies in miniature the eclecticism of Crammed Discs, being a tribute to Arthur Rimbaud featuring (among others) John Cale, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Gérard Depardieu, Khaled, David Sylvian, Bill Laswell, Lisa Gerrard, Sussan Deyhim and Tim Simenon.

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For those wishing to explore further without shelling out on mysterious, unknown quantities, I’d recommend The Made To Measure Résumé (1987), a compilation of tracks from the first 16 MTM releases, and an ideal introduction to the series.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Subterranean Modern: The Residents, Chrome, MX-80 Sound and Tuxedomoon
Tuxedomoon on La Edad de Oro, 1983
Tuxedomoon designs by Patrick Roques
Pink Narcissus: James Bidgood and Tuxedomoon

Winter music

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Kjendalskronebrae, Nordfjord, Norway (c. 1900). From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division via Wood s Lot.

Are you suffering list fatigue yet? I certainly have been, especially from the apparently endless “best ___ of the decade” catalogues which would have you believe that the significant cultural products of the past ten years have been thoroughly sifted, reviewed and appraised. So yes, there’s a degree of hypocrisy in adding to the list surplus but, as with the Halloween music lists, it’s difficult to write about an area of listening without compiling something like this. As it happens, my Halloween playlists proved briefly popular this year when they were noticed by Stumbleupon users so someone appreciates them.

The present selection is music to complement the season and its chilly weather which in our part of the world has been colder than usual and laden with snow. It might also serve as a suggested alternative to the dreary plague of Christmas songs. This isn’t definitive, of course, and I could have added more than ten. I kept the choices in the electronic spectrum but there’s a whole other list which could be made of winter-themed folk songs, folk music of all kinds being sensitive to the changing seasons.

Sonic Seasonings (1972) by Wendy Carlos.
Between her electronic transcriptions of Baroque music and the score for A Clockwork Orange, Wendy Carlos released a collection of four long pieces of electronic atmospherics blended with natural sound recordings, with each track dedicated to a different season. The album may not have had the formal intent of Brian Eno’s ambient albums but ambient it certainly is, preceding Eno’s Discreet Music by three years whilst predicting much of what would become over-familiar during the 1990s. The Winter track is the one which concerns us here, a droning Moog landscape of echoed notes, tinkling ice, distant wind and Rachel Elkind’s lupine howls. Carlos and Elkind carried the synthesised chill into their opening music for The Shining a few years later, and Carlos returned to the theme with the digital improvisations of Land of the Midnight Sun, included as a bonus on the Sonic Seasonings CD.

Eskimo (1979) by The Residents.
A conceptual masterpiece, and an album which still sounds as strange and timeless as it did when it first appeared. Eskimo is the first and (one presumes) only example of what might be labelled “Eskimo exotica” since the whole work is more Eskimo-esque than an authentic musical rendering of the world of the Inuit people. Like Wendy Carlos’s Winter, these are shifting soundscapes augmented by ritual chants and synthesised animal sounds. For those who found the album to be musically inaccessible the group released Diskomo, a segue of the musical themes matched to a thumping dance beat.

Iceland (1979) by Richard Pinhas.
Another far north concept album and the third solo release from the Heldon guitarist who subdues his Robert Fripp impersonations in favour of synth arrangements. The CD version includes a 22-minute bonus, Winter Music.

Victorialand (1986) by Cocteau Twins.
Much of the Cocteau Twins’ chiming and reverb-drenched output would suit the colder months but Victorialand in particular takes its title from a region of Antarctica, and many of the track titles—Whales Tails, How to Bring a Blush to the Snow—point in that direction. Another timeless work.

White Out (1990) by Johannes Schmoelling.
Schmoelling was a member of Tangerine Dream in what I consider to be their last worthwhile incarnation from 1980 to 1986. His third solo album also takes Antarctica as its theme and while some of the music tends to a jaunty blandness at its best it manages to evoke the isolation of the continent through lengthy synthesiser pieces. When the Polydor release went out of print, Schmoelling re-worked the album slightly for reissue on his own label.

Songs from the Cold Seas (1995) by Hector Zazou.
Many of the late Hector Zazou‘s albums were concepts of some kind, often involving a roster of guest artists. Songs from the Cold Seas follows this pattern with singers from around the world delivering a variety of songs from the world’s colder regions. For a contrast to the Residents’ ethnological forgeries, Song of the Water is a chant by Inuit artists Elisha Kilabuk and Koomoot Nooveya. Among other highlights there’s Björk who restrains her vocal gymnastics for once with a delicate Icelandic lullaby, Vísur Vatnsenda-Rósu.

Polar Sequences (1996) by Higher Intelligence Agency & Biosphere.
A collaboration between Bobby Bird of HIA and Biosphere‘s Geir Jenssen, recorded live with sounds sourced in and around Jenssen’s home town of Tromsø at the Arctic Circle. I much prefer this to the other HIA releases which lack its detailed textures. One track, Meltwater, sounds just as you’d expect, all running water and crackling ice.

Substrata (1997) by Biosphere.
Still one of the finest Biosphere releases (although Nordheim Transformed is probably my favourite) and included here for its chilly and mostly beatless atmosphere which includes further samples from the far north.

La Marche de L’Empereur (2005) by Emilie Simon.
I still haven’t seen La Marche de L’Empereur (March of the Penguins) but the soundtrack for the original French release is a fantastic collection of songs illustrating the survival struggles of the film’s penguins. Emilie Simon is frequently described as “the French Björk”, a lazy label which only connects the pair because they’re female singers who also happen to be “foreign” and users of unorthodox electronic arrangements. The recordings here feature glitch-inflected rhythms and glass instruments which means they were far too interesting for the American release of the film. The Hollywood version dropped the songs in favour of a traditional orchestral score.

Alaska Melting (2006) by Monolake.
The latest album from Monolake, aka Robert Henke, was released earlier this month. Silence has a winter scene on the cover and a track entitled Infinite Snow but winter isn’t a predominant theme. While the music is up to Henke’s usual high standard, it’s a lot less urgent than Alaska Melting, a one-off release on 12″ vinyl with two slices of vibrant techno that foreground Henke’s environmental concerns. The most uptempo and abrasive work on this list.

Previously on { feuilleton }
A playlist for Halloween: Voodoo!
Dead on the Dancefloor
Cristalophonics: searching for the Cocteau sound
A Clockwork Orange: The Complete Original Score
A cluster of Cluster
Fragment Endloss by Robert Henke
Another playlist for Halloween
Thomas Köner
A playlist for Halloween

Rick Wright, 1943–2008

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Rick Wright in 1971.

As has been noted nearly everywhere by now, Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright went to the Great Gig in the Sky earlier this week, and I’m sure the inevitability of using the title of his most famous composition in this way wouldn’t have surprised him. I may as well note here that he was always credited as Rick on the albums following Piper at the Gates of Dawn, not Richard. I saw Pink Floyd perform The Wall in the cavernous bounds of Earl’s Court, London in August 1980 so I suppose I can claim to have seen him play, if watching a speck on a distant stage counts as seeing anyone. Wright’s falling out with the increasingly fractious Roger Waters saw him treated as a session musician by that point and while the show was impressively bombastic I can’t bear to hear that dreary and hysterical album any more. (Unless it’s Scissor Sisters covering Comfortably Numb.) Far better to remember Wright for his psychedelic songs such as Remember A Day from A Saucerful of Secrets.

Update: Thom reminds me that French musician Hector Zazou also died earlier this month.

Scott Walker on film

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Scott Walker: 30 Century Man is a long-overdue look at one of the most influential and enigmatic figures in rock history. The film will explore his music and career, from his early days as a jobbing bass player on the Sunset Strip, to mega-stardom in Britain’s swinging 60s pop scene as lead singer of The Walker Brothers, to his evolution into one of the most astonishing soundmakers of the last few decades.

He’s 63 years old and has just released his first album in over 10 years, The Drift on 4 AD Records. The film features exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the album as well as interviews with friends, collaborators, and fans including, among others:

David Bowie, Radiohead, Jarvis Cocker (Pulp), Brian Eno, Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz), Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy), Marc Almond, Alison Goldfrapp, Sting, Dot Allison, Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins), Richard Hawley, Rob Ellis, Johnny Marr, Gavin Friday, Lulu, Peter Olliff, Angela Morley, Ute Lemper, Ed Bicknell, Evan Parker, Benjamin Biolay, Hector Zazou, Mo Foster, Phil Sheppard, Pete Walsh, and more.

Directed by Stephen Kijak, who brought you the delightfully deranged documentary CINEMANIA (a profile of 5 of NYC’s most manic film buffs), this is a different form of obsession altogether. Inspiring god-like devotion from fans, Scott Walker’s has a cult that has grown considerably since his 1995 release Tilt, a dark and difficult masterwork. His new album takes that sound further than anyone could have imagined?

Collaborators include acclaimed DP/Director Grant Gee (Radiohead: Meeting People is Easy) and Graham Wood, formerly of legendary design collective Tomato.

Produced by Mia Bays, Liz Rose and Stephen Kijak

Associate Producer: Gale Harold

Executive Producer: David Bowie

On release in the UK from April 27th. Details here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Exodus art and Plague Songs
The Drift by Scott Walker