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Jon Hassell * J. Peter Schwalm

Hassell - Pentimento


I remember my first acquaintance with Jon Hassell‘s music very well. It was back in 1980, and I checked out Fourth World Vol. 1 – Possible Musics following the Brian Eno link (obviously). I was not yet familiar with his earlier work Earthquake Island and Vernal Equinox. I remember I was totally confused, listening in that small record shop. I could not understand this music at all! It seemed to come from another world, one I could not even begin to imagine. I did not buy the album.. it was way off.. too weird for me at that moment.
But upon going home, the strangeness music kept haunting me. What was it, this strange atmosphere, the whispering trumpet sound that resemble an elephant that caught a cold, the otherworldly rhythms?
Before I reached home I turned around and headed back to the shop. I decided that any music that could surprise me this way deserved to be bought.
I remember peddling my bike even harder because I was afraid that someone else would buy that single copy available.
Jon Hassell‘s music never left me since. And never disappointed me either (although naturally I prefer some of his projects more than others).

A part of this somewhat disorienting surprise came back to me again when listening to Pentimento, Vol. One. Not as strong as with this first encounter, of course: 38 years later I am quite familiar with his music. But still: Jon Hassell is not a man to simply repeat himself.

Pentimento is a noun meaning “Reappearance in a painting of ealier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and used as elements in a final composition”.
This suggests that parts and fragments of earlier work are re-used, de-constructed and re-arranged in new compositions. And of course there are many recognisable elements from Hassell‘s earlier work – the way he controls his insrument, the ‘spliced’ electronic layers it is embedded in – and yet Pentimento also feels like a new direction.
At first listen I found the overall atmosphere on this album more ‘nervous’ than I expected. I probably expected the lush and reassuring ambience of the Fourth World releases, and his previous (2009) album Last Night The Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes In The Street – but Pentimento is more in the vein of City: Works of Fiction (1990) or the Bluescreen projects.
This took me some time to adjust to, but -as often- persistance proves to be rewarding.

This nervous tension in the music, alternated by moments of profound peacefulness, probably reflects Hassell‘s theory about ‘The north and south of you’:
A mind formatted by language and located in the head compared with the area of wildness and sensuality below the waist where dance and music and procreation reigns.”

Another way to enjoy these sounds is by what he calls “Vertical listening”, an exercise in ‘mindful listening’:
“Most of the world is listening to music in terms of forward flow – based on where the music is “going” and “what comes NEXT. ” But there’s another angle: Vertical listening is about listening to “what’s happening NOW ” – letting your inner ears scan up and down the sonic spectrum, asking what kind of “shapes” you’re seeing, then noticing how that picture morphs as the music moves through time.”

There is no way you can overestimate the work of this now 81 years old living legend, a man who studied under Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, played on the orginal recording of Terry Riley’s In C, worked with La Monte Young in his Theatre of Eternal Music, and studied singing with Pandit Pran Nath. And this, of course is only the foundation of his work, defining a personal genre that has inspired many artists.

And there’s more good news: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento, Vol. One) is the first release on Hassell‘s own brandnew Ndeya label, which promises to release new and unreleased music as well as archival releases.

As a somewhat related sidenote:
If, like me, you’re a devoted follower of Jon Hassell‘s work and contributions, I suggest you track down this album by Michael Fahres called The Tubes‘ – an album that may be one of Hassell’s most obscure collaboration projects. The environmental recordings of the ‘breathing rocks’ on El Hiero, combined with Hassell’s trumpet and Mark Atkins’ didgeridoo, is an ode to the breath of life itself – ánd a perfect exercise in ‘vertical listening’. I don’t know if this is still available from Cold Blue Music but – given its relative obscurity – it probably is. If not, it’s definitely worth tracking down on Discogs or similar.


How We Fall


Of all the artists that came into view via a Brian Eno connection, J. Peter Schwalm is probably one that remained unknown to the larger public. Unfairly, because his music is most interesting and multidimensional. The two worked together on Music for On Myo Ji (2000), the soundtrack of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Fear X and even more intense on Drawn From Life (2001).
Since then, Schwalm released two solo albums (Musikain and The Beauty of Disaster), and an album with transformations of the music of Wagner.

How We Fall is his second release on the Italian Rarenoise label. Apart from additional guitars by Eivind Aarset and bass by Tim Harries, Schwalm performs all instruments himself, avoiding ‘popular or widespread plug-ins, instead using analog an digital outboard effects to achieve his characteristic sounds’ and the ‘multitrack composing’ technique he developed when performing at the Punkt Festival.
The result is a complex but highly detailed, ‘widescreen’ sound that perfectly matches his compositions.

Most of How We Fall has a deep sense of urgency, unrest, of hidden ‘angst’. This has everything to do with Schwalm‘s personal situation: in 2016 he was diagnosed with a brain tumour, which proved impossible to remove during the operation. Definitely one of the most threatening personal verdicts one can imagine.
In the following year Schwalm “set to work under this impression, partly weakened by the inevitably following chemotherapy. Over the course of the year, pieces were created that reflect feelings such as restlessness, fear, despair and anger, but artistically process these emotions into abstract sounds.”
“During the process I realized that there are parallels between my personal experiences and emotions and the current social and political situation in the world,” Schwalm recalls. “The music represents a closed universe that reflects the moment and the circumstances in which it was created.”

Knowing about this background gives How We Fall an extra dimension, and forces respect for the way J. Peter Schwalm faces his deepest fears and still manages to let the rays of hope shine through. It deepens the appreciation of this album. But, as with all good music, it is not really necessary to know about this to receive the message of this music.

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Michael Fahres; Miguel Isaza; Naviar Series 006; Circuit Integré Vol. 1

Circuit Integre 1


Michael Fahres is a German-born composer now living in Holland, but also often residing on El Hierothe smallest of the Canary Islands.
Among all that the island has to offer there are some fascinating acoustic phenomena, such as the breathing rock tube formations which Fahres previously explored with Jon Hassell and Mark Atkins on his 2006 album The Tubes.
On Tibataje, Fahres explores the natural echo of the Risco de Tabataje, a mountain massif about 1000 meters high and eight kilometers long.
In fact, the natural echo box resonance of the mountain wall is the main instrument here. It is invoked by (three) drummers playing rhythmic variations based on a religious celebration, the Bajada de la Virgen de los Reyes. These  rhythms are considered sacred and protected which is why they are slightly altered for this recording.
“The Tibataje resonates, answers and sings its own song”.

The result is an unprecedented view on environmental recording – and about the opposite of the usual calm natural environment due to the frantic drumming. And Fahres does not simply leave it at that: he further eliminates the borders between what is ‘natural’ and what is ‘artificial’ by adding extra post-production effects and treatments, such as the sound of a clock or a music box, which sometimes feel strangely out of place amidst the large echoes of the mountain wall.


The philosopher Raimon Panikkar described the concept of Tempiternidad, ‘in which temporality and eternity are one, reflecting a notion of time but also a state of being, a path of plenitude towards the present moment in which everyday things and environments manifest eternity.”

Colombian sound artist Miguel Isaza has masterfully succeeded in transferring this philosophical concept into the soundscapes for this album – created using a laptop, field recordings (from the mountain area of Antioquia, Colombia), found objects and a few instruments (such as flute and harmonica).
The drones make you lose all sense of time, thus representing eternity, while there’s also a lot of temporal fragments calling for your attention.

“(Isaza’s…) compositional work calls for a silent activity, an attentive listening that is present in the intuitive exploration of the sonic phenomenon, exposing its subtle and textural qualities, especially those present in the perception of time scales, thus generating sonic collages between micro and macco realms which result in a reflection towards morphology, space and emptiness.”

Music cán be capable to illustrate what temporal eternity is: the proof is on this album!

Miguel Isaza – Presencia

Naviar Series 006

Naviar Records is a community facilitating artists who create music inspired by literature. There are two Tumblr projects: Naviar Haiku (‘about expanding the meaning of a poem beyond its words’) and Naviar Soundbook (‘about condensing a short story into a unique music composition’).
The results of this community are (partly) collected on their Bandcamp page, all available as a Name Your Price download.

Series 6 is a good example of the fruitful results of such a creative community: there’s not a single artist name that I recognise, but the 23 track collection offers a lot of impressive tracks, all of them taken from earlier Haiku projects by the way. The download also includes the photographic theme cards that inspired the included pieces.

Some of these tracks are also part of Disquiet Junto project #0145 (“There’s a Lifetime In” – Make a short piece of music inspired by a provided verse.)
For those that don’t know yet: Disquiet Junto is another collaboration project where artists can contribute music following a new assignment every week. The result is a wealth of (Soundcloud) tracks almost too immense to explore.

“Artists who are part of a community generally make stronger works”, Naviar Records 
boldly claims.
Based on this collection I think they might be right indeed.

Circuit Integre 1

The first of a new series on the Zoharum label, that will present ‘young projects working in the field of broadly-defined electronic music’. Each edition, three different projects will present their work. On Volume 1  we find Dat Rayon, (with aliases FOQL and RNA2and Gaap Kvlt.
On this volume the acts all come from the Polish experimental underground scene. Apart from Dat Rayon (their 2014 release Motor City was recommended before) the acts are unfamiliar to me. They share their love for electronic abstract experimentalism but are at the same time very different in sound.

Dat Rayon‘s music ‘penetrates the periphery of the post-club electronica mixing ambient, dub and minimal techno’. Gaap Kvlt is more drone-based ambient ‘with hints of orientalism’, while FOQL / RNA2 ‘cannot be pigeonholed – their fully analogue music drawing from elements of electro, techno, drone and ambient.”
Powerful examples of the ferte Polish experimental underground culture!

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