Today, Jon Hassell announced he will release his first album in nine years. Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume 1) is due out June 8th via the artist’s new label Ndeya (pronounced “in-day-ya”). As a trumpeter, composer, and musical theorist, Hassell has had a wide ranging influence on several generations of musicians, and along the way he has collaborated with artists like Brian Eno, Talking Heads, David Sylvian, Björk, Moritz Von Oswald and Carl Craig. Having studied with Karl-Heinz Stockhausen in Cologne alongside future members of Can, as well as with the Indian master singer Pandit Pran Nath, Hassell also played on Terry Riley‘s original 1968 recording of In C, and was part of La Monte Young‘s Theatre Of Eternal Music. As such, he forms an important nexus between European and American avant-garde musical traditions, as well as cross-currents in thought between the East and West. In addition, his interest in indiginous cultures, as well as a fascination with experimental electronic music methods, would go on to form the basis of his conception of Fourth World Music. Hassell’s ground breaking releases from the late 70’s–Vernal Equinox and Earthquake Island–would have a powerful influence on Brian Eno and would lead to their seminal collaborative effort, Fourth World Vol. 1 – Possible Musics.
For insight into the ideas behind Hassell’s upcoming LP, the musician points to the art term “pentimento,” as well as his notions about “vertical listening.” Pentimento is a painting technique by which an artist allows, or peels away, layers of construction to reveal “earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and used as elements in a final composition.” In discussing how this technique might apply to music, he explains:
“So I started seeing (or was that hearing?) the music we were working on in the studio in terms of that definition. Seeing it in terms of a painting with layers and touch-ups and start-overs with new layers that get erased in places that let the underlying pattern come to the top and be seen (or heard). This is what metaphors do – they let you see (hear) things through the prism of another art or through the walls next door.
Note that “the Arts” are often spoken of in this collective way that tends to make them all the same – obscuring the fact that there’s only one of “the arts” that comes exclusively through the ears.
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.
Robert Irwin’s subtle art installations are based on what he calls “perceiving yourself perceiving.” Vertical listening is related to “listening to yourself listening.” So this is where the title “Listening to Pictures” comes from: The process of vertical listening creates the picture.”
Jon Hassell’s album announcement today also came with news about his new label Ndeya. The musician reports that it will be the home for upcoming work, as well as select archival releases including old classics and previously unreleased material. Below, you can listen to “Dreaming,” the opening track off of Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume 1). For further information regarding Jon Hassell and his Fourth World Music, we highly recommend you check out Brian Eno’s 2007 Guardian write-up, “The debt I owe to Jon Hassell,” as well as Resident Advisor’s 2017 article, “Fourth World in the 21st century.”