After his highly lucrative work building sound cathedrals for the awful Jesus-freak Bono, producer Brian Eno is seen as a pretentious sellout villain coasting in posh galleries. But in the 70’s he was the godfather of hip, and after his glamourous work with Roxy Music, he sort of invented ambient music – our generations answer to classical or muzak? Ambient is music with beats, vocals, solos and even ego removed, long floating abstract, often soothing tape-loop soundscapes to tint reality playing in the background, made using vast amounts of synthetic reverb and echo, like a very white dub with no soul or body.
Eno explored this anti-rock concept for a couple of albums, but he needed a lead voice to foreground his vinyl landscapes: Enter Canadian trumpet magician Jon Hassell, who already crafted a sonic fiction on albums evoking a unreal ethnic futuristic “fourth world” headspace. A couple of sensual masterpieces, Possible Musics 1-2 was the de facto soundtrack in the 80’s to play stoned and naked making your bed a space capsule floating downstream in an uncharted area. Eno then reversed-engineered these tactics and used them on the nerdy and clubfooted post-punk Talking Heads kidnapping them to the same Compass Point studios in Nassau which Grace Jones used, crafting their only masterpiece, Remain in light – adding a more african trance rhythm approach and the hallmark spacious treatments, to their arty-farty cut-up ramblings, with cameos from Hassell, who continued to churn out high quality maps for nonexistent exotic futures in a unreal ahistorical place like a reverb soaked white Miles Davis.
Later in the 1980s, The Orb and the chill-out generation reinvented ambient using turntables and samplers as a meta-pastiche on every vinyl collectors beetles stoner gems, and now, even in the extremely conservative jazz world, Hassell proceeded tone is widely imitated, as Eno ambient sound now is a Hollywood stable, but as always, check the originals.
Article by Morten Vammen.
Jon Hassell is playing a gig tomorrow (friday 22nd) at Jazzhouse in Copenhagen. Event here.