The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Jon Hassell & Brian Eno
Fourth World Music Vol. 1: Possible Musics Clyde Macfarlane , November 13th, 2014 14:04

Add your comment »

Until extraterrestrial relations are cemented, the term "world music" will be lazy and meaningless. What isn't world music? A track made from the regular pulses of neutron stars, perhaps? David Byrne, one of the first advocates of the genre, famously told the New York Times why he hated world music, describing it as a name for a bin in the record shop for stuff that doesn't belong anywhere else. Ambient pioneer Brian Eno and trumpeter Jon Hassell's 1980 album Fourth World Music Vol. 1: Possible Musics was a template for this belief. The origins of Talking Heads can be heard in this weirdly oppressive piece of non-conformism, reissued this month thanks to Glitterbeat Records. Just ten days after the album was recorded, Eno and Byrne met up in Los Angeles to record My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts.

Listening to the thumps, clicks and twangs that penetrate Possible Musics' five brilliant tracks, we wonder where the fourth world sits on the first, second and third world hierarchy. Exotic song titles like 'Griot (Over "Contagious Magic")' and 'Charm (Over "Burundi Cloud")' hint towards Africa. In fact, the anthropologically defined fourth world is applied to any nomadic people whose cultures are untouched by industrialisation. Fourth world people do not fit within first, second and third categorisations, and certainly do not fall below a perceived third world. By escaping industrialisation, time also has a different meaning; everything that needs to be learned and understood has already been done so. Hassell explained his aims in a 1993 interview:

"I wanted the mental and geographical landscapes to be more indeterminate- not Indonesia, not Africa, not this or that…something that COULD HAVE existed if things were in an imaginary culture, growing up in an imaginary place with this imaginary music. I called it 'coffee-coloured classical music of the future'. What would music be like if 'classic' had not been defined as what happened in Central Europe two hundred years ago? What if the world knew Javanese music and Pygmy music and Aborigine music? What would 'classical music' sound like then?"

As Eno and Hassell drape their cloak of ambience over Possible Musics, the dominant percussion is provided by Brazilian Nana Vasconcelos and the Senegalese drummer Ayibe Dieng. Both had previously worked with Hassell, and both give authenticity to the kind of world music modern enthusiasts of the genre will appreciate. 'Ba-Benzélé' draws its inspiration from Central African pygmies, creators of a well trodden indigenous sound; Herbie Hancock's percussionist Bill Summers similarly imitated pygmy music with his beer bottle blowing on 'Watermelon Man'. More exciting for some will be Possible Musics' dedication to the Minimoog synthesiser, an instrument that stirs up a hilariously '80s, 'aliens are coming!' atmosphere.

The whole album taps into some deep psychological urges. People have always and always will feel compelled to drum, chant, clap or pluck a string under tension, perhaps an animal hair or an elastic band. To describe Hassell and Eno's thickly layered interpretations as a "wall of sound" would fit, but there's nothing inanimate here; this wall breathes excitement, and is underlined by a heart-pumping, stick-whacking, distinctly human pulse. If the universe-trotting monolith from Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey could appreciate music, this is what it would listen to.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.

fletch talks
Nov 13, 2014 6:08pm

What an album, I'm so glad to see it's getting reissued - 'Delta Rain Dream' is probably the most perfect musical distillation of thick, dense, deep-in-the-jungle humidity, it just oozes atmosphere through and through. Great review!

Reply to this Admin

Nov 14, 2014 4:39pm

In reply to fletch talks:

'Shadow', from 'On Land' is another beauty from the same vicinity. Like some unclassifiable creature/culture singing/lamenting/praying in the depths of a viscous chirping nocturnal rainforest full of signs and watching eyes.

Reply to this Admin

Michael E
Nov 15, 2014 12:46pm

Masterpiece. Since its release I must have listened to it more than 300 times. Fresh words for a milestone.

Reply to this Admin

Nov 17, 2014 9:02am

Hmmm. "The origins of Talking Heads can be heard in this weirdly oppressive piece of non-conformism" - Talking Heads formed in 1975.

"Just ten days after the album was recorded, Eno and Byrne met up in Los Angeles to record My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts." - Byrne and Eno had been recording Bush Of Ghosts since 1979, Possible musics was recorded in 1980

Reply to this Admin

Joseph K
Nov 17, 2014 5:55pm

In reply to :

Yes, but Talking Heads changed massively from Remain in Light onwards. Much more afrobeaty etc, for the better in my opinion. I'd credit this album as echoing the origins of Talking Heads finding their feet. Bush of Ghosts was on/off for several years also, definitely completed after this. I'd say influencing each other would be fair.

Reply to this Admin

Nov 18, 2014 7:47pm

In reply to Joseph K:

All fair points, and I'd agree about the exchange of influences, although that's not what it says in the article...

Reply to this Admin

Dec 6, 2014 8:14am

I've been listening to this album since the mid '80s and I've never grown bored of it. It simply transcends any label you try to pin to it.

Reply to this Admin