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Perception Is A Mother Fucker: The Strange World Of... Hieroglyphic Being
Dustin Krcatovich , August 15th, 2016 07:22

Jamal Moss aka Hieroglyphic Being grabs Dustin Krcatovich by the dome for a journey through a sprawling back catalog that marries house and techno to cosmic jazz, industrial squall, and sonic vistas yet unknown

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There ain't much that's cosmic out there anymore, at least not in semi-popular culture. The full-on pop world isn't even trying. We're too shackled by irony and the tyranny of cool these days to earnestly take things into the stratosphere. (Sorry, but the warmed-over tangerine dreams of the neo-new age movement =/= cosmic, though I'll concede that it's also not without its occasional kicks.)

As Hieroglyphic Being, Jamal Moss has long bucked that trend, grabbing listeners and leading them on a journey through inner and outer space. Transcending years of personal struggle - the pain of which was compounded by his difficulties in finding a home for his mutant strain of house and techno - Moss has charged forward with a focused, yet sprawling and idiosyncratic, vision.

Never content to reside into the particular electronic cubbyhole from whence he was all but birthed, he's chased his muse through vague, occasionally unintentional approximations of everything from industrial and new age to out jazz and full-on noise, all without shedding an iota of his personality. We recently got Moss on the horn to wax nostalgic about some of his career benchmarks; here are the results.

Le Jardin Des Chemins Bifurquants (2011)

Jamal Moss: People were telling me, 'You kinda sound like this', and it was never something that sounded like house, or techno, or whatever. It always sounded like something I had never heard of! I was having obscure names thrown at me that I wasn't accustomed to because of the environment I grew up in. I knew about abstract forms of music because of [legendary Chicago club] Music Box and whatever I heard through DJ Rush or Ron Hardy, but [these people were talking about] industrial, noise music, no wave… even going off into John Cage, Jon Hassell, names I'd never heard before. So I'd go and look it up and be like, 'Oh, wow, I guess I am on the fringe of that.' But not because I was trying. The medium I was using, and with my brain trying to make these sounds, it just came out that way without me even knowing that that's what I was trying to do.

After people who understood what I was doing started telling me [what they heard], they'd educate me and help me in the process of trying to define, and learn about, myself and this craft. I'd go wherever I could - record shops, the library, the internet - to try to find this stuff, and I'd learn from there. And I'd say, 'Okay, this is just the universe speaking back to me in other forms - more white forms - to show another direction that I might go.' That opened up doors for people to see me in a different light.

Compositeurs Sans Frontières (2010)

JM: My mentor, Adonis, always told me that anything you wanna create, even if you're just dabbling or making a sketch, always save it, whether it's on a tape recorder, VHS, whatever. I always remembered that. So, if I liked a drum pattern or whatever, I'd always save it, because I could always sample, dub, re-edit it later.

So, it just so happened that I had a bunch of stuff sitting around, and I had some bills to pay. So I decided to see what happened if I tried to put this up. I couldn't put it out as techno or house, though, because it wouldn't really work, so I had to figure out a way to properly market it in its genre.

It was called Composers Without Borders to let the world know that I'm not limited, I'm not just one type of musician. People may have conscious ideas, but sometimes things in life can deter you from having faith in yourself to follow through. For me, the challenge was to get past a hindrance instilled in me by the environment, the time, and any emotional shit I was going through.

In this industry, people get looked down upon because they don't have the right equipment. It's all about the mastering, the presentation, the industry standard, and that will turn away a lot of talented people who are trying to get into it. The funny thing is, though, this stuff that I was doing a decade ago, all of a sudden, is now the thing to do!

Strange Strings (2011)

JM: I heard Sun Ra off and on over the years, and actually went to a couple concerts when I was younger, but I can't say I was really conscious of him… my adoptive parents were just into abstract and non-traditional stuff that was not considered normal in our immediate timeframe and culture. They were older than my biological parents, and their way of receiving culture was different. This was the disco era, the funk era, but they were into blues, jazz, gospel, avant-garde… stuff that would be considered true knowledge, not junk knowledge, what they'd call "junk food for the mind".

So I was hip to jazz and gospel and stuff, and I would be in the park and see them playing, but I didn't realize it was them playing until years later, in hindsight. It was basically total recall. I saw it when I was younger, but I didn't understand until I was older what was poppin' off. Later, I was exposed to these early morning shows on [Chicago radio station] WNUR where they would play a lot of his stuff, and that's when it was really programmed into my psyche, and I was really drawn into his creation. This was around 1992, when I really got to know and understand what Ra was about.

When it comes to Strange Strings, it was kind of an homage. I wasn't trying to do covers, but it was my personal interpretation of what I felt hearing his compositions. It's not that his music speaks to me, it resonates with me on a harmonic and vibrational level. It's tones, it's all this stuff going on that hits you more on a subconscious level. It might reveal itself later. It may be seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, YEARS later, before you really comprehend what is going on. When I finally grasped it, though, I was able to embrace it and rejoice, to relish the fruits of their labor and the gifts he and the Arkestra bestowed upon humanity. His work has really helped me get through this existence, and this was my way of paying back.

Imaginary Soundscapes (2013)

JM: So many people were coming along making beats - house, techno, EDM - and I noticed how certain artists who were popular in 2000, 2004, 2008, could somehow be chameleons, could warp themselves and be brand new. I'm not trying to dis, but years before they'd be known for one type of genre, and - whether it be through publicists or marketing, they were real smooth - when they realised stuff was changing, they'd transition and get ahead of the curve.

So, I'd sit back and look at that, and I decided that if I was gonna spin the curve, I was gonna do it with something I already laid the groundwork for, so that it was easy for me to put something out without being a hypocrite or a biter. My background made it easier to segue into this world, because I was already this "lo-fi house" or "outsider house" guy, I was just all of a sudden trying to be "relevant" to stay alive. When it got put out originally on CDR, some people thought it was kinda hot, and it just travelled through certain people who said, 'Aw, man, you should put that on vinyl.' So I did.

Then, all of a sudden, WIRE was like 'BAM!' I never thought, in a million years, that they'd take notice. People always would tell me that my stuff belonged in there, but I didn't quite understand why, and I didn't force it. It's always been a conscious thing for me to not lose myself trying to chase things that are out of my control. I'm happy it happened, and it helped me get to a different extension of how I approach things, giving me a better understanding of avant garde, experimental, improv jazz, deep house.

[That audience] keeps calling me 'lo-fi', though. I don't get that. I don't get offended, but I also don't know how the hell I'm 'outsider house' when I was born in Chicago and was there when it started. I've run a label in Chicago with close to 100 releases, but still I'm an 'outsider'? Perception is a motherfucker.

Paisagens Imaginarias Mode 1 (2013)

JM: I was coming out a club at 8 o'clock in the morning with my friends in Portugal on a Friday. I was in a whole different world, playing music, sharing music that I like with people, and all of a sudden I'm looking at the front door, and I was like, 'That's a cool light, what kind of light is that?', because it was so bright on the front door. And my friends were like, 'Yo, man, that's the SUN.' I'd been playing for seven and a half hours, and I thought it'd been three or four!

So, we left and were walking somewhere, and I was seeing all these old Portuguese people coming out of their houses and going to work. We're all happy and sweaty, without a care in the world, living the life, and all these people who are 60, 70 years old all have this different perception of what life is for them. I saw this guy walking, down on his heel, and he was just on his routine, doing what he had to do. And I got this certain energy from what the sun was doing, the walkway, his body language, so I had my friend take a couple photos because I had some ideas. When I got the photos home and printed them out, I collaged and painted over them.

Some people liked these images, and so did I, and somewhere in the process, I made some soundscapes to go with the images. In my mind, I was trying to put myself in the place of that individual and imagine, possibly, what their story is sonically.

Du Commencement A L'Eternite (2004)

JM: I don't know if I should say this, but I was a total fanboy geek for [legendary Detroit techno artist/Underground Resistance co-founder] Jeff Mills, and it just so happened that he had an office in the building where I was getting all my mail. Somebody told me that he was always in the building. So, I'm not gonna say that I got kinda stalker-ish, but I just wanted to run into him and say, 'Thank you for doing what you do.'

So I was just always going to get my mail, and I'd go by his office - sometimes he wasn't there, and just his business partner would be there - and we'd chat, and I slid them a cassette tape. A cassette tape, and this was 2004! But I believed in myself, and I kept trying.

Then one day, after imposing my way into their world, I guess they appreciated that I at least had the courage to try, and to stop by their place two or three times a month [laughs]. I dropped off a demo and didn't hear anything, and my cousin told me, 'Yeah, you probably need to fall back, you might be freaking them out and doing more harm than good.' So I fell back, didn't bother them for like two months. Then, all of a sudden, I got a phone call and it was him! At first, I thought it was my cousin punking me, and I was about to start cursing the dude out!

I was really having self-doubt because of all this stuff that was going on, I was getting depressed, and this was the boost I needed. Everybody else would look at me like, 'You a joke, you ain't going nowhere.' Then Jeff Mills put me on, and all of a sudden I was standing up straight, my chest was out, my head was held high. I was walking with that pimp walk!

Machines For Lovers EP (2004)

JM: I was blessed to get in [with Ghostly International/Spectral Sounds] when it was really starting to pop off. I'm not gonna try to insert myself like I was there in the beginning, or part of the foundation. That was Tadd [Mullinix, AKA JTC, Dabrye, etc.] and Matt Dear. I'm not gonna front that. I'm just glad they were able to put me in when they were really starting to catapult to where they were going.

Originally I'd sent Machines For Lovers to [Chicago electronic label] Guidance. They were talking about putting it out on one of their sub-labels, and I was waiting for a callback, but then next thing you know, Guidance was done. I was hurt, because I was all about Chicago, and to me Guidance was the pinnacle. To me, they went toe to toe with Planet E, Transmat, and whatever else.

So, I still had this, and a friend of mine was homies with Tadd. So, we went out to Detroit in 2003, 2004, and met up with Sam [Valenti IV, Ghostly International founder] and Tadd. I gave the demo to Tadd and we listened to it in Sam's car. Me and my friends were sitting in the back seat like 'ok, what's going on, what's about to happen?', and I could tell that Sam wasn't sure about it, but I think he went on Tadd's word and it got put out. I didn't design Machines For Lovers to fit in with their world, it just happened that it fell into place. Then people started calling it 'glitch house', and I didn't know what the hell that was.

ORIGINS: Hieroglyphic Being/ Resident Advisor Documentary

JM: Somebody from Resident Advisor thought it would be interesting to have my story told. So they came to Chicago, and we hung out for three or four days and just talked about life. They took whatever I talked about as a way to navigate the storyline. Whenever I would talk about something, they'd say, 'Well, let's go there and talk about it.' Then they said, 'Let's bring some of your friends in to talk.' They took ten hours of footage or more, so I was surprised they were able to get it down to 20 minutes. They could probably do about two other documentaries with the stuff they got! I was shocked, though, because they did a really good job. At first I was thrown, because so much of me was put out there, but I had to get over that because there might be other people going through the same thing [that I did], and this might show them there's a way out.

Collaborating with Marshall Allen and Danny Ray Thompson (Sun Ra Arkestra)

JM: I was sending out signals to the universe that I wanted to be connected to the people who were before me who are still doing it. A lot of these people are still alive, and I really want people to reach out and talk to them, because it's their construct and they keep it alive everyday when they go out on the road to carry on the legacy. And somehow, the right people heard me and thought it would be cool to bring us together. The person who brought me and the Arkestra people together wouldn't really want his name put out there - he's kind of a private person - but it's the same person who brought me and Chris & Cosey together. He saw that I was somebody who was honouring and respecting those that came before me, and so I guess he thought it was good to at least bring me in front of them.

I was fortunate that some people heard what I was doing and put me in that arena. At the same time, I have to do my own work, cut my own place, and not rely on what they [Marshall Allen, Danny Ray Thompson, et al.] do. In this industry, a lot of people rely on name recognition and association, and that's one thing I don't want to do. They were able to bless me to be in that sphere for a moment in time. I'm not expecting to inhabit that sphere, because they still exist and continue. It's not for me to intervene and suck that energy.

If I'm blessed and fortunate enough, it would be lovely to work with people who've come out of Chicago. It would be lovely to just sit down and chat with Herbie Hancock. It's not about trying to get on, I just want to hear their story and take some pointers, because they helped shape the world in a certain way through their craft. If they don't want to work with me, then so be it; that's their right. I just have to take being around these people who've had great influence on humanity as gift enough.

Africans With Mainframes Boiler Room Chicago Live Set

JM: Noelian [Reusse, Africans With Mainframes partner] and I have been through a lot of stuff together, and when I really needed help, he was there for me whenever he could be, so I'll always look out for him when I can. We worked on this stuff for 15 years, and have known each other even longer than that, so I really wanted to help put him on the same world stage as me and let people see him do what he does, if nothing else. I've already been in RA, I'd done the Boiler Room a couple times. I've been blessed for three years in a row, which is really an anomaly! So I was happy to help get him in there. Africans With Mainframes was Noelian's concept. It's his name, his persona, his energy. I was just there to help keep it alive with my resources until he was ready to do it. I told labels to not even put "Hieroglyphic Being" in the press stuff. It's not me over him, it's equal across the board. I told them to make sure his name was first, and to just put Jamal Moss after him. But that's business. 'We gotta sell it, fuck that.'

Hieroglyphic Being's new album, The Disco's Of Imhotep, is out now on Ninja Tune/Technicolour

alex
Aug 15, 2016 6:33pm

wow. that was great.
; )

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