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Power Spots: 13 Artists On The Inspiration Of Jon Hassell
Patrick Clarke , September 16th, 2020 10:26

From Katie Gately to Wacław Zimpel, Abul Mogard to Sarah Davachi, we asked 13 of our favourite musicians to pick a work by the great Jon Hassell, and to tell us what it means to them


Visible Cloaks’ Spencer Doran on Fourth World Volume Two: Dream Theory In Malaya (1981)

In Oh, What a Blow that Phantom Gave Me!, Edmund Carpenter observed that the electronic workday has inverted the dream world of our hunter/gather origins – the experience of daily life was once a sensate interaction with the physical reality of nature, with perception only becoming detached from this state in the pastime realms of dream, art and ritual. Now, we spend our daily lives detached from physical reality through the digital immersion of modernity and experiencing the physical world has instead become the pastime. We exist in both – but, as Carpenter notes, “it's hard to know which one of these worlds to call 'real.'"

Fourth World Volume Two: Dream Theory In Malaya has always felt closely linked to this idea, which Hassell discussed in his writing during this period – it emulsifies these modern and pre-modern dream states into something indefinable, prefiguring the hyperlinked everywhere/nowhere feeling elicited by the digital communication of the internet which now extends this illusion of a detached dream state unendingly throughout our daily waking life. Kilton Stewart's uncorroborated account of the Senoi people of Malaya's “dream theory” (which itself became one of the cornerstones of self-actualisation theory and the “human potential” movement as advanced in the 1960s at California's Esalen Institute) has since been debunked as a classic case of fabricated anthropological projection, yet it still offered an important conceptual anchor for the album's soundworld – a “thematic guide” for positioning surrealist fragmentation of studio technology and collaging with musical strategies from Java and India.

Certainly, the way “world fusion” unfolded in the decades afterward realised a very different future than Hassell imagined. His vision was less about extraction or musical commodification within an international market and more about observing the forms of cognitive diversity which are rapidly being wiped away by the ever-expanding net of globalisation, imagining instead a future in which they exist intertwined within technological modernity and each other. While much of the new age-tinted music that arose in the wake of his approach magnified the colonialist dimensions you can easily find within this, there is still a commendably utopian outlook at the core of Hassell's worldview. There is a certain reverence that views culturally external ideas not as an otherness, but as an alternate mode of knowing – as “fourth world” proliferated through 90s chillout culture and more recent trends in electronic music / record collecting it is this, more than anything, which has been lost in the shuffle.