“Charm (Over Burundi Cloud)”

Please listen to this music by Jon Hassel and Brian Eno when you have 20 minutes to meditate and reflect. It will mesmerize. You will enter a world you have not seen. Jon Hassell calls it “Fourth World.” I call it another planet in another solar system. Trumpeter Jon Hassell created two masterpiece albums that were the musical result of his own journey to the Fourth World: Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics (1980), and Dream Theory in Malaya (1981). Hassell’s own definition: “Fourth World means: get yourself a world vocabulary; use it with subtlety and a keen sense of surprise; follow pleasure; trust your intuition (after you’re sure you know what that is).”

For me, it’s a jungle, with a smell of smoke in the air. (From wood ovens? From a small natural fire in the distance involving deodor or cedar? It’s not clear.) For me, it’s the sound of water. (Is it rain? A stream? Someone pouring water? Animals lapping up water? It’s not clear.) And the strange other-worldly sounds of his trumpet: Are they local instruments? Are they animals? Are they the soundtrack inside your head as you navigate this alien place? Hassell shed a light on the exotic. Not in a superficial world music-y way, but like he said, with his own vocablulary, subtlety, surprise, pleasure and intuition.

And here’s what Fourth World does NOT mean: It does not mean the sum of African, Asian, Latin, and European influences. It does not mean integration of ancient sounds with more contemporary and electronic wounds. Hassell studied Indian classical music with Pandit Pran Nath, and started on a path where he applied Indian vocal techniques to his trumpet. But Pandit Pran Nath was a means towards an end, which was something completely new. As Hassell said: “My aim was to make a music that was vertically integrated in such a way that at any cross-sectional moment you were not able to pick a single element out as being from a particular country or genre of music.”

The result of that vertical integration means we’re a bit at a loss to place the music in an emotional box. We are vulnerable as we approach the next bend. Our hearts are open, our hearts are a blank slate. A canvass, that represents our dreams, dreams that we do not judge or interpret, but rather celebrate as an awakening to new experiences, new opportunities, new hopes. (Great story about the title of the Dream Theory in Malaya album but will save that for another occasion). A blank slate that Conrad describes towards the beginning of “Heart of Darkness:”

“Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that) I would put my finger on it and say, ‘When I grow up I will go there.’ I have been in some of them, and… well, we won’t talk about that. But there was one yet — the biggest, the most blank, so to speak — that I had a hankering after.”

Cue Jon Hassell. Your voyage to the Fourth World is about to begin…



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Gregg R. Baker

Humanist, social scientist, pianist, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Tenured/Commissioned U.S. Foreign Service Officer and knowledge seeker.