Jon Hassell tribute
interview by Jason Gross
PSF: How did you come to work with Jon?
RC: In 1997, I was working on a film score with Ry Cooder for Wim Wenders called The End of Violence and this was the 2nd score I had done with Ry. The way Ry works was that the director was there the entire time as opposed to how a composer will usually sit with the director and watch the film and decide where the music's gonna go and then the director isn't there a lot. With Ry, you didn't know where the music was going to go unless the director said so. [laughs] But Ry had a number of interesting ways of working. It was great and I had a lot of fun- I did three movies with him in a row. Ry would always bring in interesting people and put them together. So on that film, he brought in Jacky Terrason, a great pianist from New York and some South Indian bamboo flute players and throat singers and all kinds of different people. He also brought in James Blood Ulmer one day. We were working in Ocean Way Studios in Hollywood and he brought in Jon one night and that's when I first worked with Jon.
I started listening to Jon in 1981. I had that one record, Possible Musics, Volume 1. That was the only album [of his] I ever had. He later gave me all of his albums and CD's but I don't think I really listened to any of them. But I really love that record.
So it was a really special treat for me to both meet him and then play with him. We hit it off musically right away. My sense of harmony and his amorphous sense of harmony worked out really well. Plus, in those days, I wasn't a lot of electronics or anything. I started playing electric guitar back in the '70's with pieces of glass and metals and brushes and sponges- I was trying to find ways of making it sustain sound as opposed to strumming it or picking a note that fades away. I used a lot of the sponge on that score and in fact, if you hear the score, you'll hear this.
So I'm playing chords and he's playing trumpet. I was using samplers at that point so I was able to sample certain phrases. In fact, I just found about 20 trumpet phrases that I hadn't heard since then- it was on a USB stick. We were recording and he would come in a for a few hours and be gone but I was there with Ry, all week for a few months. He'd say 'I want some Jon in this section' and Jon wasn't there so he would give me some of whatever Jon had played (a solo track) and I could look for interesting phrases and then I could drop them in anyway and I could harmonize some of them.
PSF: For Fascinoma, what was the recording process like? How did he work with Ry Cooder on the album?
RC: After we did that score, I didn't talk to Jon again until he called me in 1998, asking me if I would like to play on this record, which was Fascinoma. So we all went up to Santa Barbara and there was an Indian guy named Kavi Alexander and he had his own record label called Water Lily Acoustics. He was a real audiophile. He recorded in a old stone monastery with a great acoustic long reverb time and what he did was that he recorded everything with a custom-made stereo microphone that was then being recording onto a 1-inch, 2-track tape (reel to reel). If you could imagine having that fat of an analog track [laughs]. And there was no mixer, nothing between the microphone and the tape head other than whatever kind of pre-amplification he needed. It was direct. It was that audiophile precise.
And everybody was acoustic except for me and Ry because we're playing electric guitars so he was coming through whatever was his usual Fender amplifier or something. And I was playing through a rack the size of a refrigerator and it had speakers built into it that were small. So it was all recorded all together and there wasn't such a thing as overdubs or multi-tracking- it just was what it was. Jacky Terrason also came out for that- he flew out from New York. There were a couple of tamboura players on it and Ronu Majumdar- he was this South Indian bamboo flute player that I'd met on the first score I did with Ry (Walter Hill film, The Last Man Standing). And then he actually made another record or two while we were up there. One was Ronu's record. Ry's son Joachim is also on it and did some drumming [on Fascinoma] and who'd I also met him on the movies and I really like him. There was also a musician here in L.A. named Jamie Muhoberac who had played with Jon over the years- in fact, we went to Europe and did some shows with him. He was friends with Peter Freeman, the bass player, and I remember going to Europe with the four of us at least on a couple of occasions. But that was the first time I'd met Jaime and he was playing this thing called the 'zendrum' so he must have amplification an well 'cause that's a MIDI controller, which happens to be sitting here in my studio now- Jon had given it to me years ago.
PSF: Maarifa Street is a very different sounding record than Fascinoma. What did you see that was different about Jon's creative process then?
RC: For Facinoma, we all just met up in this monastery and Jon didn't have any charts or anything so we had to make it up as we went along, other than "Nature Boy." Maarifa Street was different. I guess what happened was Peter Freeman had worked with Jon back in New York. Peter grew up and lived in New York City and he was younger than me. He actually just died six months ago at age 55. He had cancer. A real loss. And he came out to L.A. in 2002 and Jon... We all met here at my studio. Jon was living in Mar Vista, which is only a 5-10 minute drive from my house, which is right at the beach in Venice. So I had my own recording studio here behind the house, which I just bought in 1999, so it was pretty new back then. So we started getting together here. When Peter came out, this is where we started rehearsing and where we did everything really. So the process changed because I was already using Ableton Live starting around 2000, when it first came out (they gave me an endorsement deal). I was using it for the work I did on film scores with Tom Newman. And I got my first desktop and I started using Ableton on it. And Peter was using it also. I would say that figured into it. Also, even before we were using laptops, we were using variable CD players. We were traveling to Europe where would have various things recorded onto CD's and we could just trigger them to play. I had a couple of players and Jon Beasley had one (great piano player). The first time I toured Europe with Jon was in 2000 with Jon Beasley.
But for Maarifa Street, Peter Freeman was also instrumental in how that record sounds. He produced that with Jon.
PSF: Peter seemed pretty involved with Jon's last decade of work and also toured with him several times and co-produced some of his albums as you mentioned. Did you get any sense of what he might have added to Jon's work?
RC: (pauses) He did this thing before I'd met him- they were in New York- called The Vertical Collection. They obviously referenced to Gil Evans. It was sort of like Peter took a whole bunch of Jon's tracks and rearranged them. I don't think I've actually heard it but I have a couple of the audio files some place that Peter had given me.
Peter was really familiar with Jon's repertoire so he did that and maybe that concept was then followed up on when producing things like Maarifa Street. I know how in the last many years, Peter and Jon had a falling out and I think it was 2014 or 2013. And those last two records I can tell you a lot about how those were done and it strikes me that some of other records were done similarly but maybe not to the extent that they were- the Listening Through Sound and Seeing Through Pictures things, which we did it all here. So yeah... I guess I don't how to specifically what Peter did other than he had good ears and he could just bring in little details. He into processing earlier than I was. Nowadays, processing is really kind of as big of a deal as the music, seems to me. You can just do anything with sound nowadays, that's what I tell people. Anything you can imagine, anything you haven't imagine or might imagine, you can do it, you can do anything. So, I think it was just sort of early on in that process of putting some of that stuff together. So there might be a recording from a live performance that's being used but then there are other tracks from rehearsals can be added to it or maybe something we do even specifically for it after the fact.
PSF: You were staring to talk about Jon's last two albums...
RC: Well, for the last two records, Jon wasn't really able to play the horn. The last time we went to Europe was May 2015 and we played in Copenhagen and London and we were in Hamburg and he got sick at the soundcheck and went to the hospital. We didn't play the show there that night. And then back in L.A., we spent the next couple of years putting the material together, which ended up being those last two records. But he couldn't really play anymore. There were a number of different physical ailments that we was suffering with, but the main one that really hit him hard in terms of playing the trumpet was this Bell's Palsy thing where half his face just kind of... In fact, he had to hold his one hand on his cheek, in order to even talk. He couldn't form an embouchure. He did towards the end, staring in maybe 2018-19, he would call me up and play me something and I could recognize him playing the horn so he was working on it but it was difficult. It was never going to be quite the same.
So we put those records together. I started recording all of our rehearsals in multi-track. I don't remember when I started doing it, maybe 2012 or 2013. Whenever we would rehearse here at my studio, I was always running multi-track stereo pairs from the three or four of us, and I was also running a reference mix at the same time, so we could go back to any of these rehearsals and recordings and find plenty of solo trumpet stuff and then just fly that in wherever. And not only that, obviously you can change the timing of it, transpose it and do anything you want to do or need to do to make it fit with whatever you want it to fit with, or not. It wasn't like we were trying to make things fit perfectly- that was kind of the thing, putting stuff together into a pot and stirring it up.
PSF: You were also playing live dates with Jon before that time. How was Jon different on stage versus in the studio? What was he like as a bandleader?
RC: He wasn't really different at all. He was pretty easy to work with- he just liked what sounded good. And everyone knows what sounds good. [laughs] If it doesn't sound good, he would get pissed off. It could be a problem if you tried to micromanage someone's playing, which is like fruitless in my opinion. Rehearsals were not... it wasn't like he came in with charts or ideas or anything- we would just start playing and messing around and things would just develop. But he would have elements. He would hear something I was doing and then that would become a thing. For example, that tune "Fearless" on the last record- I had done that piece myself the night before rehearsal and he came in and he liked it and it went into the repertoire and he changed the name. That happened a lot. When the first of the last two records came out, he said 'what do you want to do about composing credits?' and I said 'I want you to just forget about it and keep the royalties,' because I make a really good living working on film scores. I wanted him to make as much as he could because he really made his money from performing and when that stopped in 2015, it was pretty tough for him, for those last years. On the last album, he said 'I'll have to credit you because a lot of these tunes are just yours' and then he got really sick and it never really got addressed again, but I'm OK with that too. I don't really care.
PSF: Going back a bit, for the LAST NIGHT THE MOON album, did you see that ECM changed the way Jon worked on his albums you did with him before that?
RC: That was a fun experience to go over there and do that. I felt like personally I wish we'd had more stuff prepared. I don't know what we had prepared, if anything. The main title track, those string chords I had recorded for an orchestra date, working on a film score with Tom Newman a few years ago, maybe for Little Women or something else. And I happened to going through my stuff, I had my laptop and I'm looking for stuff and when they heard those chords, everyone's ears perked up, including Manfred and Jon. 'What's that?!' I immediately had to call Tom in L.A. and say, 'look, these guys really love these two chords- is it going to be OK if they use them on his record?' And he said it was fine. So, that's how that tune came about. I haven't listened to that record since 2009 or whenever it was so I can't really remember much about it. Again, I think Peter really worked on putting that record together so he's responsible for a lot of that ECM record. He was an ECM guy- he really had a thing for ECM and Manfred. I never listened to ECM records. I came from experimental music and usually, the more 'out' it was, the better I liked it.
PSF: Returning to Listening to Pictures, how did you and Jon assemble it and how did you work with him to produce it?
RC: It wasn't exactly new- it was all culled from either performance or concert recordings and/or rehearsal recordings. Kind of like grabbing this from there and grabbing this from there. But then we would also record live stuff on top of that, at least I might or maybe [bassist] John von Seggern, who was involved in those two records. I don't remember him playing much bass though- I think he was doing some kind of percussion drum loops and stuff like that. I was never quite sure.
So, it was just sort of a pastiche. That's what I always think of it as. But there was a sort of repertoire that had come about. So there were names for these things. And when we played, we always had some pre-recorded part that was playing. I would always try to get Jon to just go out on stage and just improvise but he didn't want to ever do that. So that's what I guess I was thinking of when I said 'pre-laptops,' 'cause we always had laptops in those last several years but before that, we would have these CD players that would have some track on it that was maybe kind of the spine of the piece and then everyone else could improvise and play around it. Peter usually some played some ostinato bass line throughout the entire thing. I'm either playing harmony or some kind of sounds, like a guitar with different objects.
So there was a bunch of different ideas. Sometimes they have a melody. There's some trumpet lines and phrases that are identifiable as being a part of this piece or that piece. So we kind of had an idea of what the different things were but then new stuff would kind of come up out of trying different elements together that maybe weren't ever together before. Like let's take this from this year and put it with this other thing from 6 months ago and see how that sounds. [laughs] We did that a lot. I do that a lot. I really think that's the front- even though Charles Ives was doing it over 100 years ago. I feel that's the place where the magic happens.
PSF: When you and Jon were going through the material, you had an overall, generalized idea for some of the songs based on what you've done before and then you crafted it, using other elements from other places?
RC: Yeah, that's about right. I thought I could give you an idea. I turned on this one external hard drive. [reading through files] Let's see... I can find an example and then describe it to you. I'm trying to find one of the sessions from when we were putting the record together. I had done all these things I called 'electric forest' and those became part of one of the tracks. Here's something from 2016, it just says 'JH JVRC 3-22-2016.' That's when we were working on the records. [plays track with percussive sounds] That's my track- actually, it's the only tracks on this, just me and Jon. It's just me for a while and then I'll skip ahead to where it's both of us. I was doing a lot of this kind of slicing and dicing processing. So here it comes up on me and Jon. (track now includes light, bouncy electronics] So that's something that Jon's playing from his computer. And then I come back in with something else. [wash of electronic sounds heard] So we're just playing different stuff. It wasn't planned but if we liked it, we would work on it.
Here's one. It says 'Monday project'- it's a rehearsal from May 2015. It must be right before we left [for touring]. So it's me and Jon and John Von [Seggern]- it looks like there's 3 different ideas here. [plays track of majestic, choppy trumpet sounds] So I might solo and this bass thing is Jon Von and this trumpet is obviously Jon, but he's not playing it live, he's playing it from a computer. And I'm not playing anything on that one. And then there's another track... [track of trumpet playing loud and forcefully with sustained notes] That's great. That's 2015 so there's a good chance that he was playing that live right then. And then there's one that just says 'Me and Jon Von.' [plays percussive sounds] That's just my track and then there's two tracks of Jon on it. That's a piano sample I had made for something entirely different on my own that we used to use a lot, the element of this one thing.
At one point, Jon and Jon Von went to Detroit to get together with this DJ. I was working so I couldn't go. And when they got back- Jon didn't really even take his trumpet with him- he had this stuff that was audio recordings and I was showing him how I could convert it to MIDI and play it back using different sounds. I never cared for that material very much but Jon liked it and it did end up on one or both of those [last two] records. I think this is some of that. [plays track of stray metallic sounds] That was originally some other audio recorded in Detroit on their visit that I then converted to MIDI and played back through Omnisphere [software synthesizer] on something like an African harp. [laughs]
And then there's the piano track that I made but Jon is playing it back from his computer- I would give him all of these things. We would share files on Dropbox so anything that he liked, he would just pick out and I would just give to him. He got to the point where he could... during the creation of those last two records, he did get proficient enough on Ableton where he could work in his own house by himself. He would change things and move things around, even after we thought we were ready to get it mastered- he would start to go back and changing stuff around. I have different copies of so much supposedly-finished material for mastering.
PSF: How was making/recording Seeing Through Sound similar or different than LTP? One of the other musicians who played on STS said that he thought that Jon wanted it to sound different from the previous album. Is that true?
RC: I read that too, from one of your other interviews. I don't remember Jon saying that because originally it was going to be one record and then over in London, Matthew Jones, who has Jon's guy at Warp... it must have been his idea at some point to say, 'there's so much material here- why don't we release two different records?' So, in my mind, it was all coming from a similar or the same place almost. So when I read that, it didn't ring a bell for me but I'm not saying it's not true- maybe, he did have that idea and I don't remember. Maybe after the first one [Listening Through Pictures] was done, he did try to make it try to sound different. I don't know how different it sounds to me but I don't really listen to those records that much.
PSF: To clarify then, working on the final album, the process didn't seem any different from the previous record?
RC: I would say that the later in the process it was, the more chance there was that Jon was fiddling with it himself at his home as opposed to us doing it here in the studio together. I didn't know that he a lot of major changes but he might add something or he might take something out.
[looking through recordings] This says 'JH Rehearsal Dec. 30, 2014'- that's "Chemistry," which we used to play that live. Here's "Lunar"- it's on one of those last records. Let's see. 'Lunar Plus RC Session- June 16, '16.' There's a lot of tracks there. [plays track of blaring keyboard sounds] This is definitely pretty close to being the record. There are six tracks for that- it's 'loco stretch with Guirlandes bass' 'Guirlandes' was the name given by Jon to this sound, which was a clip of audio granularly processed (the original audio was perhaps Debussy), that Jon and I did before our trip to Norway- 3 cities in Norway and it was right after I showed him this thing called Granite which is made by New Sonic Arts which is an earlier granular processing plug in. So that actually sounds like this. [plunky keyboard sounds played] So that's one track. And then this is the actual sound... Jon and I had this huge blowout, screaming at each other, and happened a few times over the years. Right after we had this blow out, we came back into the studio and made this sound, which was some piece of audio that he had which I put into this thing called Granite and we identified as this sound, which we called 'Guirlandes.' So that's track two. Track three is this trumpet [plays tape of forceful trumpet sounds fading in and out] and this says 'DAT Trumpet solo Part 3' so this came from some old DAT, probably from the '90's or someplace. And then below that, there's 'trumpet effect,' presumably... I used to run a lot of effects live- while Jon performed, I had a live feed of what he did that I could process so I could then send it back out. Then I would also do that while we were rehearsing through this- it doesn't sound very different to me. You can hear a little bit of that [processing] there. So then there's track 5, which says 'JH overdubs,' so this is a live recording... [plays quieter trumpet track]. That's just a heavily harmonized overdub there. And then below is another Jon track that says 'Overdub #2' and it sounds like this. [plays another calm trumpet track] It's just another overdub. And then there's the mix. So all together, it comes out sounding like this. [plays final mix of "Lunar"] So you get the idea. So some of this stuff was new and some of this stuff was really old, probably some was from a rehearsal from 2014.
PSF: Was he planning further albums in the 'pentimento' series? Did any recordings begin for that?
RC: Well, I don't know what his plans were because unfortunately, his mind really... You know, he would call me all the time and I didn't realize it at first, what was happening. I just thought he was either dismembering things or he was representing things differently every time he would tell me about the same story. But when he really ended up in hospital in April of 2020, he was calling me from St. John's, begging me to pick him up. They said they would only release him to someone authorized and I own a house here at the beach and he said 'they'll let you take me.' And I did- I picked him up, maybe on Palm Sunday.
At that point, maybe I still didn't quite understand. I knew he was really scared and he thought he was being detained there, like almost imprisoned. I thought if I brought him back here to somewhere familiar, because he had been coming to my house for practically 20 year at that point, then maybe he would kind of come back around, you know?
But that's not what happened. It turned out that he was just in much worse shape than I ever realized. And so, with those phone calls for the previous year or two, I then realized that he was good at hiding what was happening because he didn't really know where he was when I brought him to my house. In fact, he stayed here for a couple of days and I almost realized immediately that he needed 24 hour health care. I happened to have someone else here that was able to take care of a lot of that 'cause I wouldn't have been able to do that.
So I took him back home and his ex, DeFracia Evans, kind of spearheaded the last 18 months of his health care. She's the mother of his three god-daughters. She wanted to give him one more shot at him staying at his own place over there at Mar Vista, just up the street from me, and I took him there on a Wednesday morning and I really felt that he didn't recognize it. This was back in spring of 2020.
So that was it. He couldn't stay there. There was a health care worker there and she [DeFracia] got a call from her at 4:30 in the morning, saying that she couldn't take it, saying that there were rats running around the place. So she had to go pick them up and she had to put Jon in Berkley West, which is a convalescent hospital in Santa Monica. He was there for several months. I had his trumpet here for about 9 months, just in my studio. And then he hated being there so DeFracia actually go him an apartment to see if he could live... not necessarily on his own- he still needed a health care worker to come in 4-6 hours a day. I picked him up there once to look at a different place because he would always complain about that place and I realized then that it wasn't happening- he really didn't even know where that apartment was. He didn't know where he was.
So he ended up having to go to his other place which was really very nice, over in Hollywood- it's called Hollywood Hills Retirement or something like that. It was very expensive too. Luckily, we had done that GoFundMe page 'cause this place cost like $7500 a month. So I could go over and I could take a Bluetooth speaker and play stuff off my phone or my iPad and he enjoyed that a lot. He wasn't able to do that anymore either. We used to talk about him working on a computer. But he had a laptop the whole time but he didn't know it! It was that bad.
But I'd still talk to him. He would sometimes call me 10 times a day. I wouldn't know- I had all these messages that I haven't listened to. They're hard to hear and somewhat unintelligible but they're just pretty sad.
PSF: So, was that the last place he was at?
RC: Yes. I did talk to him on the phone. I wish I'd got to get over there more often to visit. It was called Hollywood Hills Pacifica Senior Living. And it was in Gramercy Place, just north of Hollywood Boulevard. But he never went out the entire time he was there, other than... because of the pandemic, when you went to visit him, at least earlier on, you had to sit outside. But it was really nice- they had tables out there and it was really lovely kind of place. But Jon thought... as anybody would, no matter how nice the place is, if you're feeling that you're being sort of held there, you feel like a prisoner somehow. It didn't matter if he had this stuff- they got him a CD player as soon as he got there. And when he got the last album, he was calling me every day to say, 'wow, we really did this great thing!' And then some months later, he didn't know he had a CD player. It was just like, it didn't compute. It was a strange thing.
And then he started calling me, asking me if I had a trumpet. He said 'I've got a show tonight if you've got a trumpet' or 'I have a session later.' That kind of thing.
PSF: When I interviewed him last year, he mentioned that there was a lot of archival material that he was going through- was he planning to release any of that?
RC: Yeah, there's so much material. We've been talking about that from the beginning because... First of all, I'm not sure what his plans were other than he wanted to keep putting out records 'cause I knew he talked to Matthew Jones. They'd given him his own kind of imprint within Warp, which was his publishing company name, Ndeya. And I knew that Warp had plans on continually releasing new material, or material that hadn't ever been released before, maybe sometimes it would be re-release.
But there's so much stuff. For example, just recently, after Peter Freeman died, I had to go up to his place in the Hollywood Hills and pick up a bunch of gear that I had lent him or given him over the years and his best friend was managing all of his belongings. Peter had so much stuff- he made me look like a little hobbyist. This guy was CRAZY with stuff. He left a couple of beautiful things, like this incredible Fender Stratocaster, 50th anniversary edition, for like $2500 and he brought it to the studio here 2-3 years ago. I thought 'wow, I've never felt a guitar that feels this good or sounds this good or plays this well!' He left me that guitar 'cause he knew I liked it. And a couple of other things.
But there was also a whole bunch of Jon's stuff that Peter had taken up there when Jon got sick that he felt was very delicate or needed special attention. So the guy that was trying to weed through all this stuff and get everything in the right place was giving everything that belonged to Jon as well as to me.
So I made two trips up there and got all kinds of stuff. One trip, it was 7-8 great big beach ball sized bubble wrap plastic.. they were described as 'hand percussion instruments.' One of them looks like a bass thumb piano. I know he had tablas and all kinds of stuff that he collected over the years, just different instruments. A lot of little percussion instruments. Lots of stuff. I didn't unwrap it because I didn't want to get into that. There's another guy that's related to the ex that.. Again, when Jon had to leave the place in Mar Vista, all of his stuff had to go into storage. That's why I called Peter and said 'look, DeFracia is going over there to pack stuff up' and he was in a panic to get over there and get everything that needed special attention before he was diagnosed with Stage 4 esophageal cancer and was gone and left a year after that. So he had taken a bunch of stuff out there.
But one of the things was a drawer in a chest filled with DAT's, just like a couple of hundred. [laughs] And unlike me, Jon annotated them very precisely. I didn't read any of them but I just tell from glancing that they were labeled. Those were all picked up fairly recently by another relative of his surrogate family, as I call them. And that stuff is all kept in a climate controlled storage place over here, which I've never been to.
Originally, Peter and I were going to there and start trying to get a sense of what was there and give Matthew Jones in London a sense of which things might be converted to hard disc sooner than others with the intent of releasing new things. All that fall apart because Peter died and now who's going to do it? I don't know. They are always talking about it.
We've had Zoom conference calls with Matthew and publishing guys from Warp in London and LA and a couple of his god-daughters and his ex and me and maybe Hugh Marsh and Dan Schwartz. And everyone's aware of the volume and volumes going to back to every possible recording media there is. Just like any of us that have been working in music since the '70's- reel to reel tapes and audio cassettes and DAT's. In fact, Jon had one of those Sony PM5 or 1's which used VHS cassette pre-DAT. Sony made this box and basically it was an A-D-D-A converter and you could record digitally to a VHS cassette tape in a VCR but it went through this Sony box. That had been sent to some guy in New York and I told the guy who was watching all this stuff, 'no, Peter took that. It belongs to Jon and we need that back.' If ever they want to convert those old video tapes, they're gonna need that damn machine! [laughs] It's just nuts like that. He would always tell me 'you've got the Sony PCM, I've got some 8 track digital tapes we can use on it.' 'Yeah, fine, you can have this thing.'
Not to mention, I told Matthew too, that I started recording our rehearsals and at some point, and I've got gigabytes and gigabytes of multi-track rehearsals. Hundreds of hours of that stuff. And that's just me! Clearly Jon had stuff going back forever in every conceivable format. They're aware of it.
I even had this whole concept of something called 'The Jon Hassell Infinity Project.' I work with a lot of younger guys, partly through my own records and the music I've been doing for the 45 years, but also my association with Tom Newman and Jon Hassell. So I get calls from guys in Europe and they want to know about my process and what it's like working with Jon. So I actually put 4-5 of them together 'cause they're all in their 30's. I have a good friend in NYC who's in 33 and I said to him 'we could pass the torch a little bit, even with Jon being gone.' There's this material.
In fact, the guy in New York, that is Lou Schwartz and he and I just recently composed a 30-minute piece for a sculptor named Charles Long who had approached me for this very recent... he's a huge Jon Hassell fan and he had this opening in L.A. back in May. He wanted to have this new Jon Hassell music playing continuously in the gallery during his exhibition. He knew Jon was unable to do anything anymore but he asked if I could do it. I met with him and I said I thought I could. So I basically found a bunch of material that I thought was good and I sent it all to Luke and he made this half hour arrangement and the guy liked it. And it played a month continuously over there in Hollywood. And then he wanted to do something with it. He wanted to get it out there and I said 'you should probably talk to Jon and the guy in London [with Warp].' And I ended up sending him a copy over to Matthew Jones and he loved the thing, saying that he's going to put it out as a new composition by Jon Hassell, Rick Cox and Luke Schwartz.
So I think that was all part of this idea like 'Jeez, Luke's only 33, Jon's gone, I'm 69...' These young guys who are really into this kind of thing... And there's all this material and the way we put those last records together, you see what I'm getting at? It can still be performed with tracks of his that are pre-recorded and you could just really keep doing this on and on. That was my idea. I told Matthew that my part of my association with Jon had gone as far as I wanted it to. [laughs] It certainly could be done if he had the right people.
PSF: That's all I had. Thanks for sharing all this. Anything else you wanted to share about Jon?
RC: Yeah, well, Jon was quite a guy. He could be a real asshole though. At the end, I felt bad. Maybe there's some karmic going on here. It was a weird thing- clearly the guy's very sensitive obviously and he's got incredible years and great ideas. He was doing amazing shit. Do you know Source magazine? He's got a piece there, issue number 5, called 'Map' and it's this big piece of magnetic recording tape before it's been sliced into quarter-inch strips and put onto reels. It's just like a big square 2 dimensional block of recording tape which he probably must have dragged a recording across it, putting something on it and then piece is you're dragging a playback head across this thing in whichever way you want. There's instructions and stuff. But that's very forward-thinking when it came out. That's way before Laurie Anderson was putting a piece of quarter inch tape on her violin bow. YEARS and years before that. Plus, he was doing all kinds of really cool technological stuff before anyone else. I was completely anti-electronics up until the turn of the century.
But I found that he could be so brutal with people. He would burn a lot of bridges. Just about everyone who ever went out on the road with him, they'd have some kind of blowout and they'd never speak again. I said that happened with me too but I'm just the kind of person who will not let that happen. I don't know how you can be really close to someone for years and then just like snap your fingers and that person doesn't exist. It's like what chicks do. In fact, I told him that no one had gotten me so wound up except a chick I was in a relationship with. He could get you really wound up.
But it was sad. That shouldn't happen to anybody, the way he had to go out there at the end.
But I'm really grateful to him. We just really hit it off musically. Tom Newman always had asked 'how you can stand working with him?' [laughs] And I'd say 'we just play music, we don't' have to do anything else.'
Learn more about Rick Cox's work through Discogs
See the rest of our 2nd part of our Jon Hassell tribute
Also see the 1st part of our Jon Hassell tribute, with additional interviews and more
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