Perfect Sound Forever

Jon Hassell tribute

Richard Horowitz
interview by Jason Gross
(October 2021)

PSF: What did you think of Jon's work before you met him?

RH: Jon was an inspiration before I met him. I had been following Jon's work closely for a long time. When I met him, we connected on a musical level that was a great gift for me.

PSF: How did you get to work with Jon?

RH: I got a chance to meet Jon in 1981 through Chantal Darcy, the head of Shandar Records in Paris. I had recorded an album called Oblique Sequences - Solo Nai Improvisations for Shandar Records. Sadly, there was a fire in the archives of Shandar and the Solo Nai albums were mostly destroyed.

Chantal was in New York and went to see Jon at [La Monte Young's] The Dream House. Between 1979 and 1985, the Dream House was located at a mercantile warehouse on Harrison Street in Tribeca. At that point, the main collaborators were Jon, La Monte, Garrett List and Marian Zazeela. Chantal brought some of the remaining Nai records to give to Jon, thinking he might like them.

After hearing the Nai records from Chantal, Jon invited me over to his loft on 14th street where he was living. I thought that he would want me to play nai with him, but he told me that there was only one soloist in his group at a time. So I decided to play synthesizers instead. I also brought with me a loop box with a very long delay that I had been using on my nai flute. I told him it was an honor to meet him and collaborate. After that, he let me inside! At that point, he told me that he wanted me to work with him in his band. We started recording some ideas and tests that day. Eventually, Jon moved to Tribeca with his dog (he was very close to dogs, he was never without one), next to a fire station.

PSF: How would you describe his recording and writing process when you worked with him on the Power Spot album?

RH: In the studio Jon was always interested in new influences. One day, I showed up at the studio in NY with some of my pygmy records and a book called Pygmy Kitabu. The Efé Pygmies have been shown to be one of the oldest intact cultures on Earth by DNA studies, and this book is an in-depth work detailing their extraordinary culture. Jon became fascinated by pygmy music, it seemed to represent everything he was looking for at the time musically and he was so thankful to get this present from me.

As far as the Power Spot album, it was mostly improvised at Dan Lanois' studio in Canada. The musicians were given rooms at the house. Dan's mother did the cooking. We had just come back from a tour in Japan, so there were a lot of memorable stories. One of the most memorable was a punk club transformed into a Japanese garden with perfectly cut, real grass growing in the ground and the whole club wearing ancient Japanese kimonos. Jon was fascinated with exotic plants and liked to travel with the exotic plants on stage.

When we were there, we were very curious to check out the new tech stuff. We ended up getting the first digital recording equipment that later swept the states. On our way home, the head of Sony was up on our plane and he asked the flight attendant to change his seat to come sit in our class with us to talk to us musicians about how this equipment worked. The equipment we came back with was used on some of the later albums.

PSF: You had also played with Jon a number of times live during the '80's. How did he work differently on the stage vs. the studio, as a musician and a bandleader?

RH: As I mentioned, he liked to improvise. He would improvise on stage as well as in the studio. Before he went on stage, at his biggest concert in New York City to date, he looked at me and said "This concert is going to prove to everyone that I don't know what the hell I'm doing." There was a spot in the show where I was meant to trigger a loop pattern - but all the loops piled up on each other and what was supposed to be five minutes of that segment got bungled, but he was super cool about it and assured me the music was so esoteric that people would never know the difference anyway.

Also want to mention Dino JA Deane for his understanding and great musicianship.

And Michael Brook for his trenchant sense of humor.

See Richard Horowitz's work at his Bandcamp page

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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