Perfect Sound Forever

Jon Hassell tribute

Jean-Michel Reusser (JH's former agent)
interview by Jason Gross
(October 2021)

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

JMR: I discovered Jon Hassell, as I think many people did, when Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics was released. I listened to it on repeat for months, fascinated by the mysterious sound of the trumpet and the beautiful sonic landscapes that he and Brian [Eno] had created around it. I somehow, managed to get a copy of Vernal Equinox from the U.S. (these were no-streaming times), an album which further strengthened my admiration (and my curiosity) for who was the creator of this amazing music I had never heard before, but which was nevertheless strangely familiar to me (though I couldn't tell why).

PSF: How did you meet Jon and start working with him?

JMR: I must say I'm not sure after so many years. It could be at the Rencontres Internationales de Musique Contemporaine de Metz (France) in 1982. Jon was on the bill, Terry Riley and La Monte Young too, as was Pandit Pran Nath whose album Ragas had been a fave for years. I was a journalist at the time, covering the event for a magazine and a radio station and had the chance to interview all of them. I will always remember Jon introducing me to Pandit Pran Nath.

Our first 'meeting' was actually a phone interview, earlier that same year, for the release of Dream Theory in Malaya. A very long and intense conversation that has been for sure the beginning of our relationship.

How did I start working with him? Again I'm not sure: Jon often came to France in the early '80's, we got along really well sharing common passions for world music, recording technology, art, buddhism... Maybe it's just been a kind of 'natural process' that I got involved (as coordinator according to the sleeve notes) of what became Aka/Darbari/Java - Magic Realism (finalized in Canada with Dan Lanois). I remember the recording session in Paris with an African percussion player [Abdou M'Boup] but my best souvenir is the week Jon and I spent experimenting the Fairlight synthesizer, sampling every "possible" music from the Aka pygmies to some Frank Sinatra's orchestrations.

PSF: How was it to work with him on the Aka Dabari Java album?

JMR: Of course I could write a few lines about the Fairlight episode, how we sampled a lot of my Ocora collection records, how we looked for a specific Sinatra albums he wanted to sample, about the excitement, how an assistant was driving us to the studio (outside of Paris) everyday...

But for the rest, Jon has always been a very « solitary » creator. He completed the album with Daniel Lanois in Canada once we had done the recording of the percussions and the sampling sessions in Paris. In the interview you did with him, he seems to explains how he worked quite clearly.

The work done in Paris on Aka Darbari Java/Magic Realism was essentially the creation of a "samples library" (with the Fairlight synthesizer) that Jon would use later. Same with Abdou M'Boup's percussion, dubbed over very basic sketches. It was all work in progress, kind of "collecting items" for the final production, so it can't be compared with the result created with Daniel.

PSF: What was your work with Jon on Maarifa Street?

JMR: My job on this project was the executive production, i.e. making sure the album would be delivered to the record company in due time and within the allowed budget. I must say it was much more work than on ADJ- so many details from checking the final masters to get the permission from Mati Klarwein's estate to use the painting for the cover, to the accounts and all legal parameters and finally coordinating the release (promo et al) with the label.

PSF: What kind of work did you do with Jon for the City of FictionN reissue?

JMR: Jon and I discussed so many things... from choices of alternate tracks to sleeve notes or artwork... There were also lots of exchanges with Matthew Jones from WARP who was the fundamental driving force in the production of this re-issue.

PSF: What was Jon like on a personal level?

JMR: It's no secret that he wasn't the easiest person to deal with but I won't go into details... A very close friend for so many years, I will remember a brilliant mind with incredible culture and curiosity, always ready to exchange/share new ideas, roll one and cry with laughter (Jon had a great sense of humor).

PSF: What is Jon's legacy?

JMR: Some of the most beautiful music ever recorded.

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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