- "Do you know what I hate about computers?" Brian Eno asked Wired in 1995. "The problem with computers is that there is not enough Africa in them." His friend and collaborator Jon Hassell has been exploring this idea for decades. Hassell introduced the concept of Fourth World music on his 1980 LP, Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics, on which Eno is co-credited. After studying under Karlheinz Stockhausen and, later, Pandit Pran Nath (and collaborating with Terry Riley and La Monte Young), Hassell shook up western musical orthodoxy by mixing modern technology with indigenous mysticism, arriving on a psychedelic sound that summoned imaginary exotic locales.
Hassell was making "placeless" music that subverted the primacy of western musical traditions. Miracle Steps: Music From The Fourth World 1983-2017, a compilation put together by Fergus Clark and Keith McIvor (AKA JD Twitch of Optimo), honors that concept. Horns and winds—both acoustic and synthesized—pop up on many of these tracks, as does hand percussion, wordless chants and synth patches that might be labeled "digital rainforest." Clark and McIvor draw a savvy connection between Hassell and the Mexican experimentalist Jorge Reyes, whose track "Plight" opens the record. Reyes, who passed away in 2009, was also making music for imagined worlds, channeling the musical memory of a pre-Hispanic music that no one had ever heard.
The first disc contains music made in the last couple of years, though it hardly sounds modern. Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe and Ariel Kalma's "Mille Voix," a track with drones and wordless falsetto, was recorded in Mullumbimby, a small town near the coast of New South Wales, Australia. The excellent and little-heard Russian ambient artist X.Y.R. contributes "Middle Of Nowhere," where kosmische techniques and eastern influences merge. The compilation's only outlier, Iona Fortune's "White Tigress," seems yoked to a computer's quantized pulse.
Crammed Discs has long pursued the alchemy of modern electronics and global traditions. Several of that label's tracks feature on Miracle Steps. Sussan Deyhim & Richard Horowitz's 1986 track, "Desert Equations (For Brion Gysin)," evokes a barren expanse with Arabian flute and tribal rhythms. David Cunningham's "Blue River," from Crammed sub-label Made To Measure, is a meditative riff on American minimalism. The Dutch label Staalplaat sometimes released Fourth World music. Rapoon's "The Same River Once," a raga-influenced synth journey, first emerged on Staalplaat. Their sub-label, Mort Aux Vaches, released Reyes's "Plight."
"The strongest common feature of each of these fourteen tracks is a sense of genuine bewilderment," says Clark in the liner notes, "which manages to abolish any idea of a perceived time or place." A track like Larry Chernicoff's "Woodstock, New York" seems to exist between places—it evokes America with a banjo-like pattern and handclaps, but a bamboo trumpet, played by Karma Sonam Targee, seems to take the track below the equator. Hassell's own title track, off 1986's Power Spot, mixes trumpet fanfare with a loping African rhythm. Songs like these reflect Hassell's belief that interconnectedness could be a bridge towards a polyglot utopia. Short of that, they give us loads of good music to trip out to.
01. Jorge Reyes - Plight
02. Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe & Ariel Kalma - Mille Voix
03. Iona Fortune - White Tigress
04. O Yuki Conjugate - Cloud Cover
05. X.Y.R. - Middle Of Nowhere
06. Jon Keliehor - Subcontinent
07. David Cunningham - Blue River
08. Larry Chernicoff - Woodstock, New York
09. Sussan Deyhim & Richard Horowitz - Desert Equations (For Brion Gysin)
10. Jon Hassell - Miracle Steps
11. Vulgata - Ethel I
12. Afro-Disiak - Tambours D'Eau
13. Rapoon - The Same River Once
14. Javier Segura - El Sueno Perdido