INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Australian JUNE 9, 2009 - by Ashleigh Wilson
SEDUCED BY THE DESK SET
Jon Hassell & Maarifa Street, Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House, June 6
Even before the music started it was clear that this was to be a performance free of artifice. As the audience filed into the Opera Theatre, Jon Hassell, the deep-thinking American trumpeter, composer, ambient music pioneer, electronic manipulator and intellectual, was already sitting quietly on stage with his band.
Hassell's presence was inevitable at Luminous, the eclectic extravaganza of music and light at the Sydney Opera House curated by British musician Brian Eno. The pair have been friends for three decades, and Eno has said he owes much to his collaborator's approach to music and art. The respect obviously goes both ways.
Hassell has long been a difficult artist to pin down. He describes his style as Fourth World, which apparently means a "mysterious, unique hybrid of music both ancient and digital, composed and improvised, Eastern and Western". On Saturday that mysterious hybrid resulted in a mesmerising performance of subtlety, restraint and beauty.
Hassell remained seated the entire time, dividing his attention between the trumpet, played through various effects, and a desk at his side containing electronic equipment. His three band members each sat behind desks, manipulating computers and sound equipment, one of them occasionally playing guitar and bass as well; Hassell's trumpet was only one of several sounds in the mix.
The pieces were extended works of ambient music, with each band member clearly enthralled by the possibilities of sound. All the ideas unfolded gently, and the result was seductive and hypnotic. Patience, contemplation and reverie were on show, and in a most masterful fashion.
The effect, though, would have been hugely enhanced if the volume had been turned up a few notches, allowing the band's sound to more fully envelop the audience. While some in the audience found the show wasn't to their taste and left early, others gave a rapturous standing ovation at the end.
Until then, they remained largely silent, as instructed. There was hesitant applause during a break in the performance after about twenty minutes, but Hassell immediately silenced the room with a raised hand and a downward glance. His effect on the audience was almost magical: the performance finished with the sound of breath exhaled through his trumpet.