Hassell's ideas remain influential three decades later. Andrew Pekler—maker of inquisitive electronic music since the '90s—paid homage last year with a "Fourth World Problems" mix, placing his own music alongside folkloric recordings and tracks by Hassell and others. But, as with a generation of new fourth world explorers, Pekler takes Hassell's approach further. A series of "unreal field recordings" uploaded to his Soundcloud synthesised the sounds of frogs, birds, and chirruping insects as well as musical instruments. As with Don't DJ's uncanny environments, Pekler wasn't just depicting the imaginary music, but also the imaginary universe it inhabits. Not so much "Possible Musics" as "Possible Worlds."
Pekler's world gets a proper introduction on Tristes Tropiques, an album of ambient compositions for Jan Jelinek's Faitiche label. The title (meaning "sad tropics," a reference to a memoir by French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss) hints at the mood. It also reminds me of the English word "tryst", meaning a secret meeting between lovers. Pekler's compositions are brief, furtive encounters. Real world things are referenced—"Khao Sok" is a national park in Thailand, "Bororo" an indigenous people in Brazil—but the tracks lack human traces. The former, which appears "Chopped & Screwed," is a muffled fog of indiscernible animal calls. The latter's three-note melodies are cautious patches of light in a gloomy space. It's followed by "A Savage Topography," where uneven splurges of synth build to a cacophonous finish. Pekler's music is rarely violent, but there's something sinister lurking beneath the surface.
Listening to Tristes Tropiques feels like being trapped in a maze with no orientation. The same half-rhythmic patterns recur, and the sounds are uniformly pale and subdued. Some tracks are blended together into suites, making navigation harder; "Mirror Structures" returns later in an altered "Mirrored" version. But there's light at the end of the tunnel. On "Theme From Tristes Tropiques," sustained notes tremble under a rainfall of pretty, marimba-like tones, while "Life In The Canopy" chirps and flutters brightly like birds in the trees. If you squint, the fluid melodies in its second half could have come from the trumpet of Jon Hassell.
Sat / 3 Dec 2016
01. Feedback TT
02. Mirror Structures
03. Humidity Index/Khao Sok (Chopped & Screwed)
04. Cool Symmetries/Ascending Vortices
06. A Savage Topography
07. Mirror Structures (Mirrored)
08. Theme From Tristes Tropiques/Avian Modulation/Life In The Canopy