Born in Memphis, Hassell studied at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester before moving to Europe to study with Karlheinz Stockhausen. (Among his classmates were Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay, who later formed CAN.) Upon his return to the United States, Hassell will pursue a scholarship at the Center for Creative and Performing Arts at SUNY Buffalo, where he met for the first time American minimalist composer Terry Riley.
In 1968, Hassell will perform on the first recorded version of Riley’s influential work. And C. He later also worked with La Monte Young, joining the drone group Theater of Eternal Music, and studied extensively under the tutelage of their joint mentor, Indian music singer Pandit Pran Nath. It was from Nath that Hassell learned to use the techniques of the Kirana gharana vocal tradition on the trumpet.
Hassell’s first album Vernal equinox, released in 1978, is widely regarded as the first work of what he would later call the “Fourth World” musical aesthetic. Hassell called it “a unified primitive / futuristic sound combining the characteristics of the world’s ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques”; a combination of the “first” world and the “third” world which he also described as “metaclassic and metapop”.
Vernal equinox caught the attention of Eno, with whom Hassell would collaborate on Possible musics / Fourth World Vol. 1 in 1980. In addition to subsequent collaborations with artists like David Sylvian, Peter Gabriel and Tears for Fears, much of that decade saw Hassell deepen the concept of the “Fourth World,” a concept that proved to be deeply influential in many musical genres. In some ways, his work foreshadowed the globalization of music that has accelerated in the Internet age.
As he told Andy Beta for Resident Advisor, Hassell was both “very encouraged” and cautious about the continued exploration of “Fourth World” music artists. “Now we’re in the digital la-la-land, taking a millisecond or milliseconds of something that’s in the digital realm, and turning it into something else… there’s no more. original, ”he said. “You have a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. “
In the 2000s, Hassell would also record with artists like kd Lang, Ani DiFranco and Imogen Heap’s Frou Frou project. His latest studio album See through sound (Pentimento Volume Two) was released in 2020.