sounds like the bar band in Star Wars
an ambient mixtape oozing out & away, onehow
# of Tracks: 70+
Length: almost 5 hours
Themes: ambient textures ~ chill vibes ~ the future primitive music of Jon Hassell’s Fourth World ~ songs so laid back they practically stop ~ space funk ~ a reference to a little-discussed Cocteau Twins album1 ~ unlikely contributions from canonical classic rockers ~ about 50% instrumental music
This mix is largely a tribute to the “Fourth World” concept pioneered by Jon Hassell2 at the dawn of the 1980s. He described Fourth World music as "a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques." In other words, it’s the kind of thing a visitor to the desert planet of Tatooine in Star Wars might hear being played by the bar band in the Mos Eisley Cantina.
How did I end up exploring this strange tangent?
Well, over the winter holiday break, I tried my best to join the collective fervor around the Beatles documentary Get Back. Really I did.3 I appreciated the enthusiasm of Beatles die-hards and pop culture scholars. One friend, who is literally a university-level art history professor, compared it to “watching Da Vinci or Michelangelo at work in their studios.” High praise!
But here’s the thing: as someone who has spent many boring, non-stoned hours watching artists soundcheck and rehearse, actually witnessing a group of dudes making slow progress and tuning their instruments is…a bit of a slog, if not an outright psychological trigger for artist-induced PTSD.
The quality television I’ve actually enjoyed these past few months is The Mandalorian. Hear me out! I have zero allegiance to sci-fi or fantasy genres.4 I’m not even sure if I’ve seen all the canonical Star Wars films.5 What I respected about The Mandalorian is how isolated it was from the themes of the larger Star Wars franchise. It pulls back on the mythic, Judeo-Christian, space opera, good and evil elements in favor of something….grittier. Namely, the mercenary, gun-for-hire, frontier aspects of what actual life on a strange planet would probably feel like.
Yes, the hype on the show got it right: The Mandalorian is a Western.6 Of course, every Western requires a saloon. And, well, here’s my soundtrack to that space-age saloon: The mix includes obvious choices like the indie critical intellgensia’s go-to avant-chillers Sam Gendel, Burial, Jon Bap, and HTRK; swerves into delicate, genre-agnostic music from around the world by Haruomi Hosano (Japan), Arleta (Greece), Susumu Yokota (also Japan), Silvia Tarozzi (Italy), and Sylvain Chauveau (France); and even dips into uncharacteristically laid back recordings from classic rockers such as Black Sabbath, Neil Young7, John Mellencamp, John Lennon, and George Harrison. See! I’ve got love for The Beatles!
I’ll leave you with this scene featuring the actual bar band from Star Wars and hope you’re not so addicted to your Disney+ subscription that you forget to clickity-click on the mix itself.
The playlist includes songs such as…
^ Susumu Yokota “Kodomotachi” — Why yes that is a Joni Mitchell sample.
^ Sam Gendel “BLKSND” — This isn’t actually a video for the song but an extended documentary connected to the album upon which it appears, AE-30.
^ Caroline Shaw “So Quietly”
^ Minutemen: “Cohesion” — This is actually a cover by Shane Parish formerly of the band Ahleuchatistas but he really nails it.
• AHB’s Today Show: I’ve started sharing my daily listening in the form of this Spotify playlist. It’s intended to feature what’s on my metaphorical office stereo this day/week/month. The music will generally be on the laid back side, insofar as it’s mostly stuff I can listen to while concentrating and answering emails. Nonetheless, it’s all music I’m exploring RN.8 Current Vibes: Big Thief’s Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, and new records by Stromae and Rosalia.
• Nina’ Simone’s Gum: This playlist was assembled by my Australian pal Deborah Kee Higgins, co-operator of the late & lamented All Tomorrow’s Parties festival.9 It’s a song-by-song transcription of the recordings mentioned in Warren Ellis’s book of the same name. As for the book itself? It’s an unlikely combination of pandemic memoir, scrapbook, and creativity manual. Filled with text message and email transcriptions, unspectacular photographs and seemingly minor anecdotes, it functions more like an art-book or an ambitious chapbook or an update on W. G. Sebald than the kind of thing one expects to see hyped by a major publisher. I read it with more joy and headlong pleasure than any other book I picked up 2021. This playlist is a way for me to extend its considerable appeal into another medium.
I’ll leave you with a final allusion to the Mos Eisely cantina as invoked in another 2021 book I enjoyed, Laurie Woolever’s Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography.10
Finally here’s some pictures of the actual cantina. Sit down, cash in your credits at the bar, and lean back as you tune into tonight’s entertainment by Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes.
This brief 1997 article at Wired gives a pretty good introduction to the concept:
"a term to describe the possibility of music in global terms - beyond First World, beyond Third World, beyond classical, beyond pop." He's described fourth world as an ideal blend of traditional music from around the world with Western forms and modern electronics, forming a kind of contemporary folk music from "unknown and imaginary regions."
I stopped about an episode and a half in.
Have I watched Game of Thrones? Well, yes, a friend wrote the damn thing. In theory, he reads these emails. So if only for Dan’s benefit, if you want a blast-from-the-past about my first encounter with him clicky-click here and search the words “Literary Life: Attempting To Pass the Buck” to read a Talk of The Town style piece about his promoting his first novel during an Ozzy Osbourne autograph sesh at Hollywood’s Virgin Megastore
My relationship to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is less direct and less ardent. I can recall seeking out and legitimately enjoying Dr. Strange and Black Panther. But generally those films—by which I mean anything involving the Avengers and villains whose goal is the destruction of all life in the universe—are more of a “Something I’ll watch on a plane to fall asleep to.” Seeing as I haven’t been on a plane in two years, I haven’t kept up…
Don’t get me wrong. I have OG Star Wars fan propers. My mother claims I watched the original Star Wars multiple times in movie theaters when they came out. As with many of my mother’s memories the timelines and facts are a bit dubious; it’d mean I was somehow watching multiple 120 minute screenings at the age of about two and a half. But, real truth, my memory of watching any of the Star Wars movies is equally unreliable.
Some might agree with this assessment. Others seem intent on quibbling with it. And I’ll admit there’s a whole knights and/or samurai living by a chivalric code aspect to The Mandalorian but I’ll ignore that for the purposes of this blog. During our Covid-imposed enforced cultural siesta, I’ve expended more than enough energy thinking about medieval times:
This recent magazine article featuring an oral history of the ATP festival gave me flashbacks. In a good way! Though, #triggerwarning, some artists and music industry personages will not be pleased with how they’re depicted in it.
Here’s my capsule review: Grave digging ick factor = certainly there. Eminently readable way to spend a time in the company of those who who knew Anthony Bourdain best = also yes.