Manafonistas

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Richard Horovitz: Eros in Arabia

On his 1981 debut album, the composer and percussionist channels the Fourth World spirit of his collaborator Jon Hassell, to spellbinding effect.

When it came time for percussionist and composer Richard Horowitz to release his debut solo album, Eros in Arabia, he opted for a title that hinted at the unknown. He was no secret, though: He had already worked with jazz heavyweights like Anthony Braxton, John Lewis, Steve Lacy, and Alan Silva as well as being mentored by Brion Gysin and Paul Bowles. So when his album first briefly surfaced in 1981, it was credited instead to one Drahcir Ztiworoh. The album disappeared almost immediately, though Horowitz soon became an integral part of Jon Hassell’s group as they codified the sound of “Fourth World”—an attempt to filter ancient mysticism through high technology. Horowitz also wound up as a soundtrack composer in Hollywood; his most prominent credit has been for Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday.

Nearly 40 years later, Horowitz’s debut returns in this sterling remastered edition from Freedom to Spend (a reissue sub-label of RVNG Intl. founded by noise musician Pete Swanson and record-shop owner Jed Bindeman). It testifies that beyond his contribution to Hassell’s 1980s zenith, Horowitz himself created a singular iteration of Fourth World music. Earthy and alien at once, the eight compositions on Eros in Arabia conjure an imaginary geographical space where divergent cultures converge. Channeling Ituri forest chants, Javanese gamelan, Bedouin plaints, Rajasthani folk, and European electronic music, Horowitz dances around borders and eras to spellbinding effect.

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“Bandit Nrah Master of Rajasthan” sets the album’s mood, twinkling like ambient music. Horowitz carefully overlays synthesizer and ney, the end-blown flute predominant throughout Middle Eastern music. (As the notes accompanying the album explain, the ney is associated both with North African sacred music and the sound of bandits.) That the flurry of notes recalls Zamfir is not a surprise, since both the Romanian pan flute and ney are closely related, but Horowitz combines newfangled ’80s electronics and old instrumentation in such a way that seems to suspend time altogether.

A Moroccan frame drum echoes and distorts on “Eros Never Stops Dreaming.” The processed ney recalls the odd sanza songs that Cameroon musician Francis Bebey was crafting around the same time, while the churning bass figure suggests the cavernous interiors of Arthur Russell’s World of Echo. A giddiness underpins the electronic textures of “Baby Elephant Magic,” which glimmers like a recording of a gamelan played back at double speed, full of high frequencies that flutter like fruit flies in the stereo field.
From there, the album moves into coarser terrain, taking sandpaper to the magical spells of the opening tracks.

The eddying voices and chants of “Queen of Saba” sound like something lifted from a Smithsonian Folkways field recording, while the clanging din of “Never Tech No Foreign Answer” is raw enough to slot into an early Sublime Frequencies compilation of street music. The buzzing, rattling prepared piano of “23/8 For Conlon Nancarrow” name-checks the composer famous for writing compositions that only a player piano could handle, but its keyboard feels like an outlier compared to all the woozy, globe-trotting sounds that come before it.

The second side of the record is mostly taken by the twenty-plus minutes of “Elephant Dance.” It’s one of the deepest wades into the mysterious Fourth World sound you’ll find, as immersive an atmosphere as Jon Hassell and Brian Eno’s similarly side-long “Charm (Over ‘Burundi Cloud’).” Utilizing only a Prophet 5 synthesizer and the ney, it creates a state of suspension in 7/4 time. The notes in the upper register of the piece dance like angels on the head of a pin, both as placid as new age music and as amok as a children’s lullaby spun at 78 rpm. Fittingly, for an album whose title suggests the Greek god of love crossing the Mediterranean Sea to ancient Arabia, Horowitz’s music seeks a space in between and finds something magical there.

– Andy Beta (Pitchfork)


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