With a catalogue of songs that can often seamlessly transition between math-like intensity and dust-ridden prog, Hashshashin take Middle Eastern influences and processes them into evocative, commanding music. nihsahshsaH is easily one of the best instrumental releases of 2016, owing in part to a crisp and seamless blend of Middle East meets West. It almost seemed obvious that a band which can flirt with those sounds would have interesting tastes in music (not to mention music in general as one of the members runs the excellent music label Art As Catharsis), so LIFE IS NOISE got in touch with Hashshashin to curate a playlist of songs prior to their support slot for Pallbearer on Tuesday, July 4 at Manning Bar in Sydney.
The end result: a list of songs that are, in some way, influencing the recording of their next album. Bouzouki player/guitarist Lachlan R. Dale and percussionist/ drummer/effects/digeridoo player Evan McGregor share these tunes. Listen on, friends.
Zia Mohiuddin Dagar
Lachlan: We’ve been working our butts off writing new music. So far the new songs are heavier and more dissonant than on our debut album. I’ve been working through some stressful experiences, so I think that has coloured my songwriting. I’m very consciously trying to work back to a state of resolution - both in terms of our new album, and in my life.
When Evan sent me this album a few weeks ago, I was struck by the sense of transcendent peace in Dagar’s performance. A few days later I sat restringing a guitar with his Raga Yaman playing in my headphones. I found myself falling into the most splendid trance, in which all my stress and worry melted away. It was beautiful.
I hope to be able to express something similar with Hashshashin one day. It could take many years, but that is fine. I’m in no a rush.
Evan: Mockroot is stunning. Highly syncopated, heavy, progressive, middle-eastern and Armenian-folk tinged jazz led by pianist Tigran Hamasyan.
To me this album is true virtuosity – incredible polyrhythmic technicality while maintaining beautiful melodies and arrangements. Some of this music is so outrageous and audacious that I laughed out loud several times on first listen. I also like that Tigran seems to use quintuplet subdivisions on many songs as his underlying default rhythm, and then he uses odd groupings and polyrhythms over that. Be sure to also check out the full live concert version at Jazz sous les pommiers on YouTube.
Lachlan: The otherworldly sound of Tibetan ritual music has long been an inspiration. From the alien drone of throat singing, to the deep resonance of gongs, to the disorientating bursts of percussion, these sounds are transformative for me in a very direct way.
Last year I spent time in dozens of monasteries across the Himalayas, listening to the chants and prayers of various Tibetan Buddhist sects. The drone transports me, distorting - even obliterating time.
Phurpa perform Bon rather than Buddhist ceremonies. This was the animist, shamanic belief system of pre-Buddhist Tibet. Their rituals and beliefs still have a profound effect on the culture of Tibetan society.
Twelve Tone Diamonds
Evan: Now-defunct Melbourne 6 piece Twelve Tone Diamonds chose their name based on two ideas: number diamonds - a rhythmic compound-meter concept developed by Aussie percussionist Greg Sheehan - and the 12 tones of the chromatic scale.
A lot of their tunes appeal to my taste perfectly – interesting grooves and polyrhythms, broad dynamic range with frequent contrasts of chaos and space and clever interplay between all the instruments, and with bonus occasional zany Mr. Bungle/Zappa-esque freakouts.
In particular the melodies these guys use contain just the right amount of ‘wrong’ and dissonant, discomforting ambiguity for me. This song is such a journey – lovely spacious tranquil intro, quirky funky jazz attacks, drum ‘n’ bass blitzes, obnoxious dissonant twisted solos and a creepy and tasty ambient outro.
Lachlan: There is no other band in Australia doing what Instrumental (adj.) are doing. Perhaps there is no other band that can do what they’re doing. They are a breath of fresh air, playing exceedingly ambitious progressive music that compiles influences from right across the spectrum - and all with a self-depreciating and at-times absurd undertone.
Live they are a special experience. Every time they play a song, they’re always toying with new variations or improvisations. Their music gives me the fuel to keep practising, to keep learning, and to keep experimenting. Their ability to intricately structure their compositions just leaves me feeling hugely inadequate. They are an inspiration to every member of Hashshashin.
Evan: Tatran are an Israeli trio who blend a mix of instrumental rock, prog, spacey/psych and post rock. What makes them really unique is the really familiar, somewhat poppy melodic guitar leads blended with subtle middle-eastern scale use, intricate grooves, extensive dynamic range, plus generally all-round good songwriting.
I love when a band can make something inconspicuously complex, the technicality providing an actual purpose to support the song, not just contrived for its own sake. All three members really experiment with the sounds of their instruments too, adding a lot of beautiful idiosyncrasies and uniqueness to the album. Oh and great production on this one too.
Lachlan: It can be hard to find new sources of inspiration. Somehow I stumbled onto this performance by Ustad Gulab Afridi in Peshawar. The playing is beautiful - the subtle changes in attack and volume, and his effortless improvisation impress me.
It mightn’t surprise you to hear that I’m always looking for new and interesting instruments to incorporate into Hashshashin. After hearing this, the Rabab is certainly on that list.
Evan: This trio is doing the instrumental progressive thing in a way that really appeals to me. Rather than constantly chop and change all over the place, Schnellertollermeier tend to stick on one groove and slowly develop it over the course of the song. I guess they have the same sort of approach as the Necks, but the ADHD version.
That’s something that we’d like to explore more in Hashshashin - to develop parts in new directions, experiment with variations more, rather than having a whole lot of sections that don’t have all that much in common apart from tempo and/or key. Schnellertollermeier’s album ‘X’ does actually have its fair share of chaos and experimental incoherence, but it’s cleverly contrasted with long and lush trance-inducing passages.
Le Trio Joubran
Lachlan: These guys were one of my first experiences of the oud - an instrument I am now borderline obsessed with - and the daf drums. These three brothers perform traditional Palestinian music. Their songs seem simple, but they contain a lot of power. I feel I can learn from their economy.
It’s become important for me to listen to how other traditions structure and build their songs. This seems the most promising way for me to develop as a musician, and for Hashshashin to continue to grow.
Amino Belyamani (Dawn of Midi / SSAHHA)
Evan: Ok I’m cheating a little here by choosing a member who’s in two different bands. But I think you really need to listen to both projects to properly appreciate this pianist.
Dawn of Midi’s song Algol is a beautiful, minimal yet urgent meditative dream. Amino uses a lot of impressive palm-muting, hand-in-the-piano techniques to get a really highly staccato, syncopated electronic sound and the polyrhythmic interplay between his piano and the double-bass and drums is awesome. I was lucky enough to see these guys here in Sydney when they toured ‘Dysnomia’ and they are one of those bands that need to be seen live to fully comprehend what they are trying to do.
And then there’s Amino’s SSAHHA. The album ‘Ummi’ utilises more traditional North African/Arabic sounds and instruments including Amino’s eerie sounding specially constructed quarter-tone piano.
Both albums are excellent companions to each other. While the trance-like aspect of Dawn Of Midi is something we are inspired by in Hashshashin, I am equally inspired by the vast sonic and textural palette of SSAHHA’s Ummi, which makes me want to branch out with more different instruments on future Hashshashin recordings.