swingset

Professor Genius

Picture a marketplace in 13th century Persia. A couple of young travelers meet an old beggar who offers to tell them an amazing tale in exchange for a place to rest. They accept and take him to their rooms. He ends up recounting his youth: how he was recruited by the Assassins, how he ended up in their garden of earthly delights in a total drugged haze, how he met Hassan Sabbah and how they took down powerful figures before the Assassins were brought down. The beggar barely escaped with his life and went into hiding. After his story is done and the two travelers pick their jaws up off the floor they all retire. The next morning they’re all found dead with writing on the wall in blood: “No One Speaks”. This is the first scene to the album Hassan by Professor Genius.

In an age of faceless synthesizer music and preset worship actual craft and artistry are often exchanged for generics. Personality and content are often relegated to an afterthought. Professor Genius first registered on our radar as part of the Italians Do It Better Italo revival takeover during the mid 2000’s. The solo project of producer/ musician Jorge Velez, Professor Genius releases steadily dotted the landscape with singles and remixes ever since. Along the way Velez (in conversation with Danny Wolfers, aka Legowelt) got the idea to soundtrack a hypothetical film concept as a story arc to compose to. What would the early 80s soundtrack to an Italian film based on the 13th century Persian cult of assassins sound like? Velez answers this bold question in full force with the stunningly panoramic Hassan. Employing no samples, Velez drowns the listener in atmosphere in an enveloping album of electronic headphone music that is entirely psychedelic yet modern. The second full-length album released on NYC’s rapidly emerging Long Island Electrical Systems label, Hassan is a forceful contender for electronic album of the year.

“I’ve always loved various North African music so I remember thinking I would approach it as if I was some guy in a little Italian studio in 1981 trying to evoke that time and place through a nice amount of synths,” said Velez on his process to execute the albums unique vision.

Right from the opening track, “Hassan One” the mood is set in an opium tinted desert scape. The album, cinematic in its scope by intent, reaches far beyond the appeal of the dance floor. All the way through the darkly electronic melodies and beats of “Merciful and Blessed” Hassan retains a stunning continuity. Middle eastern rhythms and tablas mix with fluttering pads in a startling apt representation of this hypnotic mix of stylistic and cultural juxtapositions.

“I was excited about the layers of tones I would get from the synths as I wrote it and trying to make it as ‘widescreen’ yet enveloping as possible. I wanted it to be like one of those records that just sucks you into its world.”

As an all-enveloping concept Hassan succeeds in its goal of complete immersion due to its commitment to continuity in both mood and sounds, creating a world of its own.

“Since it’s supposed to be a soundtrack album I stuck to the sonic palette I had chosen very closely and set out to record as quickly as possible. The entire thing was done and mixed in about a week and a half. It was the only way to keep the ideas and feeling fresh.” noted Velez.

While the plot gave him cues to compose, no visual stimuli is necessary to fully get lost in the work. In fact Velez prefers the listener create their own experience through their imaginations.

“The visuals should appear in the listener’s mind if the music’s good. I’ve always thought music was the best way to exercise the imagination. The images I see are personal and I wouldn’t want to impose them on anyone. That’s why I didn’t want the record called ‘An Imaginary Soundtrack’.” Velez added. “That might automatically cause a potential listener to feel like there’s an important element missing. So even though I set up a story line for myself to aid in the process of composing the music I think the record should be able to stand on its own – as music.”

Ultimately, it’s Hassan’s absolute dedication to its concept that allows it to have a life beyond the endless recycled tropes of revivalism. An album of merit should take a listener elsewhere, either internal or external. Velez accomplishes this feat in spades creating a cybernetic, middle-eastern influenced realm all his own. If that’s not enough, L.I.E.S is including a second disc of remixes supplied by label-mates Steve Moore, Marcos Cabral and Steve Summers, all of whom add a healthy four on the floor for those seeking more of the label’s signature sound.

“I think it may surprise some people expecting dance music but I hope that it will open some ears or doors or minds.”

Hassan is out now on L.I.E.S and can open all three for you.

by Swingset Magazine on 12/3/2012 in Features, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , ,