Saturday, March 22, 2008
I've been fascinated, intrigued, and puzzled by Muslimgauze since my friend David first taped me one of his CD's, back in 1992. (I can no longer remember which one.) Now, finally, I've found an informative article about Muslimgauze, published in the irreplaceable Bidoun, and by Jace Clayton of the band Nettle.
Muslimgauze was the one-person project of British experimental-electronic music artist Bryn Jones, who died in 1999. Much of the music is loaded with samples of Middle Eastern music, and of music he played himself on various Middle Eastern instruments. Some of the music is quite obscure, all electronic beeps and bleeps, but a lot of it is very creative and difficult to describe samples and loops that are heavily Middle Eastern and highly avant-garde. He was extremely prolific--180 releases at last count, and more to come.
When I first became acquainted with his music, I assumed that the titles were more provocation than representative of Jones' actual beliefs. I've downloaded a number of Muslimgauze titles from emusic (a great Muslimgauze source), and here are a few: "Izzedin Al-Qassam" from the album Alms for Iraq (Qassam was an Islamic militant who ignited the 1936-39 revolt in Palestine; the rockets that are fired on Israel by Hamas militants are named after him); "Army Of Females Wearing Latex Gadaffi Masks"; "8am, Tel Aviv, Islamic Jihad," from the album Gun Aramaic; the album Hebron Massacre (a reference to Baruch Goldstein's slaughter of 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994); "Lion Of Kandahar," from the album Iran (a reference to the Afghani anti-communist jihadi with the National Islamic Front, Haji Abdul Latif),; "Curfew, Gaza," from the album Zul'm ("oppression," in Arabic); "Believers Of The Blind Sheikh" (a reference to the late Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Yasin); the album Vote Hezbollah, and so on. It turns out that all these citations were not just punk provocation, but actually indicative of Jone's actual political beliefs. He was a hardcore supporter of Palestinians and critic of Israeli actions, to the point of asserting that he wouldn't talk to any Israelis, and expressing admiration for the likes of "leaders such as Arafat, Khomeini, Qaddafi, Saddam, Abu Nidal, etc, as well as organizations such as the PLO, Hamas, and Hizbullah."
Jace Clayton suggests that "Muslimgauze's music is too weird, too intrinsically vague to serve any political purpose. We face an awkward possibility: to hear Muslimgauze, we must not listen to Bryn Jones...Nor pay much attention to his cover art."
And here's Clayton's judgment on the music: "Listening to songs like '8A.M., Tel Aviv, Islamic Jihad' helps one understand the strange genius of Muslimgauze. He had no interest in making Middle Eastern-sounding music. Jones was after Middle Eastern-sounding sound. He fetishized the poor (re)production quality of its cheap cassette tapes, obsessively reproducing those sonic effects. He made audio environments instead of songs."
Unlike another of my favorite provocateur musicians, Aki Nawaz of Fun'Da'Mental, Jones' politics were retrograde, unsophisticated, and reactive. Luckily, and also unlike Aki, Jones didn't actually participate in any political movements. Instead, he was a recluse who, given his amazing output, must have spent most of his waking hours producing music. The music, the sound, however, is well worth checking out. I recommend getting on to emusic.com, where you can listen to 30 seconds worth of every Muslimgauze track they have available (at present, 27 albums, plus some EPs and compilations.)
The authorized Muslimgauze website is here; wikipedia on Muslimgauze here, with links to additional articles.