Muslimgauze is Bryn Jones. His music has been variously described as "expressive recordings of drums, synth and percussion ideas", "percussive based experimental sound", "percussive experiment", "using Western instruments with an Eastern approach", "unsettling, but compelling".
I’d agree with all of these and yet somehow they don’t seem to describe the music adequately enough, as there is a much deeper underlying level than pure experiment with percussion. Bryn’s music is unique and absorbing, and I say ‘unique’ without much fear of contradiction because there is no-one else around who uses percussion and drum (electro and acoustic) based music in quite the same way. Forget the directionless changing and banging of scrap iron and sundry noise-producing articles that is often passed off by a lot of people as music today. Bryn uses rhythmic (sometimes melodic) percussion along with electronics, tapes, voice effects and synth in an intelligent and purely musical way, not as a means of creating as much noise and din as possible, (which is usually a front to hide non-musical ability anyway!). True, Bryn does use some pretty powerful thrashes at times, but sparingly and only when really necessary, either as a point of emphasis or to create denser textures.
It is because of the uniqueness of Muslimgauze music that points of reference and comparisons with other people’s music are going to be sparse in this article and where used must only be taken as a very rough guide. Musicians and bands that I know Bryn likes include Can, Faust and Neu!, and he also expressed a certain liking for Kraftwerk, Eno and Conrad Schnitzler. Now don’t go reading any references into those names! I’ve searched hard enough myself and the best I can come up with is a very oblique nod in the direction of Can and Kraftwerk at times, mainly because of the strong rhythms and cyclic drumming that pervades a lot of the music.
Eastern influences can most certainly be discerned in the music of Muslimgauze (the name wasn’t chosen by accident!) and these, together with percussion, drumming, sparse use of synth, electronics and voice/choral effects Bryn blends and welds into his own inimitable, peerless style. I once put the question of influences etc. to Bryn and his reply was, "I like to think Muslimgauze are working outside of other bands, people etc. but people (i.e. listeners) do need a sort of starting off point .... I started Muslimgauze for, not a vast, radically different new music, just different enough..."
Around 1982 Bryn was working under the name ‘E.G. Oblique Graph’ and other people were involved in the music making. At least 2 cassettes and a 7" EP were released under the ‘Graph’ banner, and the music (which in opinion contains all the essential Muslimgauze ingredients in embryonic form) developed over the recordings an gradually evolved into a definite style. Bryn gave it thought and decide which direction he wanted his music take. He opted to work alone, dropped the ‘Graph’ name, adopted a new one, and ‘Muslimgauze’ was born.
The first release, in 1983, was the LP 'Kabul' on Bryn’s own label Product Kinematograph Records. It’s an amazing debut album. The music is compelling, imaginative and full of confidence. A really forceful statement that weaves a rich tapestry of rhythmical percussion overlaid by synth, electronics and snatches of taped speech effects. Each of the 5 tracks on side 1 has a lot to offer. Some feature repetitive rhythms and insistent drums embellished with synth, bursts of treated voices, choral effects and intricate percussion whilst others such as "Ikon Screen" and "Turkish-Koln" are more dark, moody and atmospheric pieces. "Melee" is a disturbing and disorientating work with seemingly disembodied voices drifting in and out of the main resonant drums theme. Side 2 has 2 pieces. The title track lasts 13 minutes and is a veritable Rhapsody in Rhythm with drums, cymbals and various other percussive instruments used to form a repetitive base around which sparse whispers of synth and taped voices occasionally appear. The music is hypnotic and infectious. Ex opens with a brief interlude of electronics and voice after which percussion and drum work become the mainstay of the music with a female voice in the background quietly reciting a religious tract. A thoroughly absorbing piece of music.
'Kabul' was the first Muslimgauze music I’d encountered and it made such an impression on me that I immediately bought the next release, a c45 cassette entitled 'Opaques', also released in 1983 on Kinematograph Records. Side 1 has shortish tracks, the standout one for me being "Milena Jesenska" which features a pulsating Linn-drum computer-based rhythm in and out of which snatches of vocals from a female opera singer, melodic synth runs and various electronic effects sinuously slide and glide in an almost sensual manner to produce a most interesting and arresting tapestry of sounds. The other tracks have a similar percussive base, but less melodic synth lines and more effects are featured to create eerie, tense and disturbing atmospheres. Side 2 has one long track "Taoist" in which Bryn makes sparse use of ordinary drums and various percussion instruments to produce a piece of music of almost classical structure with a slightly Eastern flavour. A minor masterpiece which reminds me at times of Stomu Yamash’ta (before he discovered synthesizers!).
Another 1983 release was the 7" EP 'Hammer & Sickle' on the Hessian label. The side-long title track has light metallic percussion overlaid by slow rum figures which start out quite simple and gradually evolve and interweave to form more complicated patterns. Side 2 contains 3 tracks, which feature similar instrumentation to produce minimalist-inspired compositions. The music on this EP has an airy and relaxed feel to it with everything thoughtfully conceived and performed. It displays the freshness and impeccable taste that is so consistent with all Muslimgauze music.
In June, 1984 the mini LP 'Hunting Out With An Aerial Eye' was released. This marked something of a change in Bryn’s method of working in that it was his first to be recorded in a studio with someone else as producer. It was also the first release on his own Limited Editions label. "Under The Hand Of Jaruzelski" begins with strong, rhythmic drum and percussion work overlaying the taped voice of a newscaster, the percussion being cleverly designed so as to match the (natural) percussive nature of the speaker’s voice. Later a barrage of drums and percussion continues in a sort of cyclic (cf. Jaki Liebezeit) fashion whilst plangent and eerie synth chords swoop and wail above and around it. "Ensan Entehari" begins with gentle and quiet percussion mingled with. choral effects giving way to a thudding. and insistent drumbeat around which a synth coils and snakes. Side 2 has one 10 minute track, "Empty Quarter (Pt. 1)" which has strong Eastern influences throughout. Chanting starts the proceedings with tinkling percussion in the background. Gentle, tapping drum-work and more varied percussion follow and then the main theme, a dance-like melody with a distinctly Eastern flavour to it enters. At times the chanting re-appears for short intervals and there are a few short percussion ‘breaks’, but the piece is dominated by the almost jaunty Eastern flute-like motif as it dances its merry way over the complementary, subdued and yet insistent percussion.
Around April/May 1985 the next full length LP 'Buddhist On Fire' was released. It has 5 varied tracks all displaying Bryn’s craftsmanship and originality. The usual percussion and drum effects are there, but increased use of synth and voice effects add even more texture and depth to the music. "Soviet Occupied Territories" opens the album and is taken at a leisurely with intriguing choral and vocal effects set against rhythmic percussion. "Turkish Falaka" is hauntingly beautiful sinuous and erotic piece and "Priest" uses snatches church choir, piano and synth as a thudding drum backdrop has news reel cut-ups, synths, ethnic chanting, percussion and patterns combining to form the powerful track on the album "Dissidents In Exile" uses all percussion, cross-rhythms and to produce a thoroughly absorbing and monumental piece of music.
The next album 'Blinded Horses' appeared in September, 1985. All the familiar Muslimgauze ingredients are there, but as usual Bryn puts them to such diverse uses that the music is always refreshingly different and thought provoking. Side 1 has 3 rhythmic tracks. "Byzantine Crucifixion" makes a powerful and emotive start to the album, its metallic percussion strongly suggesting the hammering in of nails. "Zebra Slaughter" is an exotic, Eastern flavoured piece and Palestine has a more relaxed and sinuous atmosphere yet still retains an element of tension. Side 2 has 2 long tracks. "Death Of Saint Jasnail Singh Bhindranwale" contains the very essence of Muslimgauze music. Birdsong, ethnic drumming and a strong Indian influence produce a mournful and beautiful tapestry of sound. "Political Asylum" is a departure from what has gone before. The Eastern influence is still there, but drums and percussion are less obviously in evidence. Long drawn-out chords, drone effects and sections of haunting piano playing dominate this extraordinary piece of Muslimgauze music. An altogether fascinating and satisfying LP.
Next up was 'Flajelata' released in March, 1986. There are 4 tracks a side, each a gem! "Sjamboks" is a slow rhythmic and hypnotic track of muffled drum patterns and synth and chant effects. "Mujahideen" has a sinuous synth line set against tinkling percussion and a heavy drumbeat keeping everything neat and in control. "Hezbollah" has lots of busy percussion and chanting in it and the title track is one of the most emotive pieces of music I’ve heard with Eastern wailing, synth and electronic effects and powerful skull-crunching drumming combining to form an almost over-powering track. "Homily To Popieluszko" is a short almost ‘cosmic’ synth track and leads to "Cahcot" which is essentially drums and percussion throbbing out a tribal beat. "Samizdat" features thunderous drumming and dark, menacing synth lines which, coupled with weird sounding percussion produce another powerful piece of music. A short track of frantic drumming and choral effects round off yet another faultless album.
In November 1986 'Hajj' came out and I reviewed it in Audion #3. For those who missed it, I’ll just repeat that the 3 tracks (one being a 20 minute side-long opus) highlight once again the quality, freshness and originality of Bryn’s music and his efforts to communicate socio-political statements in a subtle, interesting and evocative way. There is a slightly more restrained use of forceful rhythms and drumming, but the impact of the music is no less heightened by the employment of more subtle coloration and a richer palette of tonal effects. It’s my nomination for the Number One album of 1986!
The next Muslimgauze album, Coup D'Etat' (released on a French label) should be out by the time you read this, and hopefully I’ll be able to review it in Audion #5. Muslimgauze have also appeared on numerous compilation LPs and cassettes. Most contain tracks from the releases mentioned in this article, but at least 7 contain material unavailable elsewhere. Bryn gave a well received debut concert in Holland last year, indeed his music is much appreciated both there and other Continental countries. A French company have now started distributing his albums and the well-respected Uniton Records of Norway have expressed great interest in 'Flajelata' and 'Hajj' and are distributing the latter.
Each Muslimgauze piece bears the stamp of a thoughtful mind at work. Craftsmanship, careful attention to detail and constant and diligent searching out of new ideas are the hallmarks of Bryn’s work, and intricately woven rhythmic tapestries, with interesting, enjoyable and innovative music is the result. Indeed Bryn manages to combine the qualities of both craftsman and artist in his music, a rare thing these days!
Hopefully this article will serve as an introduction to those of you who have yet to discover the uniqueness of Muslimgauze and the excitement and satisfaction this innovative modern music can bring.
article by Peter Harrison
This article originally appeared in Audion #4 (April, 1987)