Arab Quarter, Azzazin, Gulf Between Us, Re-mixs & Return Of Black September

The following appeared in Ambience.

Bryn Jones is an Anglo-Saxon from Manchester who records as Muslimgauze: prolifically - there have been over 40 Muslimgauze CDs and his label Staalplaat has set up a subscription of limited edition CDs, vinyl and DAT for those wanting more.

Normally the ethnic background of a musician is somewhat irrelevant, but not so here. Jones has been moved and influenced by the Islamic world, and particularly by the plight of the Palestinians, to the extent that it impacts on all aspects of his musical output. Muslimgauze appear aggressively pro-Palestinian:- album titles have been provocative such as 'Vote Hezbollah', 'Return of the Black September', 'The Rape of Palestine', 'Hebron Massacre'; 'Arab Quarter' include the dedication 'to Palestinians living under Israel's jackboot. I cannot begin to know how it feels, I can only understand the revenge taken '. The artwork can follow this theme - 'Coup d'état ' includes pictures of the Ayatollah Khomeni and Colonel Gaddafi. This aspect of Muslimgauze disturbs and distresses people - single minded ideologues are not attractive, and an infatuation with the Oriental can be seen as a cultural imperialism in the post-modern world.

However, there is a surprising gulf between the crassness of the message in the packaging (the artwork itself tends to be well done) and the subtlety of the music. Once we are beyond the titles the sound is a hypnotic take on ethnic ambient. Again the Arabic influence is paramount, but Muslimgauze's approach to it is unique. The early albums tended towards a rhythmic percussion driven music where the influences were not overtly modulated: this is the East of the whirling dervishes. Alongside, a second strain developed of subtle ambient music - based around the same elements of percussive loops, simple instrumentation and vocal samples, producing a drifting meditative sound. More recently, with the release of 'Izlamaphobia' and 'Azzazin', a new electronic sound has been added to the mix. Throughout the politics is in the sound - we are enveloped in the east and are invited to reconsider our prejudices. The vocal samples are in Arabic and could be political or personal, they don't preach but mirror a normality, redolent of a wander through a market.

Some people have suggested that you only need one Muslimgauze CD: there is indeed a uniformity to some of them - not surprising considering the bulk of them, the aesthetic limitations he has placed on himself, and the reworking discussed below. However when you listen across the oeuvre, the differences between them and the individuality is apparent, but of course there are good and bad ones, and ranges of difference. The following are five recent releases, considered chronologically, which demonstrate the colours of Muslimgauze.

'Azzazin' demonstrates very little of the middle east - a couple of samples, briefly heard. Instead of the ethnic percussion, the 13 unnamed tracks are based around loops of beeps and clicks, some with deep repetitive synth melodies. Sounds (mechanical and organic in origin) emerge with intense stereo separation to provide interweaving rhythms. Breathing, helicopters, random noises (cries, crashes, doors opening, film winding forward), obscure machines all add to the elements working through these aural sculptures. The sound experiments of Japan seem closer than the rhythms of the desert, and suggests a new direction for Muslimgauze.

Muslimgauze followed that electronic excursion with 'Return of Black September' whose five tracks are presented as a single mix, but which can be distinguished. The opening title track is a dark electronic version of the 'world music' side of Muslimgauze. The drums and simple string instruments are present but with harsh electronica plying over the surface together with booming echoes. 'Libya' is a percussion section with shaker loops, metallic drum, drones and noises intersecting. A zither-like sound, familiar from 'Gun Aramaic' features with a gun percussion on 'Thugghee' which is then remixed with machine rhythms. Following these harsh aggressive tracks, the second half of the album is a remix of 'Opiate and Mullah' from 'Gun Aramaic'. This is a slow echoing piece, featuring voices, tinkling percussion, some metallic beats and a long slow fade. A nice balance to the earlier tracks.

A feature of the Muslimgauze oeuvre is that it is a single object: from album to album tracks are reworked and represented, sounds are recycled to form the basis for new tracks, providing an organic unity to the whole series. On 'Re-mixs' 'Muslimgauze re-mix loop re-edit themselves' (according to the cover) and the three pieces seem to feature one of those methods to present different approaches to the earlier material. Each track is about 20 minutes long, but is composed of short fragments, 2 to 5 minutes, which form edgy sequences. 'Re-mix,' the first track, is the most rhythmic comprising sections which include drum and rhythm loops, voice samples, dark noises to a minimal bleeping end. This leads well into 'Loops' which is the more experimental, electronica side of Muslimgauze - and seems based (as the name would suggest) on working with short loops of rhythm, isolationist scrapings, voice fragments and industrial dissonance. The voice is featured in 'Re-edit' which includes chants, more vocal samples than other tracks (some in English!) and the normal rhythm and click loops.

'Azzazin' reappears as 'Palestine is our Izlamic Land, parts one and two' on the first disc of 'Arab Quarter ' where the buzzing clicks form a deep background to a Muslimgauze drum and vocal sample collage which is typical of this release. The harsher, more electronic sound of some recent releases has melded with the other strains to form an aggressive echoing reverb drenched amalgam. The beat is still there, the oriental melody, but there are distorted sounds entering the loops, sudden silent passages which interrupt the pieces creating a sense of uncertainty. Disc one 'Arab Quarter' contains 3 longer pieces (broken into parts) and some short 'extracts'. 'Anti Arab Media Censor part 1' opens the disc with a dramatic rapid distorted percussion attack with electronic squelches. Over the course of the track the density and pace change until a long slow fade, 'Part 2' has a similar strong beat and distortion, horn sounds, and (of course) the spoken samples. 'Yassin Ayyash parts 1 and 2' is a slower relaxed piece - a mullah calling to prayer opens and recurs throughout, and elements of percussion, wind and electronics enter and leave as this meanders gently. 'Arab Jerusalem' is a hallucinogenic, mutating track heavy with echoes and reverbs, leading into the series of 'Extract' which are short to vanishing pieces of rhythm, manipulation or chant. 'Eleven Minarets' are found on disk two where the sound is more intense rhythmically and electronically, although there are also some gentler tracks. Vocal fragments are used to provide rhythm loops - the long second minaret seems to say 'train' and the third 'yassin', others have longer more complete song extracts looped. Treatments and electronic inclusions are more prominent, especially in the very squelchy seventh minaret or the distorted 10th. A particular feature of a number of tracks is the manipulation of the sound - sudden drops in volume to almost nothing for a few seconds or longer, confusing the listener. This double set is, from my collection, probably Muslimgauze's most accomplished release, melding his various methods in a strong balanced display.

'Gulf between us' is a 23 minute single of lugubrious ambient: a tom-tom plays a long loop and is intertwined with a deeper percussion and the sound of the wind passing over the sand and of other percussion. Voices from the market, the mosque, somewhere blow into and out of the mix, a chant recurs. Towards the end the rhythm bed is disturbed, voices start to echo, but settle back into the flow again. A prime example of the introspective Muslimgauze.

Some of the limited edition Muslimgauze may not be available (though I received 'Return of Black September' in May) but there is plenty of standard product available, and his production rate is not slowing down: 'Fatah Guerrilla' is a three disk set. While all of these releases are good examples of Muslimgauze at work, 'Arab Quarter' is probably the easiest entry point for new listeners, and gives a good overview.

review by Jeremy Keens
This text originally appeared in Ambience magazine (issue # 8).
Reproduced by permission.

see also Arab Quarter, Arab Quarter, Return Of Black September, Re-mixs, Gun Aramaic and Occupied Territories, Azzazin, Azzazin, Return Of Black September, Re-mixs, Arab Quarter & Gulf Between Us, Gulf Between Us, Re-mixs, Re-mixs & Arab Quarter, Re-mixs & Deceiver & Return Of Black September

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Arab Quarter  Azzazin  Gulf Between Us  Re-mixs  Re-mixs Volume 1 + 2  Return Of Black September  Return Of Black September (re-issue)
January 9, 2017