Bass Communion v Muslimgauze EP, The Inspirational Sounds Of Muslimgauze &Your Mines In Kabul

The following appeared in the &etc newsletter.

The releases just keep coming. A new triple album, a collection and a collaboration.

'Your Mines in Kabul' is a triple album in a single jewel case - Staalplaat overcomes the obvious problem by attaching one to the insert card (a lovely heavy textured one) with a foam disk, one in the normal spot and the third under the tray - which will generally be moved somewhere else for easy access (I've slipped mine in the insert). Each disc is called a 'mine' and the cover is very hard hitting - the front photo (echoed inside) is a black clad woman prostrate on a grave, and the back a half-shot of two men with simple leg prostheses, obviously victims of the mines. Political, but more broadly, as mines have been used by both sides in many wars: I recently heard that 1 person is maimed by a land mine every 20 minutes. The title and track details are printed in black on the jewel-case.

Mines 1 and 2 have some similarities - they are both highly rhythmic, no real sand-blown ambient pieces here, and among the instruments used to colour the essentially percussive tracks, the harmonium rates highly, with a particular riff running through both albums. Interestingly, though, the two disks have distinctive moods - the first has a high proportion of more electro-Muslimgauze where distortions form part of the rhythm, there are synthetic (or modulated acoustic) beats and the pieces often wind down in almost microwave/glitch outros (such as 'Islamabad carpet boy'). Mine 2 is much more acoustic drumming, at times with some crackling interference which takes up the rhythm - and of course they overlap as this classification is too simplistic. Repeated listenings have underscored the general feel.

Some moment from Mine 1, which has more longer tracks: 'Gujurati Translator' and 'Translator of Gujurati' form a pair of very rubbery pieces, a vocal sample providing the colour, with some subtle periods and many layers. 'Ravi and Kaldesk Mukherjee' shows the harmonium to advantage (with another scratchy fade), and is mirrored by 'Gurdev Singh, bizarre guru of the body' which is perhaps less distorted. And another long title 'Why does she not shower me with rupees' has a fuzzy main beat, breaks, returns and then shifts into a long loop at the end. There are the straighter ones like 'Papier-mâché efiji of Bishan Bedi' or 'The last Tamil Tiger skinned' which has an almost ambient mood with an interesting concrete-sound loop running through, almost a slowed DJ scratch, and a guest appearance by the harmonium at the end. And then the surprise of a very quiet and subtle final 'Namiki an wadda' which has a soft drum, light harmonium and female voice.

And Mine 2: it opens with 'Burnt bungalows of Siml', one of three longer pieces, which is fast and resonant, plays around with volume and content, and contains a flute which plays the harmonium riff. The other two longer pieces 'Subultan' and 'Nawab fanatic' form a continuum with a rubbery beat and crackling interference which is modulated with the beat, both have the harmonium and are separated by the 23 seconds of 'Dishdasha'. The flute appears more often in tracks such as the languid 'Gutted snapper' or 'Tongue tied in Sind'. There are some quite electronic moments as in 'Ascend Babel in Oanj' which has tinny synthetic loops and female voice colouring, or the unnaturally fast 'Jamiat zirt' with a voice chanting 'ah med'. And again, something different to end on - 'Bismillah' is a minute of end-of-the-vinyl groove looping with a buzz at the end.

Mine Three is a pure indulgence - one of those that the fans love. Just the one track, an extended (and slightly faster) version of 'Lahore' from the double single 'Lahore & Marseilles'. The structure is very simple - a basic drum loop that runs almost continuously and a flute sample playing much of the time. However, Muslimgauze play around with the percussion, distorting it, adding analog blips, phasing, changing the volume, dropping parts out, some minimal dub - to create a mesmerising 30 minutes, with a lovely spooky, crackling coda for those who last the distance. A treat (or a boring drain - but if you think that, then Muslimgauze is probably not for you). And true of the set as a whole - this is the more monomaniacal, mesmerising Muslimgauze, although there is plenty of variation within the theme.

And out of such a huge discography, how do you create a collection? Staalplaat have done two which sampled the Muslimlim series (Beyond The Blue Mosque and Azure Deux) and Universal Egg have gone down a similar path - the inspirational sounds are selected from five releases (Mullah Said, Fatah Guerrilla (a triple CD), Azzazin, Izlamaphobia (double) {all Muslimlim's} and Jaal ab Dullah). The aim is to 'bring his work to the attention of a wider listening public' which is an admirable objective, but perhaps 'different' or 'new' would have been better - I am more aware of the 'avant-garde' labels Soleilmoon and Staalplaat than I am of Universal Egg - who have quite an extensive catalogue of largely dub music but also moving into some ambient soundscapes (watch this space for more UE reviews along that line). Anyway, if this brings Muslimgauze's music to a new audience, excellent.

Focusing on a limited number of albums still gives Zion Train (who conceived of the album with Muslimgauze in 1997) plenty to work with to show the sounds of Muslimgauze (I am not sure about the 'inspirational', but that's by the by). It opens with 'An ending' from Mullah Said (appropriately as the beginning is an end) a lovely three layered-cake of twittering (either birds or electronica), a woman singing and a resonant rapid fire drum sequence which keeps returning. Track II from Azzazin reminds you how strong and strange that album is - a brooding deep drone with staccato treble crackles and then various concrete sounds overlaid: breathing, banging, films winding on. Three very different tracks from Fatah Guerrilla - the extended throbbing dub distortions of the title track, a short blast of rubbery blippy rhythms and a female voice in 'Guilded dulag mine-er', and 'Hakeem alkimi' edgy metallic rhythms created from blips and crackles with voice fragments and, unexpectedly, a Chinese woman singing at the end.

We move to Izlamaphobia for 'Hammam jackal' where a sample of a female voice forms a ground drone for some more rolling beats with a slight dub-stretch to some beats and 'Hudood ordinance' providing 8 minutes of the chittering juddery fast angular electro-noise beats with fragments of instruments, which was a large part of why this album was seen as such as change from the mellower earlier albums. The ambient side appears in 'Muslims die India 1' from Mullah Said which follows - this is 12 minutes of restrained drum, crowd noises, shimmering strings and sound you can drown into, and closer to some preconceptions of Muslimgauze. Another harsh Izlamaphobia cut ('Najibullah headless') changes the mood, although it does have a more restrained beat, which flows nicely from 'Muslims die India 1', overlaid with crackling distortions.

'Old Bombay vinyl junkie' from Jaal Ab Dullah is true to its name as various samples and scratchings are played over a driving, hypnotic percussion bed, and 'Shimmer then disappear II' from the same album is a short piece of beat loops with strange noises and loops around them. Fatah Guerrilla offers 'Shisla nain royal bidjar' a bass heavy beat with a flute playing over the top, and Izlamaphobia provides a sitar-loop rising and falling in tone as the sped is manipulated over flowing hollow drumming of 'The sari of cholera' to close the set with another mood.

No compilation is going to be perfect, but this one is very good (indeed it is an impossible task to create a single disk 'summary' of Muslimgauze). The albums forming the base cover a broad range of styles (it is good to see the dreamy ambience of Mullah Said) and the selection demonstrate that the sound of Muslimgauze (inspirational or not) is much more than faux-middle eastern drums and bells. It is a solid introduction to the discography, and for the collector offers an interesting new mixture of 'known' material (known in inverted commas because with so many Muslimgauze releases it becomes hard to know your collection intimately), marred only by some typos on the cover.

And the second instalment of the Bass Communion v Muslimgauze 'collaboration' - Steve Wilson exchanged DATs with Bryn Jones, each working on what the other had done to their original music, leading to a fascinating palimpsest of Muslimgauze and Bass Communions ambience. The album contained five tracks completed before Jones's death (reviewed in &etc 1.12) and the EP closes the cycle with two completed in December 1999.

These two pieces follow from the album in suggesting what Muslimgauze could have done if he had collaborated more, especially with people with quite a different sensibility. They combine the rhythmic extravagance with some more ambient and different experimental touches. 'Six' (the numbering continues from the album, opens with a couple of minutes of very Muslimgauze - a strong rhythm with clicking over it and a voice fragment, joined by a female loop. It then speeds up, there is a strange growling, and the main body of the track is a powerful drum loop (modified at times by phasing or decreasing gain) accompanied by ambient synth washes, or by a buzzing during one of the drop-down phases. The synth inserts some subtle squarling and bleeps towards the end, and during the last couple of minutes the rhythm breaks and chops and the squeaking more insistent. 'Seven' opens from a more Bass Communion end, with a ringing metal synth and high voiced notes under which a rhythm loop of bells and drums emerges. This remains low in the mix as the voice tones and machine rumbles ebb and flow over the surface in extended notes, providing a very abstract focus supported now by some slow drums. About halfway the rhythm becomes dominant, but it is a slow one created from fragments, some backwards others smeared and some hand drums, and with the voice tones and bird calls gently over the top. Everything fades to a simple chiming (nursery) at around 6 minutes; and then after some crackling and an uncertain beat, a new rhythm emerges, a rapid electro-Muslimgauze accompanied by pigeon coos and some electronica and childlike recorder, before a typical harsh electro-blurt calls an end.

Muslimgauze 'purists' find the two Bass Communion disks hard to take- like another contentious one, the Species of Fishes album - but I find them exciting and intriguing as they show Bryn Jones being willing and interested in taking Muslimgauze in some unexpected directions. We can only guess at where that path could have led, but albums like this offer some hints and also pleasure.

review by Jeremy Keens
This text originally appeared in &etc v3.6.
Reproduced by permission.

see also Bass Communion v Muslimgauze EP, The Inspirational Sounds Of Muslimgauze & Your Mines In Kabul

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Bass Communion vs Muslimgauze EP  The Inspirational Sound Of Muslimgauze  Your Mines In Kabul
January 9, 2017