Hammer And Sickle & Minaret-speaker

The following is an exclusive review.

With the upcoming release of the 'Box of Silk and Dogs', I liquidated some assets and signed up for the subscription. As part of the deal, the 'Minaret-speaker' 7" single is a reserved first offering, so I thought, while I am going to have to dust off the turntable I may as well get 'Hammer and Sickle'. As one of the first Muslimgauze releases, its recent rediscovery and availability is a boon.

Now, call me old fashioned, but a 7" vinyl disk is also known to me as a 45. So I played both these disks at that speed first. And while they made sense, 'Hammer and Sickle' threw me a bit: it sounded like a slightly slowed down version of 'Popcorn'. As an experiment I tried 'Minaret' at 33 and experienced a revelation: this was the right speed, the vocal samples were not tinny and sped up, but comprehensible. What about 'Hammer and Sickle'? Well, not only did the voices become distinct, but the percussion sounded more drum and less computer. The mood and flow of none of the pieces changed, but all the pieces made more sense. So this is the speed of my review.

'Hammer and Sickle' came out in 1983, and is the 3rd item on this discography (at present), and the earliest material released by Bryn as Muslimgauze. And once more, listened to in retrospect it forces the listener to rethink their understanding of the man and his music. Despite the track titles (the title track filling side one, or the three shorter on side 2 'Fear of Gadaffi', 'Nettle cloths' and 'Baize tents') and the Middle Eastern/Islam myth which has developed, these pieces are closer to electronic minimalism than to the later fourth world music. The closest thing in my collection is 'Emak Bakia'. 'Hammer and sickle' is a slow meandering piece: a couple of layers of simple rhythms, a cross between toms and computer blips, play out against each other, ebbing and flowing, the decay turning some into blurred shots. There are echoing metallic bangings, tom runs, an occasional kick drum or bell which wander into movement. Voice samples (American evangelists talking about 'translating biblical faith') open and close the piece, which fades out with random tom taps after the introduction of a dense garbage-can (dustbin, trashcan - pick your lingo) percussion. Playful, yet intense, it defies you to try and find its rhythm.

On side two the tracks increase in activity from the almost random simple thuds of 'Gadaffi' (which sound like the base of 'Hammer') to which various percussive elements are added during the piece; a more active and short 'Nettle cloth' which has a couple of layers - a looping base for ringing echoed foreground; to the more 'typical' danceable rhythms of 'Baize tents' with a vocal loop to open, kick drum and cymbals, whimpering out with a minimalist fade. But again, the direct influence of the middle east seems to be distant, and it all has an endearing improvised tentativeness .

We move forward to the fifth limited edition release (numerically) and get three varied aspects of the more recent Muslimgauze, packed onto a very attractive picture disc. The title track (side 1) opens with a loop that sounds like it is played on a variable speed gramophone so that the woman's voice is a siren (my pun unintended), a playful nudge at the medium. She is replaced by electronic buzzes, and then a high shimmering string drone, rubbery drum and tabla gently take over. Electronic drones and wave sweeps echo across as a gently menacing piece develops. The main actors drop out and spoken samples loop over some crackles and bells, before the rhythm returns and then the siren voice loops and fades away.

'Black aba' is a crunchy percussive piece - a full rhythm with a stuttering metallic element, which could be a processed strings, passes through fades in and out, distortions and hiatuses in a typical Muslimgauze experiment. 'Bamboo bound' seeks a different direction, a Chinese atonal orchestral samples loop over a deep, subtle drum sequence and drone, surging and fading: one of those Muslimgauze tracks which makes you wish Bryn had explored these wider musical horizons more often, and assert the individuality of each release.

Muslimgauze moved quite some distance between these disks, as he found the voice and techniques which he made his own. Heard on its own, you could be forgiven for not identifying 'Hammer and Sickle' as part of the oeuvre, but in context you can hear the future.

review by Jeremy Keens
This review originally appeared June 24, 1999

see also Minaret-speaker

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Hammer & Sickle  Minaret-speaker
January 10, 2017