Azad, Box Of Silk And Dogs, Fakir Sind & Hand Of Fatima

The following appeared in The Wire.

Like Merzbow, Bryn 'Muslimgauze' Jones's punk-influenced DIY aesthetic meant that he turned material out at a phenomenal rate. A Soleilmoon press release admits that it was impossible to keep up with his productivity, and that in the last phase of his 'career' fewer than half the tapes they received were being released.

Jones died earlier this year, and Box of Silk And Dogs lays a surreal foundation stone for the Muslimgauze mausoleum - a nine CD set culled from unreleased masters mainly dating from the autumn of 1998 released jointly through Staalplaat and Soleilmoon as a limited edition (250 copies each). The criticism most often levelled against Muslimgauze's work was/is that if you've heard one you've heard them all, but Box Of Silk And Dogs underlines how far this judgment was from the truth. However much the music revolves around certain key elements - the electro-acoustic mix of Jones's playing of Arabic percussion (and various household objects) with synthesized rhythms - the outcome is never predictable. The nine CDs here canvass ground from HipHop, dreadnought dub and Industrial noise, to drum' n 'bass, Mego-style crackles, Technoid minimalism and Fourth World ambience. In any of these modes, Jones was rarely schematic or lacking in spontaneity.

Hindu Kush On and Keffeen Head are full of overdriven percussion and filtered electronic beats that at times recall Jeff Mills. Keffeen also toys with lute and string sounds over a dub-influenced bass line a heavy roots feel with zithery twangs. The more experimentally abrasive Deceiver (Part Three) begins with skanking, distorted drum'n'bass, as if the Master Musicians Of Joujouka had performed on beat boxes, moving later to an abrasive, psychedelic take on HipHop. Ingaza has a lush, heavy sound - voice loops over heat 'n' dust instrumentals with raga drones and warping bass drums. The EP length Rhiza Coil Of Rezin pulses with abrasive b-fl drum'n'bass, bruising analogue noises and found sounds. Zuriff Moussa (Part Three) is different again, full of terse, manicured grooves with the emphasis on hypnotic repetition, while Hafaz Al Assad makes greater use of tape samples - Oriental instruments spliced and looped into irregular rhythm loops - a murky, blurred Industrial music leavened by the twangs of Middle Eastern lutes. Sect Of Han Krishna is another EP, this one full of punchy, syncopated grooves; while the Staalplaat Sonderangebote Remixes contains Muslimgauze's weird take on Fetisch Park: a muddy fairground organ loop, crunching beats and bubbling dub-like feel, sounding like a Jamaican Industrial Ambient.

Muslimgauze's eschewal of digital equipment for analogue and tape work means the tracks are invariably lo-if, with an ad hoc feel. The other Staalplaat release here, Azad, which comes in a black moulded jewel case, each containing a real currency note from an Arab country and a square of Arab newspaper, is described as harsh and up tempo, but compared with the more abrasive music of the box set, much of this is lilting stuff, like an Arabic To Rococo Rot There's an emphasis on rich acoustic percussion and Arabic flute and reed sounds, on mantric grooves with a pronounced rhythmic side winding, and a recurring motif of looped bird sounds.

Of the two Soleilmoon releases, which date from May and June of 1998 respectively, Fakir Sind stands out for its strange, hypnotic ambience - many of the tracks are built around what might be the strangled call of a peacock, fleshed out, Bill Laswell style, with a throbbing Arabic drumming, soft-edged dub bass, string drones and fragments of singing and guttural chanting, as well as a quavering reed instrument sounding like something Robert Wyatt might hum in the bath. Hand Of Fatima is more fragmentary - a dry rippling acoustic drum patter and drifting flute spliced together with found sounds of chants, viols, market hubbub and electronic distortion.

Despite Jones's fundamentalist take on politics, there was a magpie element in his endless foraging and collaging of Arabic sonic fragments: a fetishising accumulation of detail that owes more to Dada than Mohammed. The speed of his output smacks of free association rather than the factory line. The music was always sparked off by a particular incident, often in Afghanistan or Iran; Jones would then gather a few pertinent reference points, but the content of vocal or environmental samples could be anything from popular music to background chit-chat and market place hubbub. A vocal loop on Fakir Sind has someone going through a restaurant menu: "Garlic bread, tea with lemon." People make the mistake of transposing the dogmatic groove of Jones's politics to their expectations of the music (for the record: he was not a Muslim and had never been to the Middle East). Perhaps something more spontaneous, cut-price and rhizomatic than the Silk And Dogs box would better represent his spirit.

review by Matt Ffytche
This text originally appeared in The Wire magazine (issue # 189).

see also Box Of Silk And Dogs, Azad, Fakir Sind, Hand Of Fatima, Fakir Sind & Azad, Hand Of Fatima & Lo-Fi India Abuse & Fakir Sind, Hand Of Fatima, Box Of Silk And Dogs & Iranian Female Olympic Table Tennis Theme

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January 9, 2017