Completely Oblique (compilation)

The following appeared in the &etc newsletter.

In 1982/83 before he 'became' Muslimgauze Bryn Jones released three tapes and a vinyl single as E.g Oblique Graph: Extended Play, Piano Room and Inhalt on his own Kinematograph Tapes and Triptych on Recloose. Over the years these have become highly sought after - even Jones didn't have copies of them all. And for Muslimgauze fans they represent an opportunity to see/hear the earliest available recorded creations.

Fast forward almost 20 years - Terry Bennett (AKA Pretentious and The Edge) runs Muslimgauze: The Messenger, one of the pre-eminent fan sites - a complete discography (which for someone as prolific as Muslimgauze is quite a feat in itself), reviews, sonography (ed. - kudos due Ty Hodson for this), press releases, cover images, copies of promotional and insert material. (And here I must reveal my 'conflict of interest': I am the 'official' reviewer for the site, and for some reason got an acknowledgment on the cover). As part of this undertaking Terry has found copies of just about every release, including the E.g material. And while Bryn was apparently not particularly interested in his past, and was focused on the material he was recording, Terry and those who enjoy the music realise that there is satisfaction and understanding to hear early, formative works.

And after what was extensive negotiation, including with the person who gave him a missing Kinematograph Tape, The Edge is releasing the first Pretentious CD Completely Oblique - a double CD containing all the tracks from those early years (again, in a labour of love, digitising and cleaning up the material). (Or almost all just prior to the first release date some earlier unknown material turned up but their state and substance suggested they wouldn't add to the picture, so they do not appear here, which is when the release changed from Complete to Completely Oblique)

Two black CDs, genuflections towards vinyl, come in a cover that uses the original artwork and similar collage techniques together with pictures of the original artifact to great effect, offering a sincere simulacra (oxymoron, fie) that crosses the decades and enhances this complete package.

The first tape, Extended Play, opens with 'Fall Into Glass' a bleepy reverbed melody with classical (pop and the classics) suggestions. 'Merge' is darker and experimental, as voices are underscored by a developing swirling tone, more voices join and a shuddering unsettled/ing electro of bebeeps bloobs percussive banging and backwards sounds are collaged together, voices return before a fragment of disco end. With a title that nods to the future, 'Murders Linked To Gaulist Clique' is based on tentative banged percussion, echoed, distant voices or song (perhaps a radio) light synths. The foreground drops briefly and then returns, there is space and lightness, while also a searching quality.

Piano Room was the only full length Oblique release, with seven tracks - six shorter ones made up side one, while the title track filled all 21 minutes of the second side. I reviewed this some time ago, here repeated slightly refreshed. 'Scar' layers ping and a tictoc loops which subtly change over an extended drone with rhythmically a fired gunshot and some deep voices - an almost Muslimgauze sound which broods intensely. There is a stronger beat to 'Affirm/Deny' which opens with rapid swirling phasing poppop rhythm loops, background noises and a two tone synth loop melody Near to half way through the ground drops out, leaving the puttering, which then fades and drops out: to be replaced by some space-synth sounds centred by a regular beat (is this section Deny?) that shifts into a longer part where various tones are given a dub-echo treatment in a wild and wooly soundspace.

'Choir-Screen' treads new ground - either samples of choirs or an effect on the synth create a spooky haunted music from these almost voice-sounds which sweep and swirl ethereally through the track, joined by a doom leaden beat later: the method will appear in the title track. The short (just over 2 minutes) 'Human Rights' follows and features a simple melody phased and echoed and seemingly played with backwards tones, a knocking percussion echoed below (it reminds me of some backward King Crimson mellotron I heard on a mangled tape). The structure of 'Scar' returns with 'After Commentary' - layers of electronica - looping simple percussive sounds, a deep drone, recurring backward pulsing tones. The various loop lengths play against each other, and tweaks are made here and there.

E.g Oblique shifts into extended gear with 'Off Chance' (eight+ minutes), in which you can almost extract a Middle Eastern ambience. A quite rapid popping loop is joined by a sinuous synth line which has some presentiment of the later sound. This runs for about 3 minutes, phasing and changing, before it fades and a new sound replaces it - abstract and angular, noises emerge from a pulsing drone, phase and echo, retreat. A voice then a simple regular strike, a beat and backwards sounds play around it, but the beat remains a focus, a strange oblique sound. Sounds echo, then a dark machine drone builds, accompanied by echoes and noises to fade.

The collaged sequence which was the structure of 'Off Chance' is taken further in the title track, which is more like a series of tracks which have been edited together. It opens with a jittering echo waving behind a synth-harpsichord melody, slips to a siren-tone and the echo. This gives way to a wavering-drone over which rapid beaty clicks loop grow shift and fade; reverbed voice fragments phased over an air-vent crackle, with clicks and backward tones have a dubby concrete feel; an announcement signals the return of a beat with swirls over; random noises - high-pitched, crackles, spring tapping - and a tone similar to one in 'Off Chance'; a whipwhip beat with radio tones and clicks; echoed backward tones; hollow shaking and boings; a more complex climax of a phutphut looped beat and backwards sounds manipulated and joined by the choir from 'Choir-Screen' but more consistent and pulsing, leading into an extended sequence of voices at a party; then some final tinny music. Linking the whole together are three main elements vocal samples which are woven throughout and the use of echoing: in this rewrite I have tried to reduce the number of times I described something as 'echoed' as it is laid on thickly.

There are four tracks on the Recloose EP, also recorded/released in 1992. 'Black Cloth Behind De Gaulle's Wax Head' is a complex electronica, opening with layers of spiralling down synths and a metronome sonar, dark synth lines join in together with more spirals and swirls, into which a beat delves. In settles into a multi-layered complexity, gradually changing, before a swirling whipt conclusion. After some swirls, a simple pulse gradually phasing and reverbed opens 'Triptych', joined by a futz, then twangy flange and deep synth notes it feels like a gradually accreting tape loop. Warbling noises, banging and distorted slowed voices on the surface, fade back to the pulse, which the disappears to make way for a soft tine wash and more played with vocal samples.

German sample over light synth tones opens the titled-after-Bacon 'Study Of Red Pope (Innocent X)' creating a spacious ambient mood to soft music with pulsing tones, undermined by a crackling that drifts over (voices?). It then shifts into a longer period with samples (manipulated as usual) and a mechanically looping percussive sample that dominates most of the remainder of the track. Layers build over it, including some of the early tones and whips, then it all fades to short softness. A final brief excursion 'Castro Regime' with sample and synths; high tone loops then a rapid strange (sampled?) music; voice fragments and swizzling buzzes, distorted bangings creating a multi-layered noise. A very impressive single that would have intrigued or dismayed people in 82 and still has the power to excite.

And finally, the third Kinematograph tape Inhalt (1983, the same year that Muslimgauze appeared), containing two tracks with names that are even more suggestive of that future. The first side is 'Islamic Koran In Camera Dome' which is driven by a fast pulse and tushtush, with talking that segues into French singing and into more vocal samples throughout. There are tones squiggles crackles additional beats and ringing that come in bursts, modulated and manipulated and becoming exciting before simplifying to the tonal end. Then 'Rapid White Flag On Snapshot Blur' which has an almost Human League opening then echoed cut & pasted voices into a more pulsing blip and squirls techno, with some electro radio squiggles play over, modulating and cycling. The echoed voices return, before a longish finale with long cycling bleeps and burrs, some computer tones and deep flourishes of music.

This is not a Muslimgauze album and, while it has similarities to the 'Hammer and Sickle' single (which I have heard: but I cannot comment on the early Limited Edition (and other) releases, although that gap in many fans' pleasures may soon be overcome), it would be hard to hear the future sound in much of this - though some of the techniques are there and there are indications of some paths he would take (though it is possible to re-hear some later albums through these sounds).

Rather it is the sound of someone enthusiastically experimenting with sounds and technology. It is impossible to say how I would respond if I had come to this out of the blue - it is fairly crude, but also interesting, surprisingly varied, and very much of its time. You can feel the music which was being made around him - mainly the early industrial of the likes of Cabaret Voltaire and the pre-split Human League, but also early synth rock and minimalism. Spacious rhythms, sparse melodies, looping sounds, sampled voices. On listening to this format hearing all these pieces together I am even more impressed than I was on hearing some of it in parts. The sense of adventure and excitement is palpable through its variety and consistency. In the final event, an album interesting and enjoyable of its own terms, though I imagine most who buy it will know Muslimgauze. Fans of the early-Northern sounds should try and get a copy too.

Anyway, a welcome entrance of a new CDr label. I know there are interesting plans afoot for Pretentious, which will also reflect the broader interests of The Edge as seen in all the rest of the discographies available on the site (which, by coincidence, includes Darrin Verhagen).

review by Jeremy Keens
This text originally appeared in &etc v2002_6
Reproduced by permission.

The following appeared on Mark Weddle's Meddle page.

Prior to one hundred and forty-some (and counting) releases as Muslimgauze, Bryn Jones was known as E.g Oblique Graph. This limited edition set of 201 collects all of the tracks from the very rare cassette and vinyl releases: 1982's "Extended Play", "Piano Room" and "Triptych" and 1983's "Inhalt". What's on these two black CDrs bears little to no resemblance to trademark Muslimgauze. It's rather sparse and primal electronic music with a DIY attitude typical of the late '70s and early '80s. Jones plunked about and droned on synths, mixed in various tape recordings and some pseudo-beats and lets it all churn within effects. The more dark or abstract the more interesting: marred choirs and speech, reversed and otherwise manipulated tapes, electric discharges, sonar-like pings, seemingly random juxtapositions, etc. "Human Rights" is probably the first track (in title, at least) to address a socio-political concern while the final (and my favorite) track of disc one, the 20 plus minute "Piano Room", seems to be the first to utilize a drum machine amongst its varied movements. Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon brought about a paradigm shift in Jones' inspiration, as evidenced by the titles of the two tracks that made up the "Inhalt" cassette: "Islamic Koran In Camera Dome" and "Rapid White Flag In Snapshot Blur". The blood is beginning to boil in the former as an up front rhythm dominates most of the nearly nine minutes. Soon after this began Muslimgauze. "Completely Oblique" isn't all that exciting really, more of a historical footnote for Muslimgauze collectors. Though I do have a soft spot for this sort of amateur music making, having done it myself for a few years, *I* don't even listen to my *own* tapes anymore. The liner notes make it pretty clear that Jones wasn't too interested in revisiting this or other past work either. So while I'm grateful for the chance to finally hear it, I also have to wonder if re-issuing it was the right thing to do ...

review by Mark Weddle

(ed. It is not totally accurate to say that Bryn was not interested in revisiting his past work. He did not want to take up the limited space, availed by the main labels, with re-issues when he was producing so much new material. Unfortunately the possibility of The Label did not present itself until after his untimely death. It is my belief that Bryn would have been happy to have another avenue of release available to him.)

The following appeared in The Wire.

Completely Oblique brings together a bunch of cassette-only releases and a lone 7" from Bryn Jones that predate his work as Muslimgauze: 1982's Extended Play, Piano Room and Triptych and 1983's Inhalt. Much of it is just plain ghastly. The opening "Fall Into Glass" sounds like a particularly prissy Ultravox demo, complete with the kind of synth sound that immediately conjures so many images of pleated trousers and dandruff-flecked gel. The rest of the material impacts on a more satisfyingly subliminal level, with blurts of TV noise and between-stations, short wave made strange', with coils of cheap electronics, slurred speech and odd, vaguely melancholic loops. The later material stands up best, at points sounding like a no-budget bedroom take on the monolithic Industrial electronica of Kraut avatars Cluster, but didn't everything back then?

review by David Keenan
This text originally appeared in The Wire magazine (issue # 234).

This item appeared on the Islamaphonia 2 mailing list.

A friend asked me about Muslimgauze and this is what I wrote to him regarding Completely Oblique.

These are Bryn's first releases, three cassettes and a 7", done as E.g Oblique Graph in 1982-83. Way back then his work was lumped in with the Industrial genre, but none of it is aggressive, abrasive, or heavy. It's like, but not as good as, Chris Watson-period Cabaret Voltaire, minus the vocals and strong rhythms, odd considering that the vast majority of Mg is characterized by percussion. Most tracks are minimal electronic pieces, mainly synths and tape manipulations (I don't think Bryn ever used a sampler), typical UK early '80's, with absolutely no Oriental textures. Most tracks meander, while a few are quite enjoyable (like the eerie "Choir-Screen"), but you would not play this if you had a hankering for MG.

I'd add that it's an outstanding package and sounds great (thanks again T), essential to my MG collection since I'll never own the originals. Hope that helped.

review by R. Oswalt

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July 14, 2016