Feel the Hiss

Some of the tracks on 'Feel the Hiss', a release Bryn Jones recorded live to cassette in early 1995 but never had the chance to remix and polish before he died, use the same kinds of devotional voices found on much of 'Minaret Speaker', but here other voices are present too. Conversational or angry, male or female, English or French or Arabic, almost inaudible or forcing their way to the front of the music, these “Zilver Tracks” (the name based on a note Jones wrote on the tape) engage more directly with the world Jones was so fascinated with and tried to represent over and over again in his work as Muslimgauze.

If, like most listeners, you only speak one or two languages, the content on 'Feel the Hiss' can be just as inscrutable as anything Jones has put out. But the music, luckily, is also just as wonderful; for a set of demos recorded live to tape the 'Feel the Hiss' material certainly comes across as fully-formed, if a bit more reflective and synthesizer-heavy than much of his oeuvre. The lengthy “Zilver Track 4” especially, seems at times like a tour around the embattled regions of the world Jones was so passionate about, complete with echoing percussion, voices in various languages, even train sounds.

Not that this is Muslimgauze’s answer to the KLF’s Chill Out, by any stretch of the imagination; the dark, shimmering “Zilver Track 1” is as compellingly propulsive as any of his songs. It’s possible if Jones had gone back to this tape his changes would have brought it more in line with other Muslimgauze releases but as it is 'Feel the Hiss' is a chance to experience the more contemplative side of his work.

Press release from Staalplaat.

The following appears on Brainwashed.

I had been doing an excellent job of ignoring the constant trickle of unnecessary Muslimgauze vault scrapings for the last few years, but the surprising amount of excitement surrounding this one enticed me into grudgingly giving it a chance.  I am glad I did, as Feel The Hiss's mingling of heavy dub and sound collage is probably my favorite of Bryn Jones' myriad stylistic threads.  The album still falls prey to the usual "Muslimgauze vault" curse of sounding like endless slight variations of the same god damn song, but in this case the song being endlessly replicated is actually good enough to warrant it.  This is the best Muslimgauze album to surface in a long time.

Feel The Hiss is a rather unique entry in Staalplaat's ongoing vault-clearing/reissue campaign, as it is basically a complete album that Jones never got a chance to put the finishing touches on.  He recorded these nine pieces live to tape, labeled it "Zilver tracks," then never revisited them.  Unexpectedly, that "unfinished" aspect is one Hiss's biggest selling points, as these pieces have a raw immediacy that would probably have been smoothed over if Jones had gone through his normal production regimen.  Also, the degree of unfinishedness is quite a lucky one, as Hiss does not feel particularly lo-if, nor does it feel like anything is missing.  Instead, everything just feels a lot sharper and crisper than it normally would, particularly the many prominent snatches of dialogue and field recordings strewn all over the album.  I suspect that a "finished" version would have pushed the sound collage elements much deeper in the mix and punched up the bass, if other Muslimgauze albums are any indication.  I suppose that would be cool too, but less so: I am very much a fan of this "garage rock" version of Jones' artistry.

While there are ostensibly nine (untitled) pieces comprising Hiss, there are actually only three distinct and significant ones due to the distinctly Jones-ian repetition of the core music, though they are thankfully all long enough to carry the album.  There is not a hell of a lot distinguishing the three variations from one another in a concrete sense, as all are basically built upon an unchanging bass line and a slow dub-reggae pulse embellished with a buzzing tanpura drone and an occasional kanun loop (Jones kept the music fairly minimal and laid-back with this one).  Despite the extreme similarities, however, the minor differences between the bass lines and the tempos still provide each of the three discrete pieces with their own individual feel.

The best of batch is probably "Zilver One," as it boasts the most tense and propulsive rhythm.  That kind of makes all the difference with this material, as the field recordings and dialogue in the foreground are always a chaotic and mysterious collage of angry voices, non-angry voices, prayers, singing, interviews with snipers, sudden crashes, pouring water, clattering metal, monkeys, birds, trains, and whatever the hell else Bryn felt like piling on.  It is all very compelling and deliciously disorienting and evocative, but it is also very abstract, unmelodic, and occasionally harsh, so it works best when bolstered by an appropriately strong and hypnotic groove.  "Zilver One" hits that mark most successfully.

"Zilver Two" and "Zilver Eight" combine to constitute another distinct piece, differing primarily from the first piece by being significantly slower.  While that sacrifices some momentum, the trade-off is an appealing one, as it leaves more space and shifts the focus more strongly to Jones' hallucinatory web of overlapping voices and street sounds.  The third distinct piece is kind of a trilogy, as songs four through six essentially blur together into a single work that stretches for nearly 20 minutes.  Again, this one is slowed down to a druggy reggae crawl, which again allows Bryn to make the most of his arsenal of voices, which in this case includes a lot of snatches of devotional singing that overlap and pan around pleasingly.  The best part, however, comes in the latter half, as Jones allows an ominously quavering drone to take center stage to mesmerizing effect (which, of course, makes the occasional bursts of shouting, crashing, and door-pounding seem even more meaningful and startling).

I suppose the sole real flaw with Feel The Hiss is that the remaining three pieces legitimately do feel unfinished, particularly "Zilver Three,” which is little more than a beat and would have me leveling some serious "shameless Vatican Shadow rip-off" accusations had it not been recorded back in 1995.  On the bright side, it is only two minutes long and serves as a palette cleanser of sorts before the next substantial piece.  The other two non-songs are even shorter, but range from a recording of wind chimes ("Zilver Seven") to an apparent studio experiment where Bryn just messed around with echoing tablas and blasts of white noise until he lost interest ("Zilver Nine").  The rest of the album is great though and quite singular within the vast Muslimgauze discography (I have seen comparisons to the busier, more industrial Minaret Speaker album, but that album has a very different feel).  Feel The Hiss is as close to a straight-up dub album as anyone could hope for from Jones: spacious, uncluttered, unhurried, and swirling with an immersive world of curious sounds and snatches of dialogue.

Also, I do not think any sane person ever expects a perfect Muslimgauze album, as Bryn was by nature too restless and self-cannibalizing to dwell on a batch of songs long enough to make that happen.  Jones did not make as many albums as he did by worrying about sequencing or about putting his best foot forward at all times–he did it by tirelessly and obsessively moving forward to keep up with his endless flow of ideas.  Some albums captured him on a particularly inspired streak and some did not.  Feel The Hiss is most definitely one of the former.

written by Anthony D'Amico
Brainwashed (April 19, 2015)

The following appeared on Boomkat.

Jeez - think you know Muslimgauze? Check this incredible album out...

Golden Muslimgauze gear retrieved from the vaults by Staalplaat. This is the strain of Bryn Jones' music that we cherish the most, mixing prickling EBM/electro patterns with lilting percussion, gloaming pads and field recordings, rather than his distorted loop jams. As we know, he would create umpteen versions of tracks which could sound very similar but we're actually all subtly different arrangements to each other. There are nine takes on the same palette of elements in 'Zilver / Feel The Hiss', including longer parts that really set the ground for Vatican Shadow, interspersed with some choice arabesques like the skeletal electro-stepper "Zilver Track 3", and a stunning, unanchored dub-scape in "'Zilver Track 9" which effectively preempts the coiled, gutted aesthetics of Total Freedom, Lotic or Arca by a few decades. Seriously


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January 10, 2017