Turn On Arabic American Radio

The relationship between Bryn Jones' music as Muslimgauze and the track/album titles he would provide (sometimes right on the tapes he would send in for release, but often determined later, sometimes even giving two different pieces months apart the same title, accidentally or not) has always been a little mysterious. Jones himself can no longer be asked, and as we continue to investigate the swathes of material he provided, you hit sources like the DAT or DATs that make up the contents of the new double LP Turn On Arab American Radio. Nine tracks, the first LP/four tracks titled "Turn On Arab American Radio" and the other LP/five tracks labelled only "Arab American Radio". None of them sound particularly radio-esque, although given the simultaneous vastness and ornate focus of Jones' Muslimgauze work that gap between name and sound is far from atypical.

Instead here the de rigeur percussion loops that underpin this particular set of tracks, while occasionally clipping into the fierce distortion that Jones either loved to use or couldn't get away from, steer away from both the more consistent application of that distortion as well as the Middle Eastern and Asian influences he often used. It'd be a stretch to call anything here basic boom-bap production but they come closer to it than a lot of Muslimgauze production. And while those loops are, as always prominent, they're not actually the focus; settling into steady vamps as structures for Jones to pursue an extended and often more gentle exploration of the other sample sources he has here. There are stringed instruments, the sound of water, but most prominently or strikingly the human voice. Nothing is in English but tone and the occasional word ("familia", "passport") still provide guides. There are ululations, snatches of melody; but most often speech, dialogue, often tense and harried sounding. Is this what Jones was thinking of or referring to with his "Arab American Radio"?

As with so many other questions about Muslimgauze, we'll never know the answer to that one. (Most pertinently in this case we might wonder who appears here, and what the context of these recordings is. But Jones never provided that with his submissions.) Here, even though those inexorable loops pound on, indefatigable, that emphasis on some of the people Jones chooses lends a measured gentleness to much of Turn On Arab American Radio, at least within the context of his body of work. The last thing you hear at the end of the second LP is one last question from one of the many speakers on this peculiar Muslimgauze radio, echoed away into infinity. We may never have answers, but those questions continue to resonate.

Press release from Staalplaat.

The following is from Vital Weekly.

Last week I recounted that at one point I gave up collecting music by Merzbow. Something similar happened with Muslimgauze. There was a time that I was professionally engaged in releasing music from the late Bryn Jones, and I heard it a lot and collected as much as I could. But, as these things go, interests shift, and I sold a significant portion of the collection at one point. That doesn't mean I have no interest in any new release; I happily hear everything that comes my way, yet I never actively seek out what is new. Staalplaat seemingly endless suitcase of unpublished recordings brings us 'Turn On Arabic American Radio'. This release is number thirty-four in the Muslimgauze Archive Series and comes with a silkscreened cloth cover. When Jones was recording music, there was, so it seems, always a tape running along to capture all moments. You would think these were for his archive or playback to see what worked. In sending these to his record company, one concludes he was satisfied enough to have it released. These nine tracks are from two sources, one being 'Turn On Arab American Radio' and the other 'Arab American Radio'. Sure, there are some radio signals and radiophonic voices, but they play a minor role. Through this release, the music stays on the minimal side, leaning heavily on using a drum machine and minimal Middle Eastern samples and instruments, but like the radio signals only. As I like minimalism and the occasional Muslimgauze release, I immensely enjoyed this. But there is also a sense of unfinished business here. I imagine using these pieces as building blocks for a new part of the music (or more than one). All the ingredients are there, and the music could take the next stage with some imaginative editing. Now, that would not be ethical; it would simply not be a Muslimgauze release. As a look in the workshop of Muslimgauze, this CD is wonderfully insightful. Bare and minimal, very Muslimgauze and the promise of beauty was cut short by his early demise.

review by Frans De Waard
Vital Weekly (number 1365 week 50)

This piece appears on Boomkat.

Muslimgauze's latest archival wonder spies Bryn Jones in pure swag mode across 66 mins of lo-slung hip hop collage resembling golden era boom bap and Memphis instrumentals, but with his own rugged burr

A strong example of why one should never sleep on Staalplaat's ceaseless Muslimgauze reissue programme, this latest presents previously unheard recordings found on two DAT tapes titled 'Turn On Arabic American Radio' (tracks 1-4, or disc 1) and 'Arabic American Radio' (tracks 5-9, or disc 2), that find rich variation within a theme. Loops of neck-snap breaks and shuddering 808 bass drops fuse with samples of uncredited instrumental performances, sometimes severed with blistering noise, or layered with sounds of a radio tuning-in and snippets of vocals, but all clearly indebted to the prevailing influence of '90s US rap and its rhythms.

Even if you're the hardest Muslimgauze fiend who knows it all, we'd wager this one is new, even to you. The opening gambit sounds like Tommy Wright III on holiday to Palestine, and the collision of strings, noise and ruggedest bounce in the 2nd tune recalls Mutamassik's late '90s NYC splices of Egyptian records or something off DJ/Rupture's Soot, and Song 6 is clearly akin to Spectre's illbient templates. Song 7 is a sort thumb of more sped-up breaks recalling Edan doing fast rap in Bradford, and we're utterly snagged on his tar-like riffs twisted with deep south-style drum machine strut in Song 4.

Boomkat

This piece appears on Isra Box - Music Is Life.

"Through this release, the music stays on the minimal side, leaning heavily on using a drum machine and minimal Middle Eastern samples and instruments, but like the radio signals only. As I like minimalism and the occasional Muslimgauze release, I immensely enjoyed this." Vital Weekly number 1365

The relationship between Bryn Jones’ music as Muslimgauze and the track/abum titles he would provide (sometimes right on the tapes he would send in for release, but often determined later, sometimes even giving two different pieces months apart the same title, accidentally or not) has always been a little mysterious. Jones himself can no longer be asked, and as we continue to investigate the swathes of material he provided, you hit sources like the DAT or DATs that make up the contents of the new double LP Turn On Arab American Radio. Nine tracks, the first LP/four tracks titled “Turn On Arab American Radio,” and the other LP/five tracks labelled only “Arab American Radio.” None of them sound particularly radio-esque, although given the simultaneous vastness and ornate focus of Jones’ Muslimgauze work that gap between name and sound is far from atypical.

Instead here the de rigeur percussion loops that underpin this particular set of tracks, while occasionally clipping into the fierce distortion that Jones either loved to use or couldn’t get away from, steer away from both the more consistent application of that distortion as well as the Middle Eastern and Asian influences he often used. It’d be a stretch to call anything here basic boom-bap production but they come closer to it than a lot of Muslimgauze production. And while those loops are, as always prominent, they’re not actually the focus; settling into steady vamps as structures for Jones to pursue an extended and often more gentle exploration of the other sample sources he has here. There are stringed instruments, the sound of water, but most prominently or strikingly the human voice. Nothing is in English but tone and the occasional word (“familia”, “passport”) still provide guides. There are ululations, snatches of melody; but most often speech, dialogue, often tense and harried sounding. Is this what Jones was thinking of or referring to with his “Arab American Radio”?

As with so many other questions about Muslimgauze, we’ll never know the answer to that one. (Most pertinently in this case we might wonder who appears here, and what the context of these recordings is. But Jones never provided that with his submissions.) Here, even though those inexorable loops pound on, indefatigable, that emphasis on some of the people Jones chooses lends a measured gentleness to much of Turn On Arab American Radio, at least within the context of his body of work. The last thing you hear at the end of the second LP is one last question from one of the many speakers on this peculiar Muslimgauze radio, echoed away into infinity. We may never have answers, but those questions continue to resonate.

Isra Box - Music Is Kife (January 13, 2023)

This piece appears on Spectrum Culture.

Under his Muslimgauze moniker, Bryn Jones embodied the ramshackle, indeterminate spirit of dub, where nothing is ever certain or set in stone. Sounds are constantly falling down rabbit holes of delays or racing down funhouse corridors of phase, distortion and reverb. Nothing ever stands still, as the producer or DJ continually tweaks the sounds, creating an organic, evolving sonic tapestry. Much of the joy of listening to dub-influenced music is appreciating these subtle variations, like watching wispy, ragged clouds gently disintegrate while drifting across a pale blue sky.

With that being said, Turn on Arabic American Radio — volume 34 of Staalplaat’s Muslimgauze Archive Series, here getting a much-appreciated vinyl reissue — is particularly minimal, even by Muslimgauze or dub’s standards. Most of the album’s nine songs are little more than a Middle Eastern sample or two, per track, gently gliding over a bedrock of basic early ’90s drum machine beats. With such minimal fare, so much rides on the strength of each element, as there’s nowhere to hide. In light of that, how essential you’ll find this record will largely depend on how you feel about listening to Middle Eastern string samples paired with basic boom-baps beats, sometimes for over 10 minutes, like on album opener “Turn on Arabic American Radio Song 1.”

The album opener has many moments that illustrate what a wonderful, if strange, release this is, as the endless low-slung hip-hop beats occasionally erupt into squalls of static or suddenly start running backwards. While this unevenness can sometimes be frustrating across Muslimgauze’s vast catalog, it can also be deeply charming, especially here, serving as a poignant reminder of Jones’ relentlessly creative, exploratory talent.

However you might feel about the source material, it’s undeniable how good this record sounds. Staalplaat has done an incredible job with the remastering, as the kick drums shudder and bang while digital toms and hi-hats crackle and snares pop. Frankly, it’s hard to remember another record on which early drum machines sound so powerful. For the sound quality alone, Turn on Arabic American Radio is worth picking up for vinyl DJs looking to spice up an electro set with some adventurous fare.

Despite the muscular beats, these archival recordings can sound surprisingly gentle. “Turn on Arabic American Radio Song 3,” an album highlight, is nearly new age, with its peaceful santoor melody, cooing spoken vocal samples, bird song and bubbling, burbling fountains. “Turn on Arabic American Radio Song 2” also features a glorious hammer dulcimer sample, this time over a simplistic Casio beat, sounding like some sort of Iraqi new wave wedding band practicing in a courtyard full of peacocks in the early ’80s. Like most of the rest of this record, your mileage will vary greatly depending on how you feel about the source material. Those that dig listening to over seven minutes of trancey, ethnographic Persian recordings will likely get a lot out of these hypnotic excursions.

The one main downside to the album’s “sample + drum machine” format is a lack of Muslimgauze’s signature Middle Eastern percussion, which is often one of the biggest draws of his records. It’s interesting to hear his drum machine meditations and manipulations but you can’t help but sometimes mourn the lack of Arabic breakbeats. The lack of Muslimgauze’s signature breakbeats, combined with the somewhat meandering songwriting, means that this record is mostly going to stay a historical curiosity — although a great-sounding one and well worth checking out.

Muslimgauze was very prolific during his too-short lifetime. It seemed like Jones was constantly rolling DAT during the ’90s, like he was one of those people living in a shop window as some sort of performance art. At times, this can be vaguely frustrating, as it does lend support to the criticism that so much of Muslimgauze sounds the same and sometimes has questionable quality control. As the years have ticked on, this ragtag, ramshackle, roll-tape attitude of electronic musicmaking has turned out to be one of Jones’ most enduring strengths. In a genre so often obsessed with perfection to the point of sterility, at the expense of character and personality, it’s a breath of sandalwood-perfumed fresh air to sense Jones’ presence behind the knobs.

review by J. Simpson
Spectrum Culture (April, 2023)

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Turn On Arabic American Radio (CD) Turn On Arabic American Radio (LP) Turn On Arabic American Radio (coloured vinyl LP) Turn On Arabic American Radio (digital)

May 14, 2024