Are they being outrageous or are they genuinely outraged? After some fifteen years, during which time they have had more than 50 releases, Bryn Jones' Muslimgauze defy total credibility, although they seemingly have a clear, if extreme, political stance and transparent Intentions in their fanatical support for the Palestinian cause. This is not a question of sincerity or even validity. Yet, there is still this tingling doubt about the philosophical depth in the understanding of the issues and its interface with the potent, highly contagious musical packaging the radical political beliefs are wrapped in. I'm not talking here of the often lavishly designed album covers with their uncompromising titles, such as Vote Hezbollah or Betrayal (Jones' comment on the peace treaty between Israel and the PLO), but moreover the somewhat dogmatic, crass simplicity with which the spirit of Islam is portrayed.
Muslimgauze's Arab influenced hypnotic take on ethnic ambient is pretty unique even today with the growing trend and interjections from artists such as Scarab, Bedouin Ascent and various other Arab dub outfits, whilst Jones has been using Arab ethnic instruments and integrating them into Western culture for years. In fact his core sound remains unchanged. Muslimgauze would want the audience to consume and experience the seemingly passionate political sentiment and evocative musical tapestries as a single entity a Western recontextualisation of traditional middle Eastern music enhanced by technology to form a post-modern mix of music, politics and culture.
Somehow this extremely valid combination fails in my view, because of the imbalance between the dazzling, brilliantly constructed, powerful, yet refined, sense-engulfing music and the over-simplistic propagandaresque nature of the political message. Possibly, the gulf is a direct result of two factors.
The first pertaining to the musical brilliance is rooted in Jones' undoubted passion, prolificacy and single-mindedness in finding a sonic solution for his beliefs. This he achieves by creating chillingly hypnotic layers of percussion, which when laced with other instruments, the sampled muffled Arab voices, low drones, the wailing prayers, shrieks, machine-gun fire, mosque bells, etc. produce a weaving path of intricate and subtle rhythms that meander through dense and sparse textures and moving atmospheres which evoke a feeling of mysticism and conflict in an attempt to express the situation in the Arab lands. He wishes to deftly display a vision of unresolved cultural change.
The second factor likely lies in Jones' own background. He is not a Muslim, an Arab or even a descendant of the Middle East. In fact he has never been 10 Palestine and openly admits that he has no ambition of ever going at all. He does not even maintain any contact with Arabs in and around his home town of Manchester, England. In a way, he even disassociates himself from Arab culture and yet he admits to open disgust and revulsion at Israel's treatment of the Arabs, predominantly fueled by his naked hatred of Israel's occupation of Palestine. Apparently, this strength of conviction started nearly 15 years ago with Israel's invasion of Lebanon. Of course, Fringecore in no way judges his conviction or beliefs. This is free speech, free view press. It is just that I feel the mixing in of Sadaam Hussein, bombed out Iraqi dessert shots on Album covers (even though I do not in any way agree they should have been banned), and other unrelated issues just because they occur in the same geographical vicinity , diminish the integrity of the original cause.
It is not just a matter of creating waves, impulses, dissonant flashes, fractured speech and powerful percussion or simply placing the listener in the centre of a sonic landscape surrounded by confusion and musical debate if one wishes to develop a powerful persuasive, impact full, sub-consciously contagious message. In a way, it is the engulfing disorientation, the deconstruction of the supposedly linking elements and the crass inconsistencies that fail to provoke the political experience and raise the level of inner questioning.
Jones continues to nurture his attempt to reshuffle old ideas into novel combinations to spark completely new ideas or a new belief. However, if he really wishes to motivate conversion to his ideas, he needs to either create a dramatic non-Arab "hell " belief or to build elaborate bundles of memes that foster their own and each other's propagation, but without losing the necessary focus, which is often destroyed by introducing additional irrelevant dynamics. Currently, his tools are a little too blunt and blatant and therefore the audience becomes immune to infection. The shallowness of Jones' credential system creates a social barrier for those minds that could otherwise be open to his contagious memes.
Somehow he needs to take a leaf out of the mechanisms generally used in spreading Muslim belief (supported by the Koran, of course). Create as many potential hosts as possible by using adversative modes of sabotaging the competition. Reduce the number of non-hosts (not necessary eradicate them completely). On the one hand, he always states that he does not care about other people's opinions, yet on the other hand he shows surprise that few people take an interest in Muslimgauze's projects (although there has been more curiosity recently).
To generate increased virus infection, Jones needs to raise credentialisation, by demonstrating a deeper insight into his subject matter. Whatever, the political relevance or potency, Muslimgauze's music is awesome and even the silences and spaces create a terrifying tension. Even Bryn Jones himself admits "that the music can be listened to without an appreciation of its political origin, but I hope that after listening the person then asks why it is called what it is and from this finds out more about the subject. It is up to them. Go out and discover."
Check out Muslimgauze's more recent offerings: Arab Quarter; The Gulf Between Us; (both on Soleilmoon), Beyond the Blue Mosque; and Narcotic (on Staalplaat). The limited edition releases from Staalplaat are particularly worth having. Whatever your politics, you won't be disappointed.
article by Dee
This article originally appeared in Fringecore magazine (issue # 2).
P.O. Box 165