The weird non-legacy of a wannabe provocateur
"Disconnected" is the word. This is a great essay.
I worked at Cargo Distribution in Chicago when Extreme was an active label (manufactured and distributed by Cargo) and I still have the Muslimgauze CDs that came out then. There were oodles of other Muslimgauze CDs coming out on other labels then, too. The sheer volume of releases makes any propagandistic value to them minimal in my opinion. But musically, there are diamonds in that haystack.
I really enjoy reading your posts and this one has especially fascinated me. Never heard of this guy and I'm not even sure I need to check the music out (although it does sound interesting) simply because there's so much to listen to already, but I just need to highlight how great this observation is: "But because the signifiers are so superficial and muddled, it’s possible to not only separate the art from the artist, but to peel the art apart like pulling the label off a box."
Jones was prophetic. He was tapping into something primordial. A malevolent energy that was building underneath the Middle East. The almost Lovecraftian perception of oil as some kind of Djinn, possessing people, turning them against one another. It's often isolated autistic individuals who can recognize patterns like this before anyone else. Jones essentially predicted 9/11 with his work. It's chaotic and disjointed because that was the essence he was trying to capture. He wasn't attempting to make something as trite and feeble minded as a political statement. He was doing his best to capture the nervous, anxiety ridden energy of a powder-keg about to explode. He succeeded amazingly well. There is nothing else quite like Muslimgauze that manages to perfectly capture the cultural, philosophical, and idealogical claustrophobia of the Middle East.
It's the only place on Earth where you have dozens of different groups, all at each others throats, with blood feuds that stretch back centuries, all packed together into a small handful of habitable zones amongst endless miles of deadly desert. All of the album and song titles, the liner notes, the graphics, the photographs, the typography etc. is absolutely essential to the work; precisely because it is instrumental. I don't know how you completely missed that. He's beating you over the head trying to explain this instrumental music isn't about some bloke going on vacation and being inspired; as it almost always is with everyone else from the West who makes Middle Eastern influenced music. In his later years he spoke about specifically not visiting the Middle East, even after having been invited, because it could jeopardize the integrity of the project. That it could turn it into something kitsch and self-centred. His refusal to travel showcases his utmost integrity regarding his own work.
The fact that he was so geographically removed from the region was the only way something like Muslimgauze could come to exist. It took a complete outsider looking in, with a virgin set of eyes, to accurately capture all the minute details of that atmosphere. All those tiny fractured elements would be totally benign to a local, like cultural wallpaper, that their eyes (and in this case ears) have adjusted to ignore. His distance from his subject matter was essential. It wasn't a drawback or somehow invalidated his work as you seem to suggest. The Middle East is so monolithic and dense that the closer one approaches the more indecipherable it becomes. The only way Jones could manage to condense it down into something digestible was by observing from an adequate distance away. This is a problem everyone to this day still faces when attempting to make any kind of art about the Middle East or the conflicts there. Jones is one of the few to manage to find a way to really convey the essence and the spirit of that region in sonic form. As I said before, not just the sounds of the instruments but the anxiety and instability, the shifting of the sands, the influence of oil and the long dark shadow it seems to cast.
Basically, you didn't get it.
I enjoyed reading this and respect the opinions shared--like most super-prolific artists, many people will find Muslimgauze albums to be hit or miss. As someone else notes in the comments, there are absolute diamonds in his discography. However, the dek to this story is click-bait garbage and almost made me close the window before getting into the actual piece.
Back in the day, a friend, looking as though he'd glimpsed the entirety of existence, said in order to have the complete Muslimgauze experience, one must listen to the music with headphones for 8-12 hours...on acid. ;p
Strong disagree. I think you have to see his music and ouevre from the perspective of a non-white person with affiliations to the issues that Bryn was honouring. I don't think this type of intellectual critique is very helpful. It doesn't matter if he was a 'shut in' or 'incapable of human interaction' - none of that matters. He was a genius. He was dedicated and he died too young. His contemporaries could not made as meaningful a body of work as him because he only had his sights set on what he perceived as something 'wrong'. Muslimguaze is, was and always be extraordinary. What a reductive word to use 'wannabe'. So sad.
Gaza Death Toll Tops 22,600 as Israel Intensifies Attacks on Refugee Camps; so sad. But it reminds me this artist and his commitment and this article.