After several years, more than one publisher, and numerous emotional roller coasters, it is finally in production! Muslimgauze: Chasing the Shadow of Bryn Jones is currently being printed at Ultrailmail Productions and published by Vinyl on Demand. Mo of Arabbox fame has put together a website to promote the book while different groups like Cultures of Resistance are promoting it. I asked Ultramail to send me production photos to help me keep readers abreast on the books’ progress. As I understand it, there will be a run of 1000, hard cover. Copies will include a Muslimgauze compilation by Soleilmoon called A Putrid Oasis, which features retrospective tracks plus a previously unreleased one. Half of the 1000 run will be part of a ten LP Muslimgauze re-issue box set (featuring Jones’ Limited Editions releases during the 80′s such as Hunting Out With an Aerial Eye), the other half will be a stand-alone book edition. The LP box set looks fantastic and has original art. Plus, both editions will include a fold-open poster. More details (and images) to follow.
Previously, I posted on hanging out with Kris “Thrash” Weston and received positive feedback from readers who do not normally frequent this site. Soon enough, Weston himself found out about the post and responded (in the comments section) in his usual affable manner. I assure you, Qwis Weston is every bit as lovable as Oscar the Grouch. However, get into a discussion on politics, technology, or music and you will be hard pressed to engage a keener, more alert mind.
Weston kept busy since we last spoke, sharpening his technical skills as an audio engineer, craftsmanship as a musician and adeptness as a computer nerd. Kris also adds eco-activism to his repertoire since he is a dedicated WOOFER (Working On Organic Farms) and animal rights champion. If all that were not enough, Weston will soon launch a Kickstarter project featuring accomplished musicians who will perform his original compositions. The budget and scale of the project is impressive, highly indulgent and if successfully funded, sure to be a masterpiece.
In my small way, I helped Kris by penning his heavily abridged bio. Since 2003 I recorded hours of interview footage with Kris on his various projects, including his most famous tenure with The Orb. I now have enough material for a book, the first (and most successful) phase of The Orb from 1988 to 2005. How a group of obscure audio engineers and ambient chillout club DJ’s ascended to Top of the Pops fame and the Ultraworld. If you are a publisher, or more importantly, a reader and fan, please get in touch with me on whether you would like to read a history of this band from the perspectives of an insider. Mind you, I also approached Mr. Alex Patterson some years ago about fleshing out this bio further, but he seems to want to keep a tight lid on things. Well, I’m quite happy to throw away the lid and give you readers some fascinating narratives about some heady times and even headier music.
Below is Kris at a massive mixing desk. He was one of the first to come up with the idea of bringing his entire studio out to a live show.
Conflict sojo (solo-journalist) Kevin Sites has brass balls. He goes to some of the most war torn regions on Earth with a back pack, cameras (still and video), laptops, and satellite phone hook-ups to capture the exchange of bullets, mortars and missiles between disgruntled factions and countries. Sometimes Sites goes embedded with an invading army but mostly he hikes out on his own as a high-tech back packer.
Sites first gained notoriety when in 2004 he covered the US invasion of Falujah in Iraq. During the US siege, Marines entered a mosque where wounded and unarmed Iraqi combatants sought refuge and executed them. Sites captured this on video and posted it on-line, uncensored. He struggled with the idea but in the end felt the American public needed to know what was really happening in this war. For this, Sites received equal measure praise and hate mail. However, Yahoo! was so impressed with this balsy footage and act that they offered him an all expenses paid trip to every conflict zone in the world for one year and a platform to report. Sites accepted and so began one of the best things Yahoo! ever did, Kevin Sites In The Hot Zone. One man with his laptops and cameras trekking alone from one pocket of hell to another. I was impressed with the series, this was one of the best things on the internet I have ever seen; a new style of reporting.
Sites reported from war torn regions of Somalia, Afghanistan, Gaza, as well as tense places like Iran and Lebanon. He was also in Lebanon during Israel’s 2006 invasion in their bid to quell Hezbollah, and razed the entire country in the process. At one point while Sites was in South Lebanon, a civilian building was reduced to rubble and people rushed to pull out survivors, Sites put down his camera, dragged an old woman out of the rubble and carried her to the nearest first aid station. The networks were outraged, claiming that Sites violated journalistic objectivity in helping the old woman. Sites responded that after he got the footage he needed, he made time to be human being and help a civilian out. He would do the exact same thing if the old woman was an Israeli.
In contrast to other more text based journalists like Robert Fisk who researches history in order to make sense of why and how these conflicts occur to help readers understand, Sites prefers to just deliver video and still footage and let viewers draw their own conclusions. He tends to capture full, unambiguous moments with as clear a context as he can muster. The resukts are stunning and horrific, but also informative. If you visit his website, Kevin Sites Reports you will get a slice of what war is really like. If anything, Sites maybe does his job too well as he takes footage of incidents that need direct humanitarian intervention and often suffers guilt from ‘just recording’ an incident.
After his stint reporting on international conflicts for Yahoo!, Sites suggested another ‘Hot Zone’ trek, within the USA. There are many American cities where gun casualties occur daily, en par with war zones elsewhere with casualties astonishingly high for peacetime. This BBC report on gun violence in Los Angeles reveals one ray in a spectrum of violence that plagues the country. Unfortunately, while Yahoo! is happy to report on misery elsewhere, they are not keen on showing the problems within. This is a pity since it is an excellent idea that deserves coverage and I hope Sites finds a backer. For all you folk looking for something more ‘accessible’, here is an interesting piece Sites did for Vice Magazine on going swimming with Afghani warlords.
Today we now have confirmation that Soleilmoon will no longer release the Muslimgauze book and it will now be an The Muslimaguze Preservation Society (TMPS) catalog item. The layout is no longer under the direction of Plazm, rather a new design team has taken-over to see the book to completion. I am quite excited to work with Simon Crab, who not only is a considerable creative director in his own right, but also happens to be the one who ran the first label, Recloose, to release E.g. Oblique Graph and Muslimgauze (apart from Bryn Jones’ own imprints). We have an excellent layout designer, Eric Kessel, who will also bring his years of experience and talents to make this book something fans will be very pleased with. Mo of Arabbox will also assist with layout, along with Terry Allan Bennett of The Messenger.
A challenge is coming up with funds to print the book. We will need to crowdsource to make this happen. Muslimgauze has a worldwide dedicated fanbase and community. Together we can make this long delayed project a reality; from layout, to print, to home delivery of every fan who wants this book. We aim to achieve this at a reasonable cost. Our team projects completion to be 2013, this year.
The completion of this book has gone through many delays and challenges, but with each one, it has only become better. It is now ready for completion and I am very honored and proud of supporters, fans, and the dedicated team I am blessed to work with. Get ready folks, it’s time.
Please stay tuned as we announce our crowdsourcing campaign, design progress, printing and shipping details.
Some months ago I was approached by a Polish magazine, Glissando to write a piece on the performativity of Muslimgauze. I had to look up what “performativity” meant, but once I did the rest fell into place. I am quite fond of Polish culture. Krystoff Kieslowski is perhaps my favorite film director while Stanislav Lem is one of my favorite science fiction writers. It is immenesely cool to be approached by the Poles to write something and then be translated! I hope there will be more. As for The Book, well, let’s say there is a bit of a developmental roadblock at the moment. I am sure this will not be the last one. It was suggested The Book may not be out this year for reasons apparently out of the publisher’s control. Well, Bryn’s birthday is coming up (very) soon so I may post some more excerpts from the book! Meanwhile, here is the English version of the Glissando piece.
Performativity of Muslimgauze, issue 21 Glissando
Glissando Magazine approached me to write of Bryn Jones aka Muslimgauze. During an editorial discussion the word ‘performativity’ surfaced, and I was asked to elaborate on how it related to Muslimgauze. An unknown word to me at the time, I soon found ‘performativity’ is not a word deciphered through consultation of a dictionary. Rather, it is an interdisciplinary term that involves entire schools of thought. ‘Performativity’ starts in linguistics and expands into politics, gender studies, and economics, for starters. I am sceptical of the use of academic jargon in music journalism. It can be frustrating to re-read sentences several times over in an attempt to grasp its meaning while trying to learn about a favourite artist or band. The article becomes a building of occasional locked doors, and keys of understanding not so simple and straightforward.
However, I also enjoy a challenge. What if in an article only one academic need be learned, however rudimentarily it is described? Further, what if this word, once deciphered, enables us a deeper appreciation of the topic at hand. Musician, Terre Thaemlitz, known for extensive use of academic language in his album liner notes says, “It’s not ‘jargon’ if it’s a practical word with applicable meaning. People in general are really instilled with anti-intellectualism (as a kind of anti-aristocratic class gesture) so it’s really good to snap out of anti-intellectualism and realize a lot of what gets dismissed as ‘jargon’ is actually fine-tuned language (like trigonometry or calculus). The problem, of course, is that it gets wielded poorly (usually because editors insist on dumbing things down). So for me something usually only sounds like “jargon” when language is not allowed to function in a rich capacity.”
Encouraged, I visited my local reference library with the desire to turn a bourgeois word into something to empower readers. According to Performativity (Loxley, James. Performativity. New York: Routledge, 2007), the word can be attributed to James Langshaw Austin who gave a series of what became influential lectures on ‘Words and Deeds’ at Oxford University during the 1950′s. ‘Performativity’ is linked to speech and examples of performative statements include the exchange of marriage vows, to bequeath property in a will, or when a police officer makes an arrest. States Austin, “In these examples it seems clear that to utter the sentence (in, of course, the appropriate circumstances) is not to describe my doing of what I should be said in so uttering to be doing or to state that I am doing: it is to do it.” (pg.8)
“To say is to do”, or, put another way, “words as actions” appear at the heart of performativity. Since Austin’s lectures, other thinkers such as Judith Butler appropriated the term for gender studies to in turn coin phrases such as ‘gender performativity’. For the purpose of this piece, I opt for a narrower definition as per Austin to focus on a facet of Bryn Jones as Muslimgauze.
Bryn Jones was a prolific Manchester, England-based musician active from years 1982 until his premature passing at the cusp of age 38 in January, 1999. Jones began recording as E.g. Oblique Graph abstract electronic music, but changed his moniker as Muslimgauze in 1983 along with emphasis on rhythm and ethnic samples. The first Muslimgauze album is Hammer and Sickle (Hessian, 1983) and more than musical expression, each subsequent album were political statements in and of themselves. However, unlike other political artists such as Public Enemy, Jones eschewed lyrics in favor of instrumental landscapes wherein the only vocals used were from radio and television newscasts, audio field recordings, and ethnic music recordings. In the summer of 1994 edition of Industrial Nation, Jones stated, “There are no vocals for two reasons: One is a lot of the music is ruined by bad lyrics badly sung… Most people in today’s music cannot sing. Also, it can lead to preaching. Muslimgauze have very strong political beliefs, but you can listen to a track without having opinions pushed down your throat. Second is that I like to do everything and I can’t sing, so I don’t.” Jones, however, did hope listeners would be curious enough about the album and track titles, dedications in liner notes, and the music itself to look up the facts behind it.
As for the music itself, one could expect, with all these heavy political themes, the music itself to be harsh and confrontational. Paradoxically, this is not always the case. With a catalogue of some 200+ albums, music that was angry and confrontational would quickly grow tiresome. While there are angry or aggressive sounding albums, such emotional overtones are limited to few albums, or tracks on albums that also express other emotions as well. Some Muslimgauze albums are uplifting, inspire dance movements or bobbing one’s head. So albums exude a sense of tension whereas other inspire cinematic mind trips where whole ranges of emotions occur, as do most good films. Part of what makes Muslimgauze music attractive, even among the politically agnostic listeners, are the sounds, textures, rhythms, complex edits, and bewildering array of accomplished bass lines just to skim the surface. Muslimgauze music encompasses numerous albeit mostly Western urban genres, such as ambient, breakbeat, IDM, Industrial, Dub, Dancehall reggae, to name a few, that are in turn blended with ethno music styles like East Inidian bhangra, Mid-Eastern Raqisat, or traditional North African. The genres change from album to album, and sometimes from track-to-track the way a kaleidoscope changes shapes and colours. Jones also made albums with sounds and textures that confound even the more seasoned studio wizards. Geert-Jan Hobijn, who owns the Staalplaat label that releases and distributes international avante-talents says of Muslimgauze music and the use of cleverly edited ethno and field sounds, “You cannot chop up tradition that easily, but he (Jones) was capable of doing that. His sounds give the impression it’s loosely made, he distorts sounds, but it is someone in control to an extent that’s very rare. It’s like in martial arts, where someone’s swinging a knife dangerously, but he knows to a millimetre what he is doing. It’s just brilliant. He had this collage technique―in one instance he had the reloading of a gun, and it was really well used; or giggling women, or crying women or the clapping of hands, it was edited so beautifully. All these layers have different stories. Through the whole CD you hear very deep stories; someone breathing, walking, and only if you listen carefully you hear that. These fine details, and like I said, the clapping of the hands and the loading, crying… strong images, simple, basic. You could also hear he’d been out listening to things. He’d been tapping into things, but we don’t know where, how or when. The dub, the breakbeat, all these elements he used he must have listened to. He wasn’t disconnected, you could hear it.”
To listen to a Muslimgauze album is to experience a range of sounds unlikely to be reproduced, that draws the listener in the way a venus fly trap clamps down on its prey. Muslimgauze would not attract the cult following on politics alone, Jones also knew his way around his music making gear and studios. The music remains timeless, with posthumous albums still slated for release that sound as fresh now as during Jones’ lifetime.
There is a story of a Buddhist monk who fashioned every piece of stone that passed his hands into images of the Buddha. Over the course of his lifetime, landscapes became littered with stone chip Buddhas. Similarly, Jones fashioned with his musical instruments, music making gear and libraries of pre-recorded sounds, ways to express musical dissent. This dissent did not waver, only intensified and grew in fervency as his musical output bloomed, darkly goaded by compounding Muslim-world tragedies. Jones claimed that Muslimgauze music was always informed and triggered by political facts.
Bryn Jones’ speech is recorded in three main formats; letters, interviews, and the actual Muslimgauze recordings. It is the latter that epitomizes Jones’ performative expressions, through album and track title and the music itself. Like the monk who littered landscapes with stone chip Buddhas, so Jones left behind a staggering catalogue that speaks out against injustice nowhere near resolution.
It is beyond the scope of this piece to cover all references and performative expressions in Muslimgauze. Instead, specific examples are examined such as the beginnings of Muslimgauze, as well as Jones’ support for Iranian and Palestinian resistance movements.
Though Jones often claimed Muslimgauze was born from Israel’s invasion of Southern Lebanon in 1982, early music by Bryn Jones in fact references Soviet power concerns. Starting out with his first known musical project, E.g Oblique Graph, Jones first made known political references in track titles such as “Murders linked to Gaulist Cliques” from Extended Play (Kinematograph, 1982), “Human Rights” off of Piano Room (Kinematograph, 1982) and “Castro Regime” from Triptych (Recloose, 1982). The first Islamic reference was in the final E.g Oblique Graph release, Inhalt (Kinematorgraph, 1983), “Islamic Koran in Camera Dome”, while the first Muslimgauze album was Hammer & Sickle (Hessian, 1983). Jones’ concerns first surfaced through broad-references-as-touchstones.
Hailing from the suburbs of Manchester, during his youth, Jones was known by his peers to be a small ‘c’ conservative who voiced support for Britain’s Margaret Thatcher. As the 80′s was the apex of the cold war, Jones was keenly anti-communist. Consequently, this put him at odds with his experimental music contemporaries who tended to be anarchist or bedroom Marxists. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, that began on December of 1979 was, by the first Muslimgauze album, fully under way, while America and its allies supplied Afghan rebels with weapons and technical assistance in a proxy war. When Jones was interviewed in 1984 by the Elephant Weekly Fanzine where he was asked about the future of the newly minted Muslimgauze, “Ideas for the future are political, (including) freedom to Afghanistan from Soviet oppression; unity of the two German lands, the destruction of the Berlin wall, and freedom to Poland and all lands occupied by Russia, a total return to democracy”. To that end, Jones made a track reference “Under the Hand of Jaruzelksi” on Hunting Out With An Aerial Eye (Limited Editions, 1984), also the track “Soviet Occupied Territories” from Buddhist on Fire (Recloose, 1984) released later that year.
By the early-to-mid-eighties, Jones’ knowledge on colonialism grew to include American and British attempts at foreign control and dominance, which included the Iran/Iraq war (then referred to as the Gulf War) that lasted from 1980 to 1988. In this conflict, Jones sided with Iran. Images of the Ayatollah Khomeini first appeared on an insert for Blinded Horses (Limited, 1985), then another in Flajelata (Limited, 1986) and then as an album cover Hajj (Limited, 1986). The Gulf War was further referenced in a three part track that spanned the entire side of an album on Abu Nidal (1987) and an album, Iran (Staalplaat, 1988). According to a 1995 Eskhatos Magazine interview, Jones stated, “I just hope that one day it (Iran) will take over Iraq and have more power. I support Iran, so when he (Saddam Hussein) attacked Iran (the September 1980 invasion) I was hoping he would get beat but the West gave him arms so that he could beat Iran which he didn’t do, and he came back to haunt them.” Jones further mentioned his support for Iran in other interviews and personal correspondences. For those unaware of the region’s history, the stance seems shocking. Western media tends to display Iran as a hostile, aggressive state with little regard for the sanctity of diplomatic protocol or even human life. To substantiate the point, we are oft-reminded of the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 when Iranian university students, with assistance from the Iranian revolutionary guard, stormed the US embassy and held Americans hostage for 444 days.
However, if we pull back the lens of history, we learn that Iran was under British influence and control, especially as petrol resources grew increasingly important in the struggle for geo-political dominance. When democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh nationalized Iran’s oil resources in 1951, Britain and the USA arranged for his overthrow while re-enforcing rule of the pro-Western, Emperor of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1953. Iranian popular discord simmered under Pahlavi’s rule, who in the face of protests, resorted to military crackdowns, torture and extra-judicial executions. Not only were Western countries aware of this, but encouraged and helped facilitate suppression of the popular will. When Iranian popular resistance verged on the point of civil war between the regime security apparatus on one hand and the masses on the other, Reza Pahlavi stepped down and ceded power to Ayatollah Khomeini in what became the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979. Displaced, the Shah relocated to various countries until he settled in the US for treatment of lymphoma. Iranians interpreted the relocation to the US as further plotting to re-install a Western-backed regime and continued foreign control, hence the hostage crisis. By way of response, America and other Western states supported Iraq’s invasion and subsequent war with Iran by providing technical and material assistance, including the use of chemical weapons against the Iranian populace. Jones was aware of Iran’s troubled, colonialist riddled history and sided with Iranians.
The most controversial aspect of Muslimgauze, however, is Bryn Jones’ uncompromising anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian stance. References of this first surfaced on the cover of Blinded Horses (Limited, 1985), which has a photo of Yasser Arafat holding his two fingers up in a ‘V for victory’ sign and further has a track titled, “Palestine”. On the subsequent Flajelata (Limited, 1986) Jones partially dedicated the album to Occupied Palestine, and then fully to Yasser Arafat P.L.O.” on Hajj. The on-going and ever-worsening Occupied-Palestine crisis gradually became a focal point with Abu Nidal (Limited Editions, 1987) a Palestinian resistance fighter and mercenary. Following that The Rape of Palestine (Limited, 1988) inscribed, “This record is dedicated to the victims of Israeli brutality in occupied West Bank and Gaza.” The Rape of Palestine was Jones’ last self-released album and thereafter the labels took care of album art work. Beyond dedications and track titles, Jones used albums to respond to policies on occupied Palestine such as Betrayal (Staalplaat, 1993) which was about the Oslo Accords, one the most detrimental agreements to the Palestinian cause. The cover of Betrayal featured a close-up of Israeli Prime Minister, Yithak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shaking hands and was “Dedicated to a United Arab Response”.
In Western society, criticism of Israel and challenges against its right to exist is often met with the charge of ‘anti-Semitism’. According to 2001 edition of The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, a Semite is a “member of an ancient group of people including the Hebrews, Arabs, Phoenicians, Assyrians, etc..” while the Oxford Dictionary, (Oxford University Press, New York, 2010) a Semite is “a member of the people who speak or spoke a Semetic language including, in particular, the Jews and Arabs.”. Hence the charge of ‘anti-Semete’ in the context of Israel/Palestine conflict is not applicable. A clearer term to apply might be anti-Jewish, since Israel is a state where Jews have citizenship while Palestinians and all other peoples, even if regional lineage dates back centuries, have resident alien status. According to those who knew Bryn Jones personally, when asked if Jones ever made or intimated anti-Jewish sentiments, the answer is an unequivocal “no”. This leads us to make another distinction, that between Jews and Israelis.
After World War II, in the wake of the Jewish holocaust, the need for a Jewish homeland was understandably more pronounced. The way the Jewish homeland was founded, remains questionable. Jewish settlers in Palestine forcibly expelled Palestinians at bomb and gunpoint in 1948 and claimed the land, in what Israelis subsequently referred to as the ‘War of Independence’. Millions of Palestinians were exiled and displaced in an ongoing refugee crisis, while the remaining were annexed under an apartheid-like arrangement. Despite regional Pan-Arab (Arab states in the region) resistance, Jewish settlers prevailed, and the State of Israel was formed and officially recognized by the UN in 1949. Several wars and skirmishes occurred, as both exiled Palestinians and Pan-Arab states tried to reclaim parts of Palestine. In 1967, Israel conquered the regions of Sinai and Gaza, which the UN labelled as ‘Occupied Territories’ in resolutions 252 and 446. Struggles for land claims between Pan-Arab states and Israel continue, while the latter has both regional military superiority, and is currently the sole nuclear-capable state in the Middle East.
The majority of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are refugees from Palestine, now called Israel. Consequently, populations in Gaza and the West Bank swelled many times over. Tiny slivers of remaining Palestinian land were held by the Egyptian army after Israel was formed, until that too was lost to Israeli forces in the 1967 war. Remaining Palestinians were fenced-in and used as cheap pools of labour for Israel to draw from. Palestinian funds accumulated for pensions and civil infrastructure were seized by Israel. Palestinians under Israeli control were forbidden to elect their own representatives, organize unions, or exercise any form of official autonomy. Schools, homes, hospitals, roads, or even the planting of a tree must be done with Israeli permission. Meanwhile, Palestinians are subject to constant policing, both extra-judicial and mass executions, over-taxation, and denied upgrade of infrastructure, thus maintaining slum conditions. With the natural growth of the Palestinian population, ‘illegal’ homes and expansions were built, only to have Israeli authorities raze and confiscate the land for Israeli settler use. Gaza and the West bank were cut off from each other, with further plots carved up for exclusive Israeli use while Israeli-only highways made patch-work of the land. Moreover, Israel ensured that Palestinians were also fenced-in along the Egyptian side of the Gaza border so that they could not access further supplies or generate a sustainable economy. Most goods had to be imported from Israel and were heavily levied, but no tax funds went to improving infrastructure for Palestinians. Rather tax revenue was used to pay for violent suppression of the Palestinian populace by the IDF. Adding to that, scarce resources plague the growing population while the jobless rate is high, even among university educated.
As Jones read and learned of this on-going injustice in exhaustively documented Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians by professor Noam Chomsky, and Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon by Robert Fisk, as well as countless reports by Amnesty International, his outrage grew. Stated Jones on the notes of Maroon (Staalplaat, 1995) “Muslimgauze will never condemn any act of direct action, The PLO or Hamas feels is necessary to free all occupied territories. Living in a democracy and able to vote, you cannot judge those unable to do so. When you cannot alter a situation by the vote, an occupation has to be ended by any means, those being killed in their own land, feel necessary. Imagine you are a Palestinian, marooned in Gaza, a prisoner in your own land, no vote, A future? Israel feeding and drinking off your land, what is your answer?”
It is fact that virus’ contain their own cure, including the disease of colonialism which continues to be at the heart of Muslim-world conflicts. That there are subjects of Her Majesty’s realm like Bryn Jones who object to the ill-gotten manner of Britain’s wealth, and created a musical culture around it, could be the start of something positive. Though Jones is long dead, Muslimgauze music continues to make performative statements from beyond the grave.
I recall being asked to review a Muslimgauze disc for on-line magazine, Dusted, and was explicitly informed by the editors to abstain from politics. The disc in question was the Muslimgauze/Rootsman collaboration, Al Aqsa Intifada. I had to laugh at the restriction, as if the name Muslimgauze was not a political statement in itself.
During the 80′s and early 2000′s, I haunted zine fairs to pick up the latest offerings from local underground arts and culture. Among artists who had booths were Merrill Beth Nisker also known as Peaches. I remember her as one of the louder, more vulgar booth proprietors, but she was tongue-in-cheek about it. Another booth vendor, was the more low-key Lorenz Peter who printed a zine called Chaos Mission, an autobiographical comic series about growing up in Fort McMurray, Alberta then moving to Toronto, Ontario to become an artist while picking up a heroin habit along the way. Chaos Mission, is exceptional–both dark and funny–later compiled and published by Pedlar Press in 2003 as a graphic novel. In 1997, Lorenz self-published his surreal graphic novel, The Last Remaining Ancient Mellish Bird, which is very rare, but I managed to score a copy of from the Beguiling. From humble beginnings as a self-published zine and graphic novelist, Lorenz became an award-winning graphic novelist where in 2005 he won the Doug Wright award for another autobiographical work, Dark Adaptation. (That same year I also published a compendium of Lorenz’s hitchhiking stories, Exaltation or Bust, under the Fathom imprint. If you want a copy, contact me). In 2007, another zine compendium, Side Effect, was published by Pedlar Press. Side Effect is a collection of surreal humour, personal anecdotes, and excursions into the absurd. Lorenz Peter’s latest work, released just this year, is a sequel to the Last Remaining Ancient Mellish Bird; The Grey Museum, published by Conundrum Press.
For those into underground music, Lorenz is also one half of the electro-punk-goth-metal-opera-Greek-diner-pro-wrestling band, Corpusse (as the keyboardist). An institution in Toronto where shows are as much about confrontation as it is about music.
My first impression of Lorenz Peter was akin the kind of ultra-cool, aloof kids I knew of in High School who had no time for the dorky likes of me. That is still the case today, I am still a dork and Lorenz is still one of the cool kids. Somehow, we do manage to communicate.
Lorenz recently upped his (already considerable) cool points by opening up a vinyl record shop in Toronto called LPs! LPs! , 104 Ossington Avenue where he orchestrates esoteric records for the discerning buyer such as electronic, minimal, industrial, space disco, punk, metal, and electro among a plethora of hard-to-find styles and artists. Lorenz does not have a large shop, and the records he stocks are carefully selected so as to make your trip well worth it. If you are into Conrad Schnitzler box sets, rare Kraut-rock, obscure industrial, 80′s retro electronic, Lorenz will have something that will grab your attention. For the weirder buyers, there are also a nice selection of CD’s and cassettes, as well as books and zines. If you are in Toronto, stop by Lorenz’s shop, bask in his coolness, listen to rarerified electro and pick up something to take home and dance the night away.
You can find-out about the latest additions to LPs! LPs! inventory and comics by visiting his blog, lorenzpeter.blogspot.ca
Above stat take from drones.pitchinteractive.co
After the Boston bombings, I looked up various news sites, from Canada’s Globe and Mail to Reuters, CNN, Russia Today, and Al Jazeera to get different perspectives on this crime. What grabbed my attention were the comments section and how they contrasted between news sites. The polar opposites would be CNN and Al Jazeera. There are probably sites with even stronger polarity, but I will focus on these two. CNN comments tend to be jingoist, celebrating foreign US foreign policy and drone strikes saying that there is more to come. Add to that, the demonization of Muslims who, it is claimed, foster a culture of violence. Then there are the Al Jazeera comments, who bemoan the fact that three civilians die in Boston, but hundreds more from US drone strikes or armed invasions.
After the attacks of September 11th, 2001–my employer at the time, a stock broker told me, “People with the last name ‘Khider’ must pay a special war tax for the invasion of Afghanistan, because their kind are the cause of war.” This employer, in his indignation, forgot who I was, the fact I worked for him for years and seemed to like me until that moment. I was let go not long after that.
I have a family member who fought in the Iraq war, as a United States Marine. I wonder how many relatives of my wealthy employer went to go fight in the war. Not that I would go fight in an illegal war. But if you are a US Marine, you really have no choice.
This reminds me of a discussion a friend’s wife and I had. She is a big fan of Apple products. I told her I boycott Apple because they are involved with the exploitation of Chinese workers. She responded that the Chinese are lucky to have jobs. She said this as she stroked her four year old child’s hair. I wonder how she would feel about Apple products if it was her son working in those factories. Us and them.
People fail to make connections. Muslims say bullshit things, ‘They are killing us all over the world and we have to cry over some dead in Boston’ is no less odious than, “All Muslims are terrorists”. Each looks at the other as “The Other”, no more.
As for mass shootings, I also lost a family member in Finland, who was a victim of a mass killer who went on a rampage in 2007. But I have a Muslim name, you see, so how can we be caught up in such things.
Mass violence is not disconnected. Civilians in Pakistan or Afghanistan have just as much right to live as those in Boston, New York, or Connecticut. And vice versa. Unfortunately, it seems most do not think this way. That is why tragedies like this will continue.
In 2006, Kris Weston turned me onto a film called Primer, an unconventional sci-fi film by Shane Carruth that took me a couple of views to “get”. It is now among my favorite films. Primer is en par with Chris Marker’s La Jetee, both in core story idea (time travel) and unconventional way of story telling. That is what makes these films better than average.
I looked forward to Carruth’s follow-up, A Topiary, for a long time, but that work is still in development. Frustrated with how slowly A Topiary was coming along (I heard budgetary reasons), Carruth decided to work on another movie. Upstream Color, like Primer, is sci-fi, but that is where the similarities end. This is a story about abduction, loss of identity, and trying to put the pieces together. While viewing, I was mostly bewildered, thinking, ‘what the heck is going on in this film?’, but got just enough hints to let my mind hop-scotch through the story and piece together the narrative. The feeling of being disoriented was Carruth’s technique of getting the viewer to empathize with the characters, who, equally bewildered, have more motivation than the viewer to try to figure out what is going on. We are in a theatre watching, the characters are freaking out because they lost everything.
There are beautiful stand-alone moments in the film, like a sound designer character who tries to compose music in unconventional ways and the main characters who eerily, unconsciously mimic his actions. But the main characters have never met the sound designer. Carruth suggests that there are bigger forces that guide our actions, be it nature, or something greater.
The cinematography, soundtrack, and editing are great, and so are the lead actors. Amy Seimetz is an impressive lead who handled the role persuasively. A woman abducted, drugged, and hypnotised into handing over all of her worldly possessions, including her memories, and then trying to rebuild the ruined pieces of her life back again. Carruth did a great job as the other, equally troubled lead, but I already expected that. It was Seimetz who I was initially skeptical with, but she allayed my fears moments into the film and proved to be an excellent casting choice.
In a world of conventional boiler plate story telling and films, Upstream Color is anything but. I hope more movies are like this, where you get swept along for the ride and you gloriously have no idea where the hell you are going, but at some point you don’t care because you are just lost in the beauty of it all. If you like creative story telling and narratives that are not dumbed down, this is for you.
When I was in Manchester in 2006, I had spent some time with Gareth Jones (Bryn’s nephew), and he asked if I could suggest readings that could explain what Muslimgauze is about. This is the sort of question I get asked a lot. Especially since mainstream news sources tend not to delve into the causes of conflict, merely the effects. There are resources both in this and forthcoming posts for those to understand, if not agree. I continue to read about Muslim world conflicts because researching Muslimgauze has changed my outlook of the world and has now become a part of me. The conflicts that the music is about are far from over, and for that matter, so is the Muslimgauze discography.
Four core strongly recommended books to understand Muslimgauze are: Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon and The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East by Robert Fisk; Fateful Triangle: America, Israel, and the Palestinians by Noam Chomsky; and Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege by Amira Hass.
Pity the Nation : The Abduction of Lebanon was first published in 1990, with subsequent updated editions. The book opens with Fisk’s visit to Auschitwitz concentration camp museum in Poland where he attempts to understand the mindset of the state of Israel and how it became one of the sources of conflict in the Middle East. However, this book is mainly about the civil war in Lebanon that ran from 1975 to 1990 that left, according to one estimation, about 150,000 dead. Fisk was first deployed to Beirut, Lebanon as a correspondent by The Times (before it was taken over by Rupert Murdoch) in 1976 and continues to live there to this day where he dispatches for The Independent. Fisk summarizes his narratives made over the years of what was an ethnic ‘battle royale’ between Christian Phalange, ethnic Druze, Amal—wherein many members went on to form Hezbollah, Kurds, the Syrian Army, the United States Marines, Israel, and Palestinian factions among other groups. During the war, alliances formed, broke, and rearranged as part of a tragic kaleidoscope. Fisk observed from multiple front lines, a war where no group has their hands clean.
One facet of the war is the ongoing Palestinian crisis during the early 70′s, Palestinian guerillas were stationed in Jordan where they conducted cross border raids against Israel. Facing the threat of a full scale invasion by Israel, Jordan’s King Hussein made an arrangement with Israel to forcibly expel Palestinians who relocated to Lebanon and conducted raids from there. This was called “Black September” by Palestinians and you can guess which releases refer to it. Palestinian groups resumed their attacks and for that Israel punished not just the areas where Palestinians were located, but all of Lebanon which included multiple full scale invasion and occupation. In fact, the Shebaa farms, which belongs to Lebanon, continues to be occupied by Israel and is one of the official reasons Hezbollah is still at war with them.
One of the more harrowing accounts was Fisk’s dispatches of the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1982 where he counted as many as 1700 civilian non-combatants murdered at the hands of the Christian Phalange under watch of the Israeli army.
Pity the Nation is one of those books I strongly suspect Bryn Jones read. While reading, Muslimgauze track and album title references clarified such as “Sabra”, “Chatila”, and “Bourj-El-Barajneh” off of Jazirat-Ul-Arab (Limited Editions, 1987) , a reference to the “War of the Camps” during the 80′s, each track a name of a refugee camp in Lebanon where Palestinians were holed-up against multiple armies. “For Abu Jihad” off of Uzi (Parade Amoureuse, 1989) is a reference to the 1988 Israeli assassination of Khalil Wazir aka Abu Jihad, the number two man of the PLO. Now the album title, Vote Hezbollah (Soleilmoon, 1993) is probably a reference to the 1990 Ta’if agreement when the Lebanon war ended and warring factions ceded to a document of national understanding. All groups participated in the election and Hezbollah was the first to announce candidates in all constituencies. It is fitting that Pity the Nation was published when the Lebanon war ended.
The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East was published in 2005, well after Bryn Jones’ passing, but also happens to be one of the ultimate books to understand the politics behind Muslimgauze. Though Bryn Jones did not read this book, he likely did read more than one dispatch from Fisk’s awesome tenure that comprise it. To be clear, Fisk is a pacifist whereas Bryn Jones endorsed a people’s right to defend themselves and the two did not share views on how these conflicts could be resolved. In addition to the Lebanon civil war, Fisk was also dispatched to cover other conflicts such as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 to their withdrawal in 1989 and the subsequent power vacuum that led to the rise of the Taliban and the 2001 US invasion and occupation. Fisk reported all through these eras and even interviewed Osama Bin Laden three times and would have done so a fourth in 2001 if there was not so much US ordinance in the way. References of conflicts in Afghanistan occur multiple times with the first being “Kabul”, both the album and track title released in 1983.
Fisk also covered the Iranian revolution of 1979 that led to Gulf War 1, Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran that turned into an all out war between the two countries that lasted until 1988 with about a half million dead on both sides and no real change of the map. From there, Fisk covered 1991′s US invasion of Iraq via Operation Desert Storm as well as the 2003 invasion and occupation. While mainstream news sources used embedded journalists to report on US and allied casualties, Fisk stood outside Iraqi mortuaries in an attempt to take a census of Iraqi casualties. Fisk prefers not to be embedded, rather to travel with aid groups or use other routes. One of the more interesting comparisons Fisk makes is when he contrasts the US occupation of West Germany post World War 2 with that of Iraq. The Germans definitely were treated far better and the nation’s resources were handled far more carefully than Iraq’s. Track references to this region also occur in Muslimgauze such as the album and track title “Gulf Between Us”, but first appeared in Abu Nidal (Limited, 1987)
Fisk covers the Occupied Territories and the fiasco that was the so-called Oslo Peace Process which in reality only made life more difficult for Palestinians and led to further confiscation of their land and the second Intifada. Add to that, you have the Balkan conflict and the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia among other conflicts.
The Great War for Civilization is by no means a comprehensive history of Muslim-world conflicts, just observations from a man who just happened to be reporting from areas that Bryn Jones was concerned with. At 1300 pages, this book seems dauntingly long, but reads like an adventure novel as you are transported from one ‘hot zone’ to another. War is not glamorized, but shown as the failure of the human spirit that it is. Both the above books mentioned here are excellent and what heightens their value is the fact Fisk is a keen history enthusiast and constantly compares the present wars with historical ones going back to the crusades. He notes that politicians eager to declare war tend to be those who have no direct experience of it, nor much of a working knowledge of history.
The focal point of Muslimgauze is the Israel/Palestine conflict and it is a safe bet Bryn Jones read Noam Chomsky’s Fateful Triangle: The Americans, Israel, and the Palestinians. This is easily one of the best and most meticulous books on the topic as Chomsky first writes of pre-Israel Palestine then systematically catalogs Israeli atrocities from inception to whatever edition of the book you acquire. First published in 1983 following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon around that time, it went through several updated editions since.
Fateful Triangle makes it abundantly clear that the State of Israel who confiscated Palestinian land at gun and bomb point, was founded on injustice, and its continued existence depends on ongoing injustice, not just for the Occupied Territories but surrounding regions. i.e. Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, et al. The founding of the State of Israel and its continued existence is attributed in large part to US military and financial aid. Originally it was considered a base of operation to counter Soviet influence, but has subsequently become a Sparta state designed to keep the region in line and punish those who do not follow American interests. Not confined to serving America’s regional interests, the state of Israel handles tasks America does not want to get its hands dirty with lest public outcry become too great. For instance, Israel assisted the arming and training of South American death squads in Guatamala and Honduras during the 70′s. Israel has since grown into a state that places its own interests above the US as it moves to assert a greater startegy such as even wider regional control and occupation. Back to the Occupied Palestine, Fateful Triangle systematically shows how Israel expelled Palestinians from their homeland while herding remnants to the West Bank and Gaza where they were used as cheap pools of labor until the Intifadas occurred, effectively making Palestinians little more than a nuisance to Israel. One of the myths Chomsky dispels is the notion of Palestinian groups being rejectionist in peace agreements with Israel, when in fact the opposite is true. Far from seeking peaceful settlement, Israel seeks to erradicate not only within and around its so-called border, but any sentiment of Palestinian existence and make the people a crushed nation. Israel benefits from climates of conflict so it can justify more wars and territorial acquisition.
Half way through this book, my stomach turned at the ruthlessness and cruelty of Israel as Fateful Triangle is a catalog of human rights abuses. This book hit home that Bryn Jones’ disdain for Israel is not unfounded, his outrage well-substantiated and in light of these horrors, understated. Though Chomsky himself would not agree, to my mind, any two state solution with Israel would not work, especially now when Palestinians no longer have anything resembling a state.
Chomsky dryly relates facts in a systematic manner pausing for analysis before the next deluge. Here is an audio excerpt of Chomsky discussing Fateful Triangle.
While it is one thing to talk about injustice, it is another to narrate and bring a human dimension of what it is like to live under tyranny, enter Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights Under Siege by journalist for the Ha’aretz, Amira Hass. Hass is an Israeli who lives in Gaza and describes what it is like to live in one of the world’s largest Shtetl’s (ghettos), the daily indignities the populace face to be imprisoned in their own land, subject to checkpoint crossings, denied a viable economy, constant raids by Israel, denial of access to medical care or a functioning infrastructure for that matter, many things first class Israeli citizens take for granted. The reader gets the feeling of being at Hass’ elbow as the Gazan’s struggle to maintain their spirit and dignity under Israeli (mis)rule.
The publisher for the Muslimgauze book asked that I compile a list of people to send an advance copy for review. As was during Jones’ life those eager to read and write about the text still are underground digital and print publications (to whom I am grateful). The underground were always the backbone of Muslimgauze support and the only time the mainstream press paid any attention was when he died.
I put out some feelers to the mainstream media, but so far some are afraid to touch it out of the fear of the politics, particularly those who do not understand it. Now I can understand personal taste, I would not want to review a biography on Justin Bieber or Avril Lavigne’s, even if their ghost writer was the ghost of Lester Bangs. I figured the politics at least would prompt a visit to the library to help grasp the topic rather than consulting some cruddy Wikipedia entries.
Back when I wrote for Dusted Magazine, editor Otis Hart, instructed me to avoid any mention of politics when reviewing a Muslimgauze/The Rootsman collaboration disc. Hart stated specifically, “We don’t discuss politics, whatsoever.” The album in question was Al Aqsa Intifada. Sort of like saying, “When discussing Public Enemy, do not mention anything about African Americans”. Nice. It was amusing to read through the Dusted writers’ forums when they got into a Muslimgauze thread and took Jones’ interview quotes out of context whilst slamming him. Most had no clue what the ‘Gauze was on about. Though one Dusted writer did confide to me that he corresponded with Bryn and got a track from him for a compilation. Bryn sent a whole tape master and told him to select what track he liked then bounce the master back.
When I wrote for Exclaim! Magazine, I pitched the idea on a Muslimgauze piece to editor James Keast. He dismissed the pitch on grounds that Bryn Jones was dead, even though new (previously unreleased) masters continue to be put out. That very same editor wrote a feature piece on the long-dead Johnny Cash some time later. Go figure.
But some editor/publishers were not afraid to take on the topic, namely, ‘the Jews’. Normally, it should not matter what racial background one is when discussing topics, but in this case it does. Editor/Publisher of E/I Magazine Darren Bergstein, who is of Jewish extraction, was supportive when I pitched a feature story on Muslimgauze. At the time I wrote the feature piece, Bergstein told me he had just seen the Spielberg film, Munich, and subsequently wanted to burn his Muslimgauze collection. Luckily he mailed it to me instead. I have no problem with people like Bergstein having issues with Muslimgauze politics, because he has a right and at the end, he let me write what I wanted. With his guidance I put together a pretty decent feature article. Now there is a man of maturity and understanding.
Another (Jewish) publisher, Jason Gross of Perfect Sound Forever, was nothing but supportive for the Muslimgauze feature piece I wrote for them. There was no censorship, no “avoid discussion of politics”, just write the damn piece. It is thanks to these two editors that I was able to secure a book agreement since I had more information on the topic than feature articles could encompass. What the articles demonstrated was that a readership exists and people want to learn about the topic and its attendant politics.
Since I am on the topic of Jews, Josh Berger, who manages layout on the Muslimgauze book, not to mention having also been involved with the design of several Muslimgauze album designs and posters, is Jewish. A certain maintainer of a Muslimgauze fan site is also quite Jewish. Not all Jews support the State of Israel and their apartheid policies. Make no mistake, Israel is not the only state that does wrong, but since we are on the topic they are long-time vicious offenders.
Part of a journalists job is to attack the powerful and defend the weak. Avoiding a topic for fear of controversy is shameful. Even so-called mainstream news sources get their compass disoriented when discussing Israel and neighbouring state, according to one Globe and Mail editorial, calling Egyptian president Morsi, anti-Semetic. (If they have other names, fine–but at least know its meaning) If they had dictionaries and etymology texts in their offices, perhaps they would not make such errors. So let me help along and describe what an actual “Semite” is, because I do manage to visit libraries every now and then.
“Semite n. member of an ancient group of people including the Hebrews, Arabs, Phoenicians, Assyrians, etc. 1847, probably a back formation from Semetic, perhaps formed by influence of French Semite (1845 from late Latin Sem Shem, one of the three sons of Noah, regarded as the ancestor of Semites, from Greek, Sem, from Hebrew Shem…” (Barnhart, Robert K.. The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology. The H.W. Wilson Company, 1988. Print)
“Semetic: noun any group of Afro Asiatic languages including Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic, spoken by the Semites, a group of people said to be descended from Shem, the eldest son of Noah.” (Chambers 21st Century Dictionary. Edinburgh:Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd., 1999. Print)
“Semite: a member of any number of peoples of ancient Southwestern Asia including the Akkadians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, and Arabs. b) descendant of these peoples 3) member of modern people speaking a Semetic language.” (Merriam-Websters Collegiate Dictionary [11th edition]:USA, 2003. Print.)
“Semite: A member of any of the people supposedly descended from Shem, son of Noah including the Jews, Arabs, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Phoenicians.” (The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Print)
“Semite: A member of the group of Caucasoid peoples who speak a Semetic language including the Jews and Arabs as well as ancient Babylonians, Assyrians and Phoenicians.” (Collins English Dictionary. Aylesbury: Harper Collins, 1994. Print.)
“Semite: A member of a people speaking a Semetic language 2. A member of any peoples descended from Shem, the eldest son of Noah.” (Random House Websters College Dictionary. New York: Random House, 2001. Print)
Are we starting to get the picture? If not I can keep going, there are a lot more reference works I can cite. Semites are Arabs and Jews, among other peoples, but our media perverts language into baseless divisiveness. I am not sure why our language was hijacked, but we need to take it back to its true meaning to emphasize commonalities.