I’m not going to comment too much on the nature of orientalism, on the shallow exoticism of drawing from certain aspects of an unfamiliar culture for a cheap aesthetic experience except to say that if Bryn Jones, pseudonym Muslimgauze, is guilty of orientalism, it’s only in that he’s using the sounds of a particular culture as a vehicle for the political concerns of that culture. Sand-swept atmospheres and traditional instruments arranged into the guise of ambient and electronic music aren’t simply a gimmick here, but rather a means to conceptually explore the nature of Middle Eastern conflict, its colonialist roots, and the justification of violence for political ends. It might be better said then that the artistic output of Muslimgauze functions better as propaganda than as entertainment, not necessarily a bad thing.
is perhaps the most well-known of his vast catalogue of material, although why it should stand out among so many other albums that differ only in their stylistic leanings towards and away from Middle Eastern folk, ambient and industrial is a mystery. But whatever the reason for its notoriety relative to the rest of Muslimgauze’s discography, it’s as fine an introduction as any to this unique sound. The title track grooves in a way that draws less from traditional folk rhythms and more from the heady, head-bobbing sounds of dub and reggae, pulsating rhythms sidewinding through the sandy, tense atmosphere as oud melodies and clacking hand drums are laid thickly over a dim electronic pulse and snatches of mysterious vocal samples. Every Grain of Palestinian Sand cranks the electronic influence and the political tension, as a straightforward 4/4 beat intercut with the unmistakable clack of the bolt of an AK-47 and further vocal samples evolve into the humming drone of other traditional instruments. The album continues to ratchet up the sense of tension and urgency throughout Muslims Die India, as an ever-increasing tempo and a chilling death-rattle sample underscore the fear-laden atmosphere of the track within.
Bryn Jones, perennially preoccupied with Palestinian political problems, had, over his prolific and all-too-brief career, understood the nature of a particular aesthetic in mass media in a way that few are able to. Rather than a simple aestheticization of a culture, Jones has created an atmosphere that seeks to drop the listener into the mindset of these political issues; to ignore the politics behind them is to ignore the essence of his entire project. That it’s very easy to do so in the face of how well-constructed and immediately enjoyable as a desert-atmosphere mood piece the music is may be a mark against Muslimauze. But then, art must always remain open to interpretation, to the very real possibility that certain aspects of the project will be ignored in favor of shallow aesthetic enjoyment. If Bryn recognized that a wider audience would be found with an immediately pleasing aural experience, then any fault must lie with the selectively deaf ears of the listener. If nothing else, with the in-your-face politics of the album titles, Mullah Said
exists at the very least as an invitation to a deeper exploration, an insidiously political vehicle that, if you allow it to, might take you places you never really intended to go.