In the annals of the insanely prolific, Bryn Jones, aka Muslimgauze, may stand alone. Having produced close to 100 releases between 1982 and his death in 1999, that number (including re-issues) has now more than doubled. That puts him up (and beyond) in the rarified category of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, Bill Laswell, Bill Nelson, Jandek and other pathologically prolific musicians, most of whom can’t touch the coattails of his discography. It’s actually even more impressive considering that the others were either much older at their passing or are still around and releasing records. The man was clearly driven by a profound need to create.
The volume of Muslimgauze’s work is just a small part of a complex scenario. The urgency of his prolifigy was at the very least least double-edged. Obviously he had an unquelchable mass of music bottled up inside and the means to let it out. But Bryn Jones was also a man with a Cause; he was intensely, some would say militantly pro-Palestinian, and Muslimgauze was viewed by some as virtually the musical wing of the PLO. Wading into the on-going Israeli/Palestinian conflict is obviously a thorny path, but it became one of his choses ones. Jones’ interests were, in fact, much broader, and included an on-going concern for issues of sovereignty, freedom, equality and justice throughout the world at large, especially in the Third and Muslim Worlds. He was a long-time student of the politics of oppression, and vocal in his support of groups that some consider freedom fighters, other terrorists. This was a stance that garnered him huge respect in some quarters and, naturally, great enmity in others.
You won’t find any voices extolling any particular political cause on a Muslimgauze record, other than a occasional sampling of a newscast, speech or “ethnic” voice or snippet of music–in fact, you’ll find almost no human voices at all. The politics are more inferential, but also show up prominently in song-titles and on cover art: Cout D’Etat features images of Ayatollah Kohemani on the front and Moammar Kadafi on the back, willfully provocative (some would say naive) images guaranteed to exhilarate one audience while alienating another. I certainly don’t know his deepest beliefs, but we can only hope that they included a wish for freedom from oppression for ALL peoples, everywhere, irregardless of…well, anything.
One of electronic music’s true visionaries, Muslimgauze produced a multi-tiered body of work that would take a devoted musicologist years to grapple with. As likely to be percussive as electronic, he created a new language that sucked together everything from dub, ambient, tribal and house to industrial, electro-acoustic, cut-and-paste and drone. Particularly striking are his extensive, body and soul altering forays into a highly personal fusion of Middle Eastern and North African (but also Asian, Native American, etc.) sounds, sometimes sampled and sometimes not, sometimes percussive, sometimes electronic, sometimes both; frequently harsh, sonically provocative, frequently unsettling, almost always intense, by no means for the timid. Muslimgauze’s low end could cripple a crap sub-woofer, while the high end could set dogs barking blocks away. His recording mastery was intuitive and highly evolved, his musical vision seemingly endlessly hungry to create new variations.
Although he evidently spent most of a decade and a half holed up in one studio or another, he occasionally collaborated with contemporaries, including Systemwide, Apollon, Bass Communion and Sons of Arqa. He also DJ’d a bit, occasionally played live and gave interviews now and then, but it was really all about making and releasing music. He released 16 albums in 1998, and in the year of his death, 1999, there were a total of 22 releases marked Muslimgauze. He had releases on at least 32 labels.
Bryn Jones died suddenly, quickly, unexpectedly from a rare blood infection in 1999. Over 100 Muslimgauze records have been released since his death, some as reissues, most of it previously unreleased material. Even in death, the obsession continues.