Muslimgauze

Do you have to have an informed, strongly-held opinion about Zionism to enjoy Muslimgauze’s music?

(Muslimgauze is the name that the late artist Bryn Jones released his electronic music under.)

We might imagine a sort of brand colosseum with Bryn Jones’ music. At the center of this “brand colosseum” is Jones’ perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. From Wikipedia:

Jones originally claimed Muslimgauze was formed in response to Operation Peace of the Galilee, Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon to stem attacks from Palestinian Liberation Organization guerrillas stationed in South Lebanon. This event inspired Jones to research the conflict’s origins, which grew into a lifelong artistic focal point, and he became a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, and often dedicated recordings to the Palestinian Liberation Organization or a free Palestine. Jones’s research further grew to encompass other conflict-ridden, predominantly Muslim countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya, Iran, and Iraq. He concluded that Western interests for natural resources and strategic-political gain were root causes for many of these conflicts and should Western meddling halt, said regions would stabilise.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslimgauze

Your finger will get tired from scrolling down the list of Muslimgauze albums in Spotify (or one of the several excellent overview/guides to Bryn’s music) and then Spotify will load a whole other set of 30 albums into the view and you’ll probably give up on scrolling before you reach the end of Spotify’s partial discography.

If there was ever an artist who embodies the Cowpathing approach, it’s Bryn Jones. He died of a blood disease at age 37, and before that he released around 2,000 tracks spread across 90 albums. He explored widely within the electronic music genre. You could listen to an album like Zul’m and think you’re hearing something somewhat exploratory from a mainstream EDM artist and you could listen to Azazzin and think you’re hearing an un-released b-side of Coil’s Time Machines and you could listen to Uzi Mahmood or Mullah Said and know that you are listening to an artist coming from a definite perspective.

Do we need to buy into Bryn Jones’ perspective on the Middle East in order to get value from his music? Do we need to agree with him to enjoy his music?

I’m pretty sure most of us, me included, would answer that question with a simple “no”.

You might enjoy the aesthetics of the music and not care about the opinions of the dead person who made the music.

You might hear a track playing at a hip restaurant, use Shazam to look it up, and play and enjoy a few more tracks from the same album while being completely, blissfully unaware that the artist was a vocal opponent of Western involvement in the Middle East.

If you enjoyed the music and dug a bit deeper and discovered Bryn’s political views, you might forget about them and keep on enjoying the music without giving them much thought.

Alternately, you might discover Bryn’s political views and find this enhances your enjoyment of the music.

Maybe you’d even have an emotional experience because of this discovery and become a true fan both because you enjoy the music and because you feel some resonance with the artist’s political views.

The thing is, all of these possible responses are up to you. If Bryn Jones — through being vocal about his political views or letting that perspective influence his music or both — extended an invitation for us to buy into being supporters of the Palestinian cause, it’s totally up to us whether we actually buy in or not, or whether we even care.

We’re free to enjoy (or not enjoy!) Muslimgauze music with or without this buy-in.

There’s a call to humility for those who construct a brand colosseum: you’re extending an invitation to buy into the idea at the center, not sending out a press-gang.

And there’s a freedom in this: people can buy and benefit from the contents of the ring of commerce in a simple, uncomplicated way. Maybe their encounter with something in that ring of commerce draws them further into the colosseum and sparks curiosity about the idea that lies at the center. Or maybe it doesn’t! Maybe they just buy and benefit from the thing in the ring of commerce and move on without buying in to the idea at the center.

That seems totally fine.

-P

Extended postscript: Plenty of artists of all sorts are “political”, but I don’t see so many of them having a coherence between their political perspective and their music in the way you see with Muslimgauze. Part of what the idea at the center of the brand colosseum does is give coherence to the products or services offered in the ring of commerce. (I’m looking at this idea of coherence through the metaphor of music, and I hope it’s a useful one.) Bryn Jones experimented widely, so a lot of his music is borderline unlistenable stuff that other artists would never release. So this coherence I speak of is variable across those 2,000 Muslimgauze tracks, but I think it’s there in the same way it is with someone like Woody Guthrie or Bruce Cockburn.

PPS: One of the top 10 most terrifying experiences of my life involved headphones, DMT, and track 3 of Coil’s Time Machines.

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