A Closer Listen list 'The Rustle of the Stars' in their 'Best 25 Winter Albums Of All Time' chart. Nice!
"The triumph and tragedy of the early explorers is lovingly outlined by Knox and Oberland in this bleak but emotionally satisfying opus. Occasionally a captain and crew would return from the polar regions outwardly victorious, but inwardly hollowed and hardened. These musicians find sympathy in their stories and inject empathy into their eulogies. The Rustle of the Stars imagines their hopes and their struggles as they wander into the great unknown."
Max Cooper has just released a remix of 'Sleeping Land' by the Rustle of the Stars. Available to stream and download for free.
Some words from Max:
"Your December free download is a remix, and an important piece of music to me personally. Partly because it was the result of a chance string of events driven by my love of the original track and a fortuitous meeting with Frederic D. Oberland, one half of The Rustle of the Stars with Richard Knox. And partly because I love the intensity and feeling of the original which I have tried to convey in my own way with little regard for the usual rules of making music - ambient strings arrangement at one end, and a drum and bass wall of sound at the other, because that's what I felt was required to communicate the emotions I found in the original piece, inspired by "a musical passage through the North Pole explorer diaries".
Here's what Richard and Frederic said about the original: "We would like to think of this as a polar journey to the ends of the earth through the arctic sea. We kept in mind the first polar expeditions, Edgar Allan Poe's Dream-Land, the ships trapped or crushed by ice, the point of no-return, the minds sinking, the attempt on the Pole ending in disaster, the quest of the Northwest Passage, Erebus & Terror, the Mercy Bay, Mangazeya, Charles Francis Hall, Beechey Island, the Midnight sun and the Polar night."
It's very winter-y. And I'm very pleased Richard and Frederic agreed to allow me to give the remix away for free to anyone who would like to hear it this Christmas!"
Here's a mixtape for these dark and foggy winter nights. It's part of the Gizehcast series and you can stream below or download for free here in iTunes.
1. Traditionalists: The Indestructible Drop by Secret Chiefs 3
2. Maximum Black by Bohren & Der Club Of Gore
3. Not Gone Is Seen by Kaboom Karavan
4. Blanket Of Ash by Mamiffer
5. The Immense Quiet Of The Dark Blue by d_rradio
6. Abyss by Fennesz & Sakamoto
7. After Love by Saaad
8. Fog Animal by Deaf Center
9. Mysteries by John Zorn
10. Asa Tru by Eyvind Kang
11. The Kiss by Harold Budd
12. Fading Lights Are Fading / Reign Rebuilder by Set Fire To Flames
13. Drunkard's Lament by Molasses
I've finally put together a bandcamp page and collected a bunch of recordings for consumption. Please feel free to take a listen and share with others who might be interested. There are some pay what you want downloads and links to buy vinyl / cd's should you wish. I'll be adding some new music to the page in the coming months.
I'm currently working on a handful of new Shield Patterns tracks which should be out in the first part of 2015 to coincide with some tour dates and I'm also in the early stages of formulating plans for some new Of Thread & Mist material for next year.
All the best for festive season and a happy new year.
Shield Patterns Discuss New Album & DIY Ethics! ” I Keep Trying To Call Tom Waits But He Won’t Pick Up”
We recently caught up with British electronic music newcomers Shield Patterns, made up of musicians Claire Brentnall and Richard Knox, to have a discussion regarding the duo’s inception, inspirations, aspirations, and everything else in between.
Their critically acclaimed debut album ‘Contour Lines‘, released earlier this year, is currently running as one of our favourite electronic releases of 2014 (which you MUST go and buy or listen to), and is now on the brink of finding a greater audience. But in the meantime, why not acquaint yourselves with this most promising of individuals.
You can check out more from Shield Patterns here.
HTF : How are you doing on this fine autumnal day?
RK: Quite well thanks, apart from the morning spent writing a press release. That’s not a job I enjoy.
CB: Good thank you! I’m writing from our studio in the hills.
HTF : Being fairly new to the scene, there are a lot of people who may still be unfamiliar with the group. How did you both meet, and how did Shield Patterns come about?
CB: I began writing, recording and producing music under name of Shield Patterns in late 2012. I’d always written music and had been in bands before, but making music alone was different. I think it suited me better, as I find it a pretty personal and introspective experience, as well as being a kind of catharsis. Music has always been a huge part of my life, and I knew that there was a lot that I wanted to make. I had all these ideas. I saved my wages and bought a bunch of equipment to record with in my flat. I’d work all night sometimes. I played my first show as Shield Patterns in May 2013, which is where I met Richard.
HTF : Your debut album ‘Contour Lines’ was released earlier this year, and, for me personally, is the best electronic album of the year thus far. Where was the album recorded? What was the songwriting process like? Did it all come naturally / conceptually, or were there any songs that were previously written?
CB: That is very kind! Contour Lines was recorded in our home studios, and we also went to a remote cottage in the Welsh countryside to record. Half of the songs are from the original material that I began recording and producing alone, (Ghost Words, Ruby Red, Carve the Dirt, Dead Air, The Rule) and the other half have been collaborative works between myself and Richard, with my friend and excellent electronic music producer Thinnen adding extra production to some of the tracks. The creative process for the entire album felt completely organic, and the collaborative works felt like a natural progression from the original solo pieces. I always feel open to trying new ideas and taking songs in unexpected directions, and working with Richard opened a lot of doors for me creatively. I feel that our music continues to evolve and we are writing new material, which is my favourite part of the process.
HTF : Claire, we noticed when we saw you guys live at Beyond The Redshift Festival, that you also play other instrumentation aside from electronics. Are you a classically trained musician, and if so what other instruments do you play? Also who are some of your personal musical influences?
CB : Indeed I was playing clarinet at Beyond the Redshift. Yes I was classically trained as a child and finished grades and that side of things when I was 14, and I played in orchestras and competed in performance competitions. I hated the exams! As for classical musical influences, I remember going to see Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester as part of A level music. The dynamics were amazing. I also like Francis Poulenc, his pieces for clarinet are pretty wild. I was lucky in that I grew up listening to what my parents listened to: Neil Young, PJ Harvey, Jefferson Airplane, Carole King, The Pixies. In my adult life, there is so much music out there that I love, but Thom Yorke has always been a big influence for me, and so is Joanna Newsom. I think Ys is one of my favourite records of all time.
HTF : Richard, looking at the live set up, we were quite astounded as to how much work goes within the performance. Could you give us a quick rundown of your live instrumentation setup? Also, how long have you been producing your own music?
RK: We decided fairly early on that we didn’t want to use a laptop on stage so the quest was to find a way to perform as much of it as we can live. We use various samplers and triggers. We both use an MPC for live sample play and mine is hooked up to a drum pad so I can play some of the beats with sticks. The vocals are split in two with a dry signal and then a wet signal which runs through my effects pedal board so I can manipulate the vocals as I see fit. Claire is playing keys, sampler and clarinet live and I also use a Korg synth for some of the bass lines. It’s quite busy in terms of a performance but it’s much more satisfying that way.
As for recording, I’ve always recorded, mixed and produced my own music. With Shield Patterns it was a bit different though as I’ve never worked with wholly electronic music before so that was a new challenge. I guess I went about it the same way as I always do and it turned out ok I think. There’s a lot of experimenting in there but then that’s usually the case with the way I work.
HTF : Are there any collective non-music based influences that have helped mould Shield Patterns?
CB: I find being outside and exploring new places a very important part of the creative process: I have to remove myself from where I am sometimes. I like going to galleries and seeing new things, I like Surrealism and the artwork of Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo. I like reading about psychoanalysis, and reading Freud and Jung. I studied fine art at the University of Leeds, so I suppose this kind of environment contributed to a way of thinking and creating that was quite free and all-embracing. But I also find a lot of inspiration in personal experience and emotion: love, loss, hate, guilt, regret, obsession, discovery, joy. The usual stuff!
HTF : Richard, one of the most endearing things about this album, is that it is a purely DIY based project that has come out on your own record label Gizeh Records. Can you tell us a bit more about your label and your opinion on the importance of the DIY ethic within independent music?
RK: I started Gizeh in the early 2000’s and it’s grown steadily ever since. It was never really my intention in the early days to run a record label, I just sort of kept releasing bits and pieces here and there, from friends mostly and then it suddenly felt like it had grown into something. Considering the current state of the music industry we’re doing ok. Distribution aside, everything is handled in house and we have no outside funding at all so it’s a fairly precarious situation almost all of the time. I like it that way though and I couldn’t ever imagine a time where a DIY ethic isn’t running through what I’m doing.
Being independent is hugely important in whatever you are doing in life. Music is no different. If more people took the time to learn as many skills as possible then there’s less chance of being screwed by people who only have their own interests and bank account in mind. I can’t understand bands who are unable to stand on their own feet without management or whoever guiding them along, it makes no sense why you wouldn’t want to maintain some degree of control over that.
The music industry is changing at an alarming rate. I feel like it’s the bands and labels at a low to mid / mid level that will suffer the most. These are the people who are trying to do something properly and by properly I mean trying to tour and sell records and do the stuff that is really hard now… basically trying to do it full time, which is what it takes to do it properly. I’m not talking about people who are happy to make a record in their bedroom and put it on bandcamp, sell a couple of downloads and go to a regular job everyday. Of course, there’s nothing at all wrong with that approach and I have a lot of respect for that but it’s when you are trying to get to the next step that’s the hardest – especially without a ton of money behind you.
There’s just too much music around now and there’s not enough room for everyone. The musical money pie is getting smaller and there are more people eating the damn pie, it doesn’t add up. It’s not just the bands either. It’s the label, the distributer, the shops, the booking agent, the manager, the sound engineers, the tour managers, the techs… everyone is suffering and fighting to make ends meet.
There is a lot of great music being made but people won’t hear about it because their label doesn’t have enough money to pay for a PR company to be able to get the press coverage they need to succeed.
I could talk about this all day but I won’t bore you any further… perhaps it’s for another interview that one!
HTF : What are your feelings and opinions on the current state of electronic music and its diversity over the decades? And how do you both individually identify where Shield Patterns stand in the middle of all this?
RK: I have no idea where we stand to be honest. That’s for other people to decide and maybe easier to answer in 10 years time. I feel like were doing something interesting and we’re pushing ourselves forward, that’s it really. I honestly don’t pay enough attention to be able to comment on the current state of electronic music. I keep finding new records that I like so I guess that’s a good thing but there’s also a lot of music I hear which makes me want to run naked into the hills and never come back.
HTF : How has the reception been for ‘Contour Lines’ so far, and how has it translated in the live environment so far this year?
RK: I think it’s been fairly well received – in fact you, yourself gave it a very positive review, for which we are very humbled! We had some great reviews actually, which is a relief as you never know how it going to go. Some people who have written about the record seem to have really understood it and that’s really nice. The shows have been good for the most part. I feel like we have a pretty nice show now and we’ve figured out how to play things in a slightly more comfortable way and hopefully with more confidence. It always takes some time but I’m excited to play these shows in November, I love being on the road.
HTF : Going to a live show is a feeling unlike any other so what have been some of your favourite gigs that you have both been to?
RK: Hauschka was a mind blower recently for sure. Going back a bit I’d say The National at Nottingham Rescue Rooms, The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev together at the Octagon in Sheffield, Godspeed You Black Emperor and Sigur Ros together at the Cockpit in Leeds… far too many to keep going.
CB: I thought FKA Twigs at the Dancehouse Theatre Manchester this year was brilliant. I have so much love and respect for her music and for her as an artist: she’s doing something really interesting. I have seen loads of great shows too but another favourite one for me was Sigur Ros at Jodrell Bank.
HTF : Also, who would you like to see yourselves supporting in the near future?
RK: I keep trying to call Tom Waits but he won’t pick up.
CB: Radiohead would be a dream support for me!
HTF : Lastly, we would like to thank you both for taking the time out of your schedules to answer these questions, it is sincerely appreciated! So as a final question, what can we expect from Shield Patterns in 2015, and have you both any sage words of wisdom, advice, or philosophical know how to share with us all?
CB: Thank you! I suppose I’d like to say that making matters, and I am very aware of how lucky I am that I am able to choose to make music. Finding a voice and a platform for expression has changed a lot for me. Embrace what makes you feel fulfilled, make time for doing the things that matter to you, and let’s be good to each other!
RK: Thanks for taking the time to write the questions. We’re working on some new music which will hopefully see the light of day in the first part of 2015 and there’s a European tour in the works also. But let me wrap the interview up with this :
“Don’t plant your bad days. They grow into weeks. The weeks grow into months. Before you know it you got yourself a bad year. Take it from me. Choke those little bad days. Choke ‘em down to nothin’. They’re your days. Choke ‘em.” – Tom Waits.
BY ZACHARY CORSA FOR A CLOSER LISTEN
You often hear people speak about a turning point in their lives, a great awakening following a tragedy or a moment of sudden joy and clarity eclipsing all that came before. The survival of the car crash, the cold turkey quitting of the booze, the first kiss, landing the dream job. For those blessed (or cursed) with creative inclinations, often this pivot point arrives in the form of the discovery of a new artist that makes you reconsider the entire topography not just of the art form itself, but of everything that lies around you and how it can be interpreted. Whatever comes after tends to define your career as well as yourself, your own indelible mark on this lifetime.
College was a tumultuous time for me. Mentally, physically, romantically and existentially. Like many around me, I was still very much figuring out who I was in the wake-wave of all this new knowledge and cultural experience. By 2007, I had grown jaded with the concept of higher education and how it applied to my future, and was moving towards a realization that I was more interested in making music than anything I was attending school for. I still wasn’t sure what kind of music I wanted to make, exactly, and that golden revelation wouldn’t arrive for two or three more years. However, an important step in this direction came, typically, with a job at a record store.
I’m going to be careful not to romanticize here. The store was an unprofitable little nook that specialized in noise music and metal, in a small college town in an isolated mountain region that was giving more ground each day to boneheaded frat-bros over hippies. My job there was largely boring, messing about on the internet and uploading our store’s albums to eBay while we pulled in at best fifty dollars a day or so. The stock was impressive, but no one seemed much to care.
This was in the days of CD burning rather than downloading as the best way to acquire new music. The shop computer’s media player held a great deal of music I had never heard, including a band with intriguing black and white cover photography that a quick Google search told me was directly off-shot from one of my current new fascinations, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Alone in my dorm room that year (I had ended up sans roommate for awhile when my assigned roommate moved off campus at the start of the semester), I managed to creep myself out delightfully to the strains of F#A#oo, sometimes at the expense of making it to class on time.
Now here were these two new albums to delve into by a collective comprised of a few Godspeed members and others, stumbled upon long after Godspeed’s first phase had ended in extended hiatus. I excitedly burned them onto discs and raced back to the dorm after work to devour them. How my life would be different now if I had perhaps been out of CD-Rs that day, I’ll never know.
The Set Fire To Flames albums are sprawling, massive affairs. The first runs over seventy minutes, the second damn near ninety sprawled across two discs. They’re accompanied by haunting black and white photographs by Michael Ackerman. The cover of Sings Reign Rebuilder depicts a house nearly enveloped in shadow and beset by cold decay, while Telegraphs In Negative/Mouths Trapped In Static shows a young girl blurred in a halo of light. If images alone are enough to draw someone into listening to an album, this sure did the trick on me. These were the first real albums to impress upon me the album as an “entire package”, with cover art given just as much importance as the music within. Years later, I find my own photography, often used for my own music’s cover art, imitating these ghostly, antique-looking images. I have never seen cover art for an album more perfectly suited to the music within than in the case of Set Fire To Flames. My worship began before I even clicked play.
But the music was perhaps even more influential. Awash with ambient noise and samples of dialogue from the apparently mentally ill and homeless, one could immediately draw Godspeed comparisons and leave it at that. But the thrust of this project was more singular, more focused than the epic heights Godspeed aspired towards. These albums were recorded spontaneously improvised by musicians isolating themselves in a specific environment, reportedly depriving themselves of sleep and sobriety for long stretches at a time. In the case of Sings, this was a historic Montreal brothel on the verge of the wrecking ball. For Telegraphs, an isolated rural barn.
I have still never heard anything like these albums. The complete disregard for banal ideals of ‘professional’ editing are astounding and fascinating. It’s like listening in to someone’s private activities in the best possible way. Throughout, chairs creak, musicians whisper, footsteps sound, and dogs bark. Beats stop and start awkwardly, then find a groove and continue for a moment before dissipating, the impermance of such gorgeous concision forgotten. Never before had I heard something that was so clearly musicians in a room, walking around, picking up things and playing for a few minutes before moving on again to something else. The refusal to edit out passing cars and other neighborhood sounds, to let them become a breathing part of the whole recording process, was captivating. I had never considered anything but pristine studio recording as an option before these albums. You could record in a house and leave all those noises intact? This was the start of something falling into place for me that would crystallize a few years later, upon forming Lost Trail. To say it was a revelation would be a grand understatement.
The songs themselves range from rumbles of ominous static and tape noise to lovely passages of intertwined violin, cello and guitar, all bathed in eerie reverb. But perhaps the most thrilling moment for me was a standalone phone conversation, “Mouths Trapped In Static”, included near the end ofTelegraphs. A man (perhaps one of the musicians, as he mutters that he’s standing near a light truck) notes exhaustion to a concerned lover or spouse. “I don’t want to be here, I want to be with you”. The decision to not include any music behind this snatch of dialogue is brilliant and bold. The exchange stands on its own as a beautiful piece of music all the same. The conversation begins to cut out and distort, and is gone like so many spectral melodies here.
As time goes on, I see so much of what I do with my own art in these albums, from the dialogue samples to the use of static, even moving to an old house to record and leaving intact all the ambient noise of both house and neighborhood. Set Fire To Flames shaped something inside of me that defines who I am, as the best music is apt to do, and I have their brilliance to thank for whatever I accomplish in art. Their inspiration has poured forth into everything that I create and call my own, hopefully far short of appropriation and far closer to simple love for their work.
Set Fire To Flames have regrettably fallen quiet following an unreleased third album I’d probably sell my firstborn child to hear (just kidding, but maybe not really). They’re perhaps doomed to be remembered only by a small, fervent cult as an act that had just two masterpieces in them before flaming out. They will forever be under-appreciated. But maybe, hopefully, they’ll continue to enlighten other confused young musicians as the years go on, bored in their record stores and waiting impatiently for their shift to end to race back to their dorms to discover something magical.(Zachary Corsa)
Reposted from Chicago Reader.
The Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. front man produced a prodigious catalog of stark and heartbreaking music.
Then he disappeared. By Max Blau
Taken from: https://www.musicworks.ca/featured-article/restless-art-radwan-ghazi-moumneh
It’s Friday night in Montreal, and a who’s who of local musicians is packed into the back room of Casa del Popolo to check out the first public appearance of Master of Masters My Master. Nobody knows anything about the music they are about to hear. All they have to go on is an event page on Facebook. But this is the latest project from Radwan Ghazi Moumneh, founder of Jerusalem In My Heart and house producer at the celebrated Montreal recording studio Hotel2Tango, and in this city, news of a Moumneh performance has a currency all its own.
In their first live show, Master of Masters My Master collaborators Moumneh and Alexei Perry-Cox (of the defunct duo Handsome Furs) create a synth-heavy, industrial-strength loop cycle distinguished by the latter’s poetically inclined, clenched-teeth whispers. As Perry-Cox explains later, the performance was not a finished product but, rather, the trial-and-error of a continuous experiment. The previous week, a similar collaboration took place at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art, where Moumneh and local indie band Suuns reprised a spontaneous film score they had debuted at the 2013 edition of Pop Montreal.
Moumneh is what you’d call a musician’s musician—someone whose accomplishments garner an uncanny respect from those similarly involved in the craft. But to most music fans, he remains a bit of an enigma. Jerusalem In My Heart’s debut album, Mo7it al-Mo7it, emerged in 2013 after eight years of the project’s existence as the live incarnation of an evolving conceptual audiovisual experiment. Beyond that, his name pops up in a raft of transient collaborations with unlikely artists. To fans of Montreal hardcore, Moumneh was the controversial lead singer of screamo bands IRE and The Black Hand, before mysteriously leaving the scene behind at the peak of his punk popularity.
So just who is Radwan Ghazi Moumneh? By his own admission, he hasn’t followed the career trajectory typical of a professional musician, and his accomplishments may seem erratic as a consequence. But in the context of his rich life story, Moumneh’s work and values crystallize in a way rarely evidenced on the surface of his music.
The matter of where you are and where you want to be is significant to understanding how Radwan Moumneh operates. “A lot of people leave home not because they want to, but because they have to,” Moumneh says, early in our conversation at Hotel2Tango Studios, where he spends most of his days producing and engineering albums for others. He co-owns the studio, but as he readily admits, the building’s ten-year mortgage will be paid down eighteen months from now. “After that, I’m ready to move on.”
If Moumneh, who is nearing forty, is forever restless, it may be because he’s been on the move from the very beginning. Born in 1975 at the outset of Lebanon’s civil war, he has lived in exile for his entire life. “We moved immediately after I was born. We went to the first country that gave my father a visa, which was the Sultanate of Oman in the [Persian] Gulf [area]. We stayed there sixteen years.” A foreigner in a country that hadn’t yet figured out how to handle the influx of Arabs flooding in from other conflict-ravaged regions of the Middle East, Moumneh was, at first, only allowed to attend the Hindi schools available to Oman’s traditional servant class. “I felt like I was in this tornado of mixed cultures,” he recalls. “From Grades One to Three we were forced to go to an Indian school. We learned to speak Hindi in an Arab country. It was a very confusing period.”
The decision to relocate to Canada was made in 1993, after all other options had fallen away. After sixteen years in Oman, Moumneh’s father had come to accept that the Sultanate would never grant his family the citizenship they needed to start a business. Meanwhile, Lebanon’s civil war had ended only two years earlier and the situation on the ground was still very fragile. Moumneh’s father accepted an offer to settle in Laval, a suburb of Montreal, but like many other Arab immigrants of their generation, Moumneh’s parents had trouble bridging the vast divisions between the Lebanese and Canadian ways of life. “For my father, it didn’t last very long—three, four years. He didn’t like it. He decided to go between Beirut and Montreal. By the six-year mark, he decided it was safe enough to move back.” But for Radwan, Montreal had opened a door onto a creative world filled with possibilities. “I was in my early to mid-twenties. I’d started playing music. I wanted to go to audio-engineering school, and I was playing in a punk hardcore band with my friends. I wanted to tour. I had all these ambitions about being in music. I didn’t want to go back to work with my father, which would have been the case.” When his entire family moved back to Lebanon, Moumneh decided to stay and see where music took him.
Hardcore Will Never Die
“I bought those cassettes in 1994–95, and I can still listen to them,” Moumneh remembers fondly of hardcore punk bands The Misfits and Suicidal Tendencies, which captured his imagination and led him to forge his own path. “From that point on, I listened to punk music and I had punk ethics. That is so closely tied with what I do now, thematically, even though there’s been an evolution.”
The Montreal hardcore scene of the ’90s was primed for new voices and new directions. Moumneh’s first real band, IRE, featured Jeff Feinberg, guitarist for Boston hardcore act Converge, who had recently relocated to Montreal and formed the crust-punk–hardcore band with former Foreground guitarist Patrick Fontaine and drummer Eric Fillion (best known, these days, for founding and curating the invaluable Tenzier label, which releases archival recordings from long-forgotten Québécois avant-garde artists).
In IRE, Moumneh first began to explore his relationship to a past directed by larger geopolitical forces. By taking up the microphone in that context, he embraced a creative outlet that called upon him to speak his mind for the first time. “In that style, you had to have something to say. There was already this whole political aspect to it, so for me it became very important to write an Arabic song, to have these be sort of milestones in punk culture—Arabic songs talking about the Palestinian–Zionist problem.” Though initially reluctant, the rest of IRE agreed to Moumneh’s idea, and released a well-received seven-inch recording of the song “Atfal al-Hejara,” which led to the band’s 1996 debut album, Adversity Into Triumph, and an eponymous EP on Michigan’s short-lived Schema Records in 1997. The band released two albums before Feinberg returned to the United States. From the ashes of IRE rose The Black Hand, whose combination of crust-laden hardcore and Israeli–Palestinian politics continued to attract attention with album titles such as War Monger (2002) and song titles such as “Shit Treaty of Zion.” The band’s position on the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories meant that controversy followed the band wherever it travelled. “We walked right into what you would expect from these things,” Moumneh says of those years. “When you’re young, you’re insensitive to a lot of things. It started with one seven-inch, but it remained as my statement.”
Moumneh’s discovery of his political voice soon collided with a world that was dramatically changing in the early 2000s. “9/11 and the Second Intifada raised the volume of the discourse. There was a lot of debate around it in the States, and especially in Europe. One of our shows was shut down by German activists. Twenty-five anti-fascist kids stormed the stage and wouldn’t let us play because they wanted to fight us. To them we were fascists, neo-Nazis, because we were equating Zionism with terrorism.” The toll of the message was beginning to wear on his bandmates as well. “They were supportive—but in the long run, they weren’t ready to take on my cause as their own, night in and night out, ” Moumneh admits.
By its 2004 European tour, the band had decided to break up. “I left Montreal for that tour with all my stuff packed, and instead of coming back to Canada I went on straight to Beirut. I was done with being here. I wanted to be with my family. I felt this total disconnect with Canadian living.”
Jerusalem In His Heart
Whether Moumneh had valorized his Lebanese roots to the point of alienation as a reaction to life alone in Canada after his family left is a murky question to ponder. What is more apparent is that this act of compensation was part of a larger identity crisis universal to emigrants. But when he returned to Beirut to resume the life that had been interrupted by the civil war so many years before, the illusive ideal he’d been building collided with reality. “I brought my computer, my soundcard, my amp—everything I wouldn’t be able to get there. I shipped everything else I owned. I became a citizen of Beirut. And when I got there, I worked in my father’s gas station. We’d have every second Sunday off, and work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. I did that for a little under a year. It was not the Lebanese life I’d envisioned.” When Moumneh returned to Montreal a year later, ostensibly to visit friends, a quick trip turned into a jarring contrast in life choices. “All of a sudden I realized the luxury we have (in Canada), and I just felt lucky to not have to work seventy-five hours a week to barely pay rent.” Back in Montreal, surrounded by people who valued his creative abilities, Moumneh found the revelation he’d been seeking in Lebanon.
It helped that old connections in the Montreal music community were eager to give him a platform for new ideas. At the time, Gary Worsley, cofounder of Alien8 Recordings and a fan of The Black Hand, was curating a bill for an upcoming show at Casa del Popolo. When Moumneh expressed interest in presenting a new project, Worsley offered him a stage. “I was aware Radwan was moving in a new direction, and this was a great opportunity to see and hear the project live,” Worsley recalled. “I was intrigued to see what had become of Radwan since our musical past lives.”
The show proved to be a 180-degree turn from the hardcore on which Moumneh had built his reputation. He named his new project Jerusalem In My Heart (JIMH), after an album of the same name by the famous Lebanese classical singer Fairouz. The name spoke at once to his connections to Lebanon and doubled as a statement on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, which had been so central to his creative practice from the beginning. “I was going to try this weird guitar playing in an Arabic style. I’d noodled in that style before, but since I’d always been a singer, my main focus had been lyrics. There was no vocal component in JIMH at that point. I wanted the visual aspect to be the words. I had this collection of images of the infamous massacre at Sabra and Shatila, very gory images, bodies torn to pieces, and so that was projected while I was playing this guitar.”
Though the thread of his political message had remained relatively intact, Moumneh’s shift from punk-rock chaos to conceptual installation art couldn’t have created a more dramatic contrast. Worsley recalls: “I spoke with a number of older friends from the IRE days that evening. We were all surprised but happy to see Radwan successfully transcend genres.”
After years of personal exploration that led into unknown territory, Moumneh was newly invigorated by JIHM. “I just let my imagination go where it wanted to go, which involved creating these events that became quite extravagant and theatrical. JIMH became about doing live set pieces that changed with every performance and never held back.” It wasn’t uncommon to see upwards of forty people onstage at a JIMH show.
Since its inception in 2005, JIMH has steadily evolved into an amalgamation of traditional Arabic signatures with Western electronics and experimentation. The project also advanced at an incongruous pace, and the installations remained largely ephemeral; very few of Moumneh’s central ambitions from 2005 to 2012 were ever recorded. “At the time, I had no commitments to anybody,” Moumneh explains. “I didn’t have a record, label, manager, or booking agent. So I just did things when I felt it was time to do them— which was about once every ten months.”
The Anti-Careerist’s Career
JIMH’s creative output has been fashioned in opposition to what most other artists would consider a professional career, mostly because Moumneh himself is a busy and successful music-industry professional. In 2007, after manning the mixing boards at the Montreal venue Sala Rossa for two years, he partnered with Constellation Records, Harris Newman, Howard Bilerman, Thierry Amar, and Efrim Menuck (the latter two of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion fame) to purchase a building in the Mile End district that is now one of Montreal’s most storied musical hubs. The building is home to Constellation and to Newman’s highly regarded Grey Market Mastering studio, as well as Hotel2Tango, a recording studio jointly owned and operated by Moumneh, Bilerman, Amar, and Menuck. In its eight-year existence, Hotel2Tango has grown into what is arguably Canada’s most sought-after studio—Arcade Fire, King Khan & BBQ, Timber Timbre, and Tony Conrad leading a long list of Constellation-affiliated and Montreal-based musicians who have worked there.
“My approach to JIMH is the 180-degree opposite of the production work I do at Hotel2Tango,” Moumneh admits. “We record a lot of pop stuff here—I’m good at it, but I don’t go home and listen to rock records.”
It’s not a stretch to say that Moumneh’s post-hardcore musical evolution follows a path similar to forebears such as Brian Eno, Todd Rundgren, or Connie Plank: the producer-musician deeply adept at shaping and communicating the more commercial ideas of others, but attracted to the extremities of experimentation and the spontaneities of collaboration when left to his own devices. And so, it seems fitting that here at Hotel2Tango—where he feels so physically comfortable yet aesthetically removed—our conversation finally turns to JIMH’s debut album, Mo7it Al-Mo7it, long-awaited before at last being released in 2013, after much prodding from friends and from Constellation Records. It’s a subject Moumneh treats with great complexity and trepidation: “I didn’t think the concept was strong enough to [be] put out [on] a record—contribute to music history—and not have it be bullshit. The harsh reality is that I work in the music business and not everybody’s art is good. Stuff leaves here and it’s well done, but are you really adding anything to the history of the art? You’re just making a record, which is fine; and the flipside is that people are making masterpieces that nobody will ever hear about, which is heartbreaking.”
Professional musicianship, I propose to him, involves a certain amount of duress, things that must be done to get ahead. It seems to me that Moumneh, through his producer’s chair, had managed to find a side door into a freedom that most of his peers don’t get to experience. It’s a notion he’s not entirely comfortable with. “There’s also the perspective that you’re not taking any risks by doing it this way,” he counters. “You’re only playing the safe moves. It’s easy to be uncompromising when you don’t have anything to lose.”
Mo7it Al-Mo7it came about because Moumneh had more to gain than to lose. “I wanted to present JIMH outside of Montreal, and talked to Don and Ian [at Constellation] about helping me with that, and they said it would be hard to sell it with no record. Sure enough, everyone we spoke to in Europe said the same thing. So I finally came to the conclusion that the time had come to commit to a record, so I could turn JIMH into a touring project.” Moumneh had already been working with the Chilean filmmaker Malena Szlam Salazar for several years, and had wanted to collaborate with the French electronic producer Jérémie Regnier for some time. The trio joined the Constellation fifteenth anniversary tour in Leipzig, Germany, and from there continued on a small tour together.
With all the discipline of a veteran producer, the process of recording was key to making the right statement. “I had to do it in a very specific way for it to feel right. I’d get up at four or five in the morning and record it in my kitchen. It’s all done on my laptop, and two of the pieces—the improvised acoustic pieces—were recorded at friends’ houses. Those weren’t recorded for the album; they were recorded for rehearsals; and the performance was strong enough that I wanted to include that vibe. I recorded them on my phone and edited it from there. Those recordings had a passion that would’ve been impossible to capture using a $15,000 microphone to record a $20,000 harp. The spirit of the session, to me, outweighs the technical.”
Mo7it al-Mo7it is about as anti-studio as Moumneh could go; Hotel2Tango was at his disposal, but its proximity to his work life felt too close. “It was an aesthetic decision. This is a very expensive luxury to record at this studio, so when people come here, because of the pressure of how much it costs, everyone ends up being so precious about everything. And I can count on three fingers the number of artists who’ve passed through here who understand that preciousness is pointless. So I wanted to get away from that. I wanted to go on instinct.”
Setting the Record Straight
And so we arrive at the present moment, which—given Radwan Moumneh’s resolutely instinctive approach—is hard to define. The mortgage on Hotel2Tango is almost paid off. He is constantly scheming for a way to move his life back to Lebanon. The trick, he tells me, is to find a way to do it without sacrificing in the process all he has gained in freedom and creativity. When I ask about his most engrossing project these days, he tells me he wants to produce a film adaptation of an obscure book by a dead Lebanese writer.
All of which is to say, Moumneh’s plans for the future sound, unsurprisingly, drastically different from the successes he’s accumulated thus far. He’s restless, nearing forty, and looking, once again, to reinvent himself.
If he were to leave Canada to begin a new chapter of his creative life elsewhere, there would be at least one clear repercussion: Montreal and its many musicians would be affected most of all. As Alexei Perry-Cox says, “Radwan makes this a far more interesting and more feasible place to play music,” a sentiment also reflected by Gary Worsley. “Radwan has been a key member of whatever musical scene he has been a part of since I first met him,” he says. “Throughout those years, he has amassed many allies in the community, from so many different areas, be it producing recordings, doing sound at live gigs, or his countless collaborations with other people on recordings and in live endeavours.”
With nearly two decades as a musician under his belt, Moumneh has gotten pretty far on instincts. If there were any fears that releasing a JIMH album would temper the transience of his approach to date, a list of his upcoming commitments quickly dispels them. Beyond his collaborations with Suuns and Master of Masters My Master, JIMH is rehearsing with a new lineup for dates across Canada in the Spring and early Summer of 2014, followed by dates in Europe and the Middle East.
Increasingly, Moumneh’s natural role as an ambassador between Western festivals and the burgeoning Lebanese experimental music community has come to the fore, as festival directors from Montreal, France, and beyond invite him to curate events featuring the best of his homeland’s emerging community. And Irtijal—a free-jazz infused collective of Beiruti musicians who run an annual festival for experimentation—have asked Moumneh to curate a showcase of international performers.
Whether or not he makes good on his claims to move back to Lebanon for good, we shall have to see. We all have places that inspire us and places where we do our best work, and those places aren’t always one and the same. In the end, this is the central dilemma that has guided Moumneh’s career from the beginning. After two decades of creative deliberation, he may not have found a fitting resolution to this central problem in his life, but he has figured out how to use the dynamic of identity to his greatest advantage.