Posts Tagged ‘Gaza’

7"/DL – Not on label – 16th November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Pharoah Chromium’s Gaza was one of the most remarkable, and incredibly powerful releases of 2016: an audio collage constructed primarily with audio captured during during operation Protective Edge in Palestine in July and August 2014, it was a document of life in a war zone.

The press release which accompanies this 7” vinyl-only release, described as ‘a spoken word record with a sonic background’ explains that ‘Quatre heures à Chatila’ is a continuation of the Gaza project’, although this time the focus is on ‘the massacres that took place in the refugee camps Sabra and Shatila over the course of three days in September 1982, in Beirut, Lebanon’.

Of the Gaza LP, I suggested that context was everything, and this is also true here, as the accompanying text explains: ‘In an eerie twist of fate, one the most talented and subversive writers of the 20th century happened to be visiting Beirut at the time these gruelling events occurred. He was one of the first foreigners to enter the camps and witness the carnage. His text “4 hours in Shatila” is a minutious and poetic account of the war crimes Genet’s eyes encountered and endured for 4 hours that day’.

As such, the release – culled from the Eros & Massacre album project – features Elli Madeiros reading two segments of Jean Genet’s text against an electronic backdrop of elongated drones and a drifting wave of overlays from buzzing top-end and extraneous intrusions that bend and twist forged by Ghazi Barakat (aka Pharoah Chromium), and augmented by guitar courtesy of Osman Arabi on ‘Une Photographie a Deux Dimensions’ on side 1, and whispers courtesy of Rahel Preisser on ‘Saint Genet à Chatila’ on side 2.

‘Une Photographie a Deux Dimensions’ creates a creepy, unsettling atmosphere, flickering sonic shadows skitter this way and that behind the narrative, and while perhaps it’s best appreciated in its native tongue and without the encumbrance of text or the need to engage in activity which distracts from the listening experience as intended, the availability of an English translation of Genet’s text on-line does help in fleshing out the context. It also serves to render the full horror of the experience explicit.

The shorter ‘Saint Genet à Chatila’ is built – at least at first – around a looped, cascading motif. The vocal is delivered close-mic and with a certain urgency as digital diddles flit every which-way, spider-like across stop-start surges of bass that start sparse but echo to rolling thunder. It’s spine-tingling and uncomfortable, although one suspects something is lost in translation – or lack of.

Fittingly, as much as Genet’s depiction of the gruesomeness streets littered with bloodied corpses is horrific, it’s the pains he goes to to articulate the limitations of any given medium which render his account so powerful:

‘A photograph doesn’t show the flies nor the thick white smell of death. Neither does it show how you must jump over bodies as you walk along from one corpse to the next. If you look closely at a corpse, an odd phenomenon occurs: the absence of life in this body corresponds to the total absence of the body, or rather to its continuous backing away. You feel that even by coming closer you can never touch it. That happens when you look at it carefully. But should you make a move in its direction, get down next to it, move an arm or a finger, suddenly it is very much there and almost friendly.’

As such, Barakat must necessarily accept that the medium of sound can only convey so much, and while the composition and recital evoke the bewildering scenes and the effect of witnessing them first-hand, they can never truly convey that lasting traumatic impact.

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Out of context, it could be any extreme noise / power electronics / experimental / industrial crossover. Whistling high-end feedback, tortured, wailing drones, nagging, drilling analogue synth buzzes, pulsations, distortion and distant low-end rumbling provide the tonal span over which sounds of detonating shells, gunfire, panicked voices, and snippets of newscasts and other media are assembled. The piping sounds of Oriental flutes from India and Morocco are interwoven with stuttering electronica and wandering synths which cast dark, ominous shadows of unease.

In context – and ultimately, it’s all about the context – Gaza takes on a truly horrific dimension, a painful and harrowing documentary work. Gaza is in many respects a soundtrack: recorded during operation Protective Edge in July and August 2014, it is the soundtrack to violent and brutal war.

To read the statistics – the estimates of the numbers killed and wounded, the number of homes destroyed and the estimated costs of rebuilding in the wake of this intense period of battle is bewildering, numbing. Over 2,000 Gazans were killed and well over 10,000 wounded during the seven-week spell. More context: the Gaza Strip is 25 miles long, and between 3.7 to 7.5 miles wide, with a total area of 141 square miles. The city of Gaza is home to around 1.85 million Palestinians on some 362 square kilometres: by way of a comparison, Greater Manchester has a population of 2.7 million, in an area spanning493 square miles. The point is, really, that it becomes hard to compute, and ultimately impossible to imagine the reality of the situation, and what it must be like to live with such decimation. The Sky News images of ruins and rubble amidst clouds of dust and drifting sand may be horrific, but just as pictures of houses bombed in the blitz cannot convey the experience, so this type of footage feels distant, unreal, like a film set.

Pharoah Chromium (aka German-Palestinian musician and performer Ghazi Barakat, who took the name from a song of the band Chrome), I read, draws inspiration from diverse sources spanning free jazz, rituals from ancient past and near future, the dream syndicate, science fiction novels and neo-brutalistic architecture. But most importantly, this is an intensely personal work for Barakat, who writes that ‘having close family ties to the region, I felt it was necessary to politicize my work in order to avoid total disillusionment and estrangement from circumstances that, I feel, are a dead end for humanity. My focus on this one subject is not meant to diminish other conflicts and human-made catastrophes in the world. Although this one just happens to take place in the birthplace of monotheistic Judéo-Christianity, the cultural background of all western societies.’

As such, as intensely personal as it is, Gaza is also intensely political. But perhaps even more importantly, it’s an intensely human work. As Barakat explains, ‘Gaza is built around voices and field recordings that are used to express my subjective, emotional and personal involvement with this subject. The found source material is used to construct a chronology of the events… The sounds of the Korg MS 20 noise filter helped intensify the feeling of hysteria ensuing from violent confrontation during a state of war. An electric wind instrument provides the melodic components and the low frequencies that underline the narration on the second part of the piece.’

And this brings into sharp relief the reality of the experience. Listening to the album, you will jump and cower as gunfire and shells rain down. The sheer volume of the explosions and the shots is astounding, a hail of bullets becoming a blanket of eardrum-shattering noise. You find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat, nerves jangling, wondering if your house will still be standing in a moments’ time. There’s no way you can settle or so anything else: this isn’t background or entertainment. There’s no way in the world you could nod off or otherwise sleep through this. And then you realise, this is the reality of life in a war-zone. The idea of actually living in this environment, to an outsider, is beyond comprehension. It’s a sobering thought, to say the least.

Barakat’s commentary is again informative, and chilling: ‘The two sides of this record are about a place like no other on this planet, a city and its surrounding environs living under extraordinary conditions, hermetically sealed from all sides, only accessible through complex procedures and permits, making it is almost as difficult to get in as it is to get out. Like a cross between the Warsaw ghetto and Manhattan as a giant maximum security prison in John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. Every couple of years the Gaza Strip gets its share of bombardments, and since the summer of 2014, its infrastructure has been pulverized almost to the point of no return. The disproportionate use of force and the asymmetric use of military technology on those already living under siege has created a field laboratory for the military industrial complex with the civilian population as its guinea pig. […]’

The locked groove at the end of each side is the engine noise of an Israeli drone in operation, intended to give listeners the experience of the sound of day-to-day life in the Gaza Strip.

It’s a phenomenally powerful work, which brings home the devastating realities of war in a way that’s truly unique. And while I’ve referred to this as a document, effectively a work of sonic reportage, it is, of course, a work of art. On a technical level, its execution is superb. To all intents and purposes, it’s a cut-up, a collage, and the pieces as assembled seamlessly, and achieve maximum impact. And what impact. Gaza is perhaps the most harrowing album I’ve ever heard. This is art on the front lines and behind the lines. All of the doom and crushing metal releases pale to nothing beside this: Gaza really is the sound of hell on earth.

Gaza

 

http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=72821540/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Pharoah Chromium – Gaza on Bandcamp