If He Dies, If If If If If If is the new full-length from Jerusalem in My Heart, the ongoing musical/visual collaboration of producer and musician Radwan Ghazi Moumneh with an assortment of musicians and visual artists. For If He Dies…, Moumneh worked mostly with Montreal’s Charles-André Coderre, who created an already-released short film to accompany the album, as well as the album’s artwork. That artwork came about by “re-photographing images on 16mm film and then developing that film with bespoke chemical treatments of his own discovery and invention.” Photographs of photographs? Man, sure does sound like we’re edging toward talking about the way music and medium interact, huh?
Right, yes. So the album starts off a cappella with “Al Affaq, Lau Mat, Lau Lau Lau Lau Lau Lau.” The voice feels almost entirely solitary at first, like one guy singing in a room. But listening even a little closer, it’s so obviously not that at all. The voice is wrapped up in itself, processed and layered, shifted and equalized. What a weird slight of ear, to establish a texture that sounds so much simpler than it is. It’s one that’s maybe particular to my own ears in my own situation in my little un-decorated cubicle in an office in a middle-sized university in the Midwest in the United States, but it’s also one that feels like an emblem with a capital “E.”
See, with Jerusalem in My Heart a lot of what we’re hearing and feeling is about mediation. Mediation, that is, something you usually don’t see at all until you see it everywhere, whether in the onion-layer depth from which I’m writing this little post, or in the way certain characters get transliterated into numbers in some of the song titles here because of a reality baked into the meet-up of Arabic communication and “Anglicized hardware,” or in the way the body muddles audio output when you pipe a whole track through a contact mic in a mouth (something Moumneh does to great and noisy effect on “Qala Li Kaf Kafa Kafa Kafa Kafa Kafa”).
This new LP picks up largely where the last one, Mo7it Al-Mo7it, left off, pulling together and tearing apart bits and pieces of Arab musical culture and filtering it on down through Moumneh’s experience as a guy with roots in the Middle East living and working in Canada as producer for the likes of Matana Roberts, Eric Chenaux, and Suuns. His voice and buzuk playing are on primary display here yet again, though he’s joined at various stages by percussion, field recordings, and on the lovely droning closer “2asmar Sa7ar” a Bansuri flute played by Dave Gossage.
On Mo7it Al-Mo7it, it was the vocal pieces that felt like they took center stage, with Momneh’s powerfully expressive voice dragging us listeners across any language barriers we might’ve at first felt; I for one don’t speak Arabic, but that stopped exactly nothing. Although Moumneh’s voice remains essential, his buzuk playing here in particular feels more forceful and arresting, more present. On ” A Granular Buzuk,” the instrument’s auditory disintegration rivets as it’s rended, stringing through electrified pulses and scrapes.
Listen to the whole album, embedded below. It’s out September 4 on Constellation on CD, LP, and digitally, and it’s up for pre-order here.