Saint Abdullah Stars Have Eyes

[PTP; 2018]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: sound collage, field recording, documentary, dub
Others: Muslimgauze, Kepla & DeForrest Brown Jr., Graham Lambkin, Jar Moff

In Pure War, Paul Virillo notes how modern war is waged not through the power of conventional weapons, but through the power of media. Information is the most potent weapon of modernity, and it becomes all the more powerful in the age of globalization, because it allows established powers with control over media apparatuses to easily circumvent local narratives. Sometimes circumvention isn’t even necessary, because voices devoid of capital (or contrarian to its interests) can become erased, drowned in the endless stream of data, or banished to extremely limited circulation. Nobody answers to international conventions if the public won’t be made to think that there is a reason for that, as exemplified by the long and bloody history of the US’s foreign affairs conducted in the shadows. Our morality is no longer set by gods, but by the flows of mediated information that constantly mutate to fit the narratives serving the goals of the capital or the state. History never ended, but it became enslaved.

Saint Abdullah’s new album Stars Have Eyes is an attempt to use media technologies to different ends, to see their progressive potential, to repurpose and weaponize them. Its origins lie in the feelings of anger and disappointment felt by the Iranian-Canadian artists confronted with the brutal treatment of Muslims, Islam, and the Middle Eastern world by the West — a history defined by hypocrisy, abuse of power, and bloodshed. In response, brothers Mohammad and Mehdi Mehrabani-Yeganeh of Saint Abdullah decided to create something akin to a sonic journal, weaving music and field recordings together to construct what they call “hulking instruments of information” that would surpass the unnecessary conflicts. The recordings in use are manipulated to the point of gaining an otherworldly quality, which is further underpinned by waves of noise and sub-bass that lead to an unnerving feeling throughout.

Such a creation is more than just a documentary project, because it channels affects through its artistry and, in so doing, places the presented information in emotional contexts. “hy.poc.risy” serves as a great example of this through its juxtaposition of impassioned Middle Eastern songs and an interview snippet explaining the US’s complicity in human rights abuses in the Middle East. This short interruption in the track can be seen as an image of the traumatic rupture felt by the invaded culture, its own creations abruptly breaking down in the middle to make room for Western interests. The opening track, “Taxi Ride Through Tehran,” employs the same measures, but moves with a haunting quality to its collage of everyday sounds and its constant movements between silence and noise, as if there were a fog of faulty memory enveloping our perception. From nostalgia through fear and anger, the range of emotions here mirrors the unimaginably difficult situation faced by Muslims who have to resituate their cultures and origins in Western narratives.

It’s worth noting that Stars Have Eyes isn’t a utopian project. It doesn’t aim to start a revolution, nor does it ascribe to itself the agency that would make it capable of such a goal. It has a different kind of power, perhaps similar to what Walter Benjamin termed the “weak messianic power.” By echoing the experience of abuses past and present, the album serves as a link between cultures and generations, preserving a history of struggle so that the wounded past can be redeemed when the messianic rupture comes.

Links: Saint Abdullah - PTP

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