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Brion Gysin - one night @ the 1001

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Artist: Brion Gysin

Album: one night @ the 1001

Label: Sub Rosa

Review date: May. 25, 2006


British born, Canadian-raised artist, calligrapher, and writer Brion Gysin occupies a peculiar side-note to the story of 20th-century art. His is a story of not-quite: an artist who almost became part of the Surrealists' inner circle, but not quite. A writer who almost broke out as a successful non-fiction author as well as a novelist, but not quite. A provocateur who almost found fame as the nominal inventor and ardent supporter of the Dreamachine. But not quite. He seemed destined to exist in the shadows of others. As a writer and experimenter with forms, his cut-up methods gained prominence not through his own work but through that of his good friend William S. Burroughs. As a novelist and documenter of his adopted country of Morocco, Gysin was ever over-shadowed by Paul Bowles. As inventor of the Dreamachine with the late Ian Sommerville, Gysin tried for years to take the device to the general public, without success (I recommend the books Nothing is True - Everything is Permitted and Chapel of Extreme Experience to those interested in more background about Gysin and the Dreamachine). He passed in 1986, obscure yet fascinating and undeniably important.

After finding himself in Tangier in the 50s, Gysin started an infamous restaurant, the Thousand and One Nights, at which he presented musicians from Jajouka and elsewhere in Morocco. It was there that many first encountered the Master Musicians of Jajouka, and that connection led personalities like the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones to discover their music.

The first CD of One Night @ the 1001 contains recordings of Moroccan music from the Thousand and One Nights. Some are led by wind instruments, a sound that will be familiar to those who have heard other recordings of Jajouka music. Others are filled with plucked or bowed strings and chants, styles more common throughout Northern Africa than the unique Jajouka wailing. The quality of these recordings here is quite high for the most part, and they're certainly worthwhile if you're a fan of Moroccan and Gnaouan music or if you're looking for an introduction. No details about the recordings are provided, since they're taken from newly rediscovered archives of Gysin's reel-to-reels that apparently lacked detailed information.

The second CD is the more unusual listen. Entitled "Dilaloo," it contains a spoken work by Gysin, using a Jajouka initiation ceremony as the starting point for an hour-long excursion into surrealistic imagery and personal revelations. From excerpts in the booklet: "When we came out of the mud / We had names / In the past muttering arctic flowers / Just of frost wind / Bones ... ME stood naked human body / caves frozen in my throat." Gysin's voice has a trance-inducing flatness to it that turns the telling into a sort of incantation, made all the more hypnotic by computer-generated background tones by producer Ramuntcho Matta.

This is overall a rather odd release, in the sense that the two CDs are linked only by the personality behind them. The first CD will appeal to listeners looking for traditional Moroccan music, while the second will appeal to a no-doubt narrower audience. As a Gysin completist, I'm pleased to have both the recordings of his invocation as well as a selection of the music he featured at his restaurant, but I'm unsure how many others will find both offerings equally interesting. Hopefully it's a larger number than I imagine.

By Mason Jones

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