When words fail, perhaps there is music. Morphine Records dropped its compilation The Sacred Rage last night, a profoundly personal LP. And even with a storm of crises the world over, these projects find receptive music lovers. On this moment, and the music it is assembling:
Telegraph wires between capitals
Lebanon and all those connected to it remain deep in mourning and anger, among all those I’ve been able to read or hear. Those feelings, widely echoed, stem not only over the singular catastrophe the world witnessed in Beirut but long-burning corruption and abuse. Those crimes have been fatal and literally toxic to countless people, even across generations. It leaves witnesses trying to process a warping of time and space.
The world has all seen the few seconds of time – the moment of the explosion, taken from balconies and washing through a bridal video shoot. And we’ve seen the concentric circles of blast radiuses, like a nuclear bomb, overlaid atop satellite imagery of the Lebanese capital and other major world cities. But the scale of destruction and injustice runs deeper and further than either of those – and maybe not just for the Lebanese.
If you want to find a rationale for solidarity across causes, what is happening in Lebanon is both specific and also connected to the now obviously failed elites and the broken wreckage of global colonialism. Those failures are accelerating for so many people right now – for our friends, our families, ourselves. And they pull and tear at the international networks of electronic music makers we’ve built, sometimes with those government institutions’ support and sometimes underneath and around them.
So maybe there is a place for music there – whether it’s in trying to hold together those connections and care, or in producing or listening to some kind of sound as reflection and as protest. We find ourselves again awash in history and loss, but sometimes across distances of understanding, experience, and space. Hopefully, that music can carry our messages when other vessels fail.
Morphine Records compilation, track by track
Morphine Records’ Rabih Beaini has both represented his native Lebanon in Beirut and built the kind of resilient, collective network of music makers that the planet so urgently needs. So not only with his label, but with the relationships he’s nurtured, you can watch him support other artists and their growth – and see his reflection in their presence, too. I think there’s always a danger with festivals in big capital cities to just perpetuate the rituals of colonialism – add an exotic artist or two to a lineup, fly them to cater to comfortable audiences, then, you know, it’s over. Even as I love contributing to (and attending) CTM Festival in Berlin, of which Rabih has been in recent editions a co-curator, I’m sure we aren’t immune.
But Rabih’s friendships feel as though they demonstrate something else. That’s saying something, because quite frankly, as a breed, we musicians are not always easy to get along with. And even when we are, it means nurturing relationships around this mysterious business of organized vibrations in air that is music, and its often equally elusive economics, with are blown away in the breeze.
The Sacred Rage feels as though it embodies those musical, human connections in catharsis. It’s the long afternoon we would spend together, even now when not everyone can be with us.
On August 4th, at 6pm Beirut time, a series of explosions in the 12th Warehouse of the Port of Beirut climaxed into a devastating destructive wave that killed more than 220 people and injured thousands. The damage in the area surrounding the explosion is of catastrophic levels, while the whole city of Beirut reported severe damages to structures and buildings. The initial investigations were reporting a criminal level of negligence and corruption, in a country already economically and socially devastated by its political establishment’s looting of the state funds since decades, continued with lack of search for survivors, the looting or refusal of the international first aid and the shameless request of direct funds to the establishment. People are in anger in front of the carelessness, corruption, of the regime who made the country collapse, people who now need food, shelters, medicines.
Morphine Records, through its founder Rabih Beaini and the work of friends and relatives, is on campaign mode with different levels of engagement. The first one was an open call on Bandcamp Friday, and we managed to collect a good amount that has been sent to local NGO’s working on the ground, like Food Heritage Foundation, Matbakh Albalad, and the Lebanese Red Cross.
Today we launch the second phase, The Sacred Rage, a collection of unreleased tracks by some of the finest musicians, who wanted to contribute to the fundraise and who shared our anger and disappointment in the Lebanese authorities. It is a personal and collective gesture of resistance, by Label owner Rabih Beaini, and fellow musicians Donato Dozzy, “A” trio, Monolake, Thomas Brinkmann, Havlovi, and many others.
A 12 tracks compilation that screams justice, equality, dignity, compiled in a confused and angry state of mind but made with love and loads of energy.
The entire proceeds of this compilation will be channeled to real ground work in Beirut, that will provide food, medicine, structural supplies like doors and windows, and repairing shelters that has been seriously damaged by the explosion. Please consider donating to the above-mentioned organizations
Each track is a full course, an emotional statement. It sets out with the fragile, fragmented harmonies of Arabic-Canadian composer John Kameel Farah with the stuttering electronic processing of German experimental legend Thomas Brinkmann, timbres tumbling like water. “A” trio – Sharif Shenaoui, Raed Yassin, and Mazen Kerbaj – deliver an earnestly apocalyptic fury of wall-to-wall strings and percussion, creaking and bending. This dynamic trio represent cornerstones of the Beirut experimental scene, and while their live visual element isn’t here, you’ll surely see washes of texture and color and paint in your mind.
Robert Henke in his Monolake guise is precise and powerful as always, but even his calculated rhythms in “Beirut” ride atop some undercurrent of frustration — if channeling it into an ordered composition. Donato Dozzy’s burbling, electric drone is otherworldly, even more clearly situated in some space between analog electricity and the feeling of ancient instruments.
One of the most intimate moments comes from Irena and Vojtěch Havlovi, gently-plucked modal harmonies shifting like breath, giving way to an overlaid, mournful bowed shroud of sound. This Czech husband and wife duo bring some kind of personal comfort. (I think it’s on viola da gamba, or at least gut strings?)
Rabih Beaini himself sits at the center, flanged percussion as claps an insistent and urgent interruption – an alarm. Lebanese-born producer Radwan Ghazi Moumneh, his family exiled by the country’s civil war, has a rich musical experience from punk to Arabic musical elements. Here, the expression of “Qaluli (they told me)” is immediate solo work, broken into a feeling of disorientation, as seen in the video – perhaps as the frozen moment of disbelief.
Rashad Becker‘s name is all over the place in Berlin, both as mastering engineer and as a producer/musician (PAN). He has concocted a perverse, twisted musical ritual, a sickening dance. I want to make out the word matraquage, but I don’t entirely trust my understanding of French. Maybe somewhere in its dual meanings of bludgeoning and propaganda we have this meaning of brainwashing – but suffice to say, even before checking the track title, I had a sour feeling in my stomach. This is the dance of lies in Lebanon and so many other nations’ buffoonish, brutally uncaring governments at the moment.
Natalie Beridze‘s “Swinglow” then reads as a narrative program, irregular speech as swells of rhythm, blurred inside its electronics. Beridze is an artistic giant of the experimental scene in Tbilisi, Georgia. The result is like an operatic text that has collapsed on top of itself.
In this sequence of progressively destroyed rhythmic electronics, The Bug aka UK music producer and journalist Kevin Martin, concocts odd repetitions lost in some generations of distortion, buried in inertia. Neel, the other half of Donatto’s Spazio Disponibile, inhabits a similar timbral space but somehow gets the machinery working again. I don’t know that anyone would call this techno, but – well, maybe in a post-COVID world, why not? It shifts that same static repetition back into the range of momentum again. It’s pure machine groove, but it’s groove.
Vienna’s Stefan Fraunberger provides the ear some needed variation, in what I believe is a recording of a baroque organ gone horribly, horribly wrong mechanically. That seems fitting as the people of Beirut plea for a reexamination of colonialism, in a failing instrument of European construction. (Don’t let the headlines about some survey of bringing back the French mandate fool you, and do be suspicious of France.) But as so often in music, the tragic or symbolic becomes beautiful, if painful. Fraunberger’s odd dirge on dying organ eventually melts into gasps of air and acerbic harmonies, like vinegar and tears. If we live in an age of swelling hopelessness, this is music that can let us exhale its malodorous smoke.
Benefits report back from recent days
Rabih’s compilation is focused, a composition in itself. But it makes a nice companion to the overflowing four-volume set from Syrphe. Cedrik Fermont reported some $1800 USD in proceeds from that set, which he sent to “Offrejoie, an apolitical and non-confessional Lebanese NGO founded in 1985” = and one which had been on the volunteer-curated lists of trusted organizations in Beirut.
See my writeup (which also included some other samples from Morphine as well as Lebanon-based labels):
And all four volumes, with submissions from around the world:
I think it’s only right at this point to also share the terrific benefit sets on HÖR. And not least because my combination of the deep, dark sounds of this compilation with way too much of my own leaden writing may at this point have incapacitated my readership – assuming you made it this far.
Beirut native Jessika Khazrik kicks it off – and Rabih joins, as well, finishing with Lebanese-born DJ Nur Jaber:
And as with the other multitrack-, multitimbral, polyphonic crises of 2020, this is not an event to watch and then leave behind – not with 300,000 homeless (by even the city’s estimate) and more dangers looming and people still in the streets. Nor is the government resignation any particular resolution, from anyone I’ve spoken with. Like everything else this year, we’ve not yet hit this sickness’ bottom or end.
Cover artwork from The Sacred Rage, at top, by Lorenzo Mason Studio.