ilzetzki on 01/11/2017 at 09:16AM
A quick look at the Wikipedia page entitled Experimental Music roughly two years ago would have disclosed that whoever wrote that article relates experimentalism in music pretty much exclusively with the NY school. As intertwined as these two might be, any person who knows the first thing about experimental music today would immediately see this definition as gravely insufficient. And indeed, visiting the same page just a few days ago disclosed some heavy editing attempting to put the topic in some broader perspective. However, the many quotes on that page from admired composers – notably, Michael Nyman and Pierre Boulez, disclose the general attitude towards an attempted definition: It seems that every side is trying to define experimentalism to the benefit of the school s/he’s affiliated with (whether this definition is favourable or not). And then, of course, there are the many musicologists trying to make sense of it all without inserting any judgement, as should be the case when trying to define something… poor souls.
My PhD research attempted a (pretty failed) look at the spectrum between open (supposedly experimental) and through composed (supposedly avant-garde) 20th century scores. Not only did I start getting a feeling throughout the research that these supposed opposites (avant-garde and experimentalism), are not in any way mutually exclusive, but I also realised time and again that the definition of experimentalism in music is as open as Walmart on black Friday! Just take a look at the “experimental” tag on this site: you’ll get anything from South American spoken word to Japanese minimal noise. And these two extremes travel through a plethora of styles that seem quite distant from, if at all exhibiting any awareness of the NY School or any other music mentioned on the aforementioned Wikipedia page. And so, a strengthened resolve started growing in me to try and make some sense of this opaque term! And I also immediately knew what methodological route I was bound to take: Past research had already taught me that that the best way to look at a subject was not from its macro to micro situation, but rather the opposite. And thus, Experimental Israel was born.
The scene relating to experimentalism in Israel has experienced a serious boom since the early 90s. In those days, local practitioners coming from classical music, jazz or other genres started converging around particular venues and practices, which connected them to other such practitioners in the world. The immediate watchword was improv, but the Israeli scene, being as small as it was, had, by default, to welcome collaboration. And so, free jazz met free improv, met contemporary classical and dance, met electronica, met noise, met metal, etc, etc. The commonality was that all of these musicians, although coming from a particular genre, felt that the same genre was no longer able to encompass their practice.
Since Jan. 2016, supported by Israel's utmost avant-garde radio station, Radio Halas, I have been meeting with these same artists and many newer ones to the Israeli scene. And I must admit - it is slowly but surely becoming achingly clear that the attempt to define experimentalism as a style is bound for failure! The thought-process connecting these many different musicians to each other seems to be a mood, a feeling, a mindset – linking experimentalism to awareness, and self-awareness. Hence, experimentalism can never be linked to a specific style, as that which is considered experimental to one person could be completely boring and predictable to the other. What still brings the former and latter together is the spirit with which they approach their art.
True to my understanding that musical research must first and foremost react to the actual phenomenon, which in this case is sound – I asked to interview each one of my subjects and discuss the topic with them. But I also (and perhaps mainly) asked each of them to react to the topic in sound – an improv session, dedicated composition, task score, radio drama, poetry, or whatever takes their fancy that could serve as a reaction to the main question: What is experimentalism to them, and is there such a thing as an Israeli experimental style? We’ve had 40 guests on our program so far, and are bound to have many more before this projects ends. All of the artists’ musical contributions can be found on Experimental Israel’s FMA page, but here is a selection we’ve created especially for you! See whether you can make sense of this all, and perhaps help us discover what truly defines experimental music.
Here is a sampler from Experimental Israel: