Improv1@halas.am by Cassexxe Vibrato
Experimental Israel is an ongoing research project by Dr. Ophir Ilzetzki. In 2016, supported by Mifal Ha'Pais and the Israeli Center for Digital Art, Ilzetzki was commissioned by Daniel Meir and Halas Radio to create an original radiophonic study centred around contemporary Israeli music. As a composer identifying stylistically as experimental, Ilzetzki chose to focus on other Israeli artists who are, in some way, identified with experimentalism. In the two official years of research, Ilzetzki met weekly with prominent figures in the Israeli new music scene - composers, improvisers, sound and multi-media artists. With them, Ilzetzki ruminated in unofficial conversations regarding the main research questions. Yet, Ilzetzki prompted the artists not only to tackle the research questions via interviews, but also artistically; and so, Experimental Israel became one of the most extensive call for new works in Israeli music to date.
The main research questions are: How does experimentalism manifest in its artistic form, and specifically music; does the Israeli experimental practice differ from that practiced abroad, and is it possible to detect a distinct Israeli style? Despite its conclusions, the research does not attempt to suggest definite answers, but to place the opaque and widely used term in a clearer context. Since the early 90s, a bustling new music scene is active in Israel, bringing together artists of different genres. Today, these same musicians have already taken their rightful place in the international music scene, making them a fertile ground for queries such as raised by this research. Accordingly, and seeing the research could serve musicians worldwide, Ilzetzki makes sure to summarise each of its interviews into a short article in English. Each article includes the main focal points of the interview, a chronological reconsideration of the fixed research questions, as well as a look at those added during the course of research. Seeing the Israeli experimental scene is constantly growing, and hence, in flux, this research does not, and truly cannot, have a definite conclusion. Therefore, even after its official course has ended, Ilzetzki continues to add new voices to the research archive, so as to expose and clarify the topic even further. In fact, in its inception, the research was introduced as ongoing, and it is our hope that future researchers will refer to it, and continue its course. Thus, at any given moment in time, the research will serve as an up-to-date 'screen-shot' of the constantly developing Israeli experimental scene.
Experimental Israel is broadcast live from Halas Audio. All interviews, alongside interview summaries, are available in this archive. The programs are also available for download on Spotify.
Experimental Israel was made possible due to the kind support of Mifal HaPais Council for the Culture and Arts, and the Israeli Center for Digital Art.
Cassexxe Vibrato (Zohar Shafir & Ola Savchuk)
No Effort Required
In its most effortless installation to date, Experimental Israel hosts on its 18th program the fantastic duo - Cassexxe Vibrato. The ensemble consists of Zohar Shafir (AKA Nico Teen), and the Jerusalem based underground Renaissance woman, Ola Savchuk. I had, in fact, invited Shafir to take part in Experimental Israel a few months ago, as I had seen more than a few of her performances as soloist and within ensembles to realize that she is quite a match for that which we try to explore. Shafir immediately accepted, but asked that I host not only her, but also Ola Savchuk and their duo, Cassexxe Vibrato, active since 2007. Questioning the reasoning for this move, Shafir claimed that this duo embodies experimental practices more than any of her other active projects.
Indeed, upon understanding the manner in which Cassexxe Vibrato as a duo takes form, one cannot disregard how experimental it all seems. Savchuk and Shafir do not meet on a regular basis, and as a duo never make too many concrete decisions regarding what is to be performed and when. Shafir mentioned that Savchuk could occasionally send her on a quest in search of instruments or other stimuli for a performance, a task taken on by Shafir with utmost respect and excitement. Savchuk also mentioned that potential performances of the duo could germinate from a dream she had. But other than this, which hardly could be considered proper preparation for a performance, the two meet and play, never knowing what the results might be. Savchuk claims that the only rule she herself had noticed in the years that Cassexxe Vibrato are active, is that a given performance will usually benefit from time the two artists have spent together beforehand. This does not have to be time spent playing or planning, but simply energy shared between the two, as if setting the stage and getting ready for the exchange that will take place later on.
Whereas Shafir hails from a packed tradition of art and artistry linking her quite easily to her practice today, it is Savchuk that seems to be the odd one out. Both artists originally hail from Jerusalem (Shafir leaving for Tel Aviv; Savchuk remaining still), Savchuk recounts her story as an avid fan of experimentalism and avant-garde who found herself in the right place at the right time. She describes a scene in Jerusalem around 2006-7 that was suddenly saturated with extreme and original voices, giving local audiences one of the first glimpses into the vast world of experimentalism as it exists in Israel today. What is truly fascinating is Savchuk’s insistence in being an active part of the same scene and not only a bystander. Even more fascinating is her unique voice, validating this insistence.
In questioning the thoughts of the duo regarding the experimental scene today, we receive a subjective, yet somewhat grim account. Shafir speaks of a supposedly open scene once you are within it, yet quite hermetic to the outsider, dominated by male presence, and characterised by an overload of content making regular consumption difficult, not to mention tiresome. Savchuk in turn describes a Jerusalem scene marked with a shallow reference to its old self, making the mid-2000 period she described seem like a freak occurrence more than a rule. It is perhaps Shafir who manages to pin the most poignant analogy on the matter in claiming that there are more and more “schmoozers” (as she calls them) within the scene, who try to promote themselves instead of promoting the art itself. This, I tend to agree, is an early sign of artistic decay.
Although both Shafir and Savchuk present themselves as unable to truly tackle our research question regarding experimentalism, we find ourselves surprised by the turn of events. We slowly realise that the rapport created between us in the interview goes beyond polite friendliness, and we seem to agree that there is an all around feeling of comfort in the studio; a feeling prompting open discussions regarding emotions, and more so, a closeness prompting spontaneous creativity. This links us, quite interestingly, with a new vista through which to view experimental practices.
Shafir describes a performance with her now partner, Alex Drool, at a point where feelings between the two were raw and exciting, as their relationship was just about to commence. Shafir recognizes the emotional and mental state the two were in as the main reasoning for the artistic results, which she subjectively recalls as marvelling. Savchuk interjects with a claim of her own, validating emotional states as the true “litmus test” for artistic merit. “The agreement over quality does not require words. In fact, if words are required to convey disparate feelings after a given performance, then this is a first sign that something was not right”. Interestingly, this could be understood as true for the relationship between the performers as well as the relationship between the latter and the audience, and even amongst audience members and themselves.
As if not sufficient, it is during one of our musical interludes where Savchuk proclaims she understands the meaning of experimentalism. Before I mange to subdue this erupting spirit and ask her to keep her thoughts and ideas fresh for when the microphones are turned back on, Savchuk claims that our interview itself is a true act of experimentation. Interestingly, her indication was, again, emotional – she simply seemed to burst with positivity and an urge to create. As we resume the interview, Savchuk continues her thought-process and claim that experimentalism is not only the search for a new sound, but the inclusion of another prerequisite to the paradigm: no effort! The idea resonates in Shafir, who immediately adds that the combination of passion with the lack of effort can lead to a constraintless result, and that this must be the prerequisite Savchuk speaks of. Savchuk finalizes this train of thought with an idea that the “zone” or “being in the moment” spoken of amongst so many performers, must be this same synchronization of body, mind and soul, effortlessly leading towards a fertile ground for experimentation. Recalling thoughts in past installations regarding experimentation as an act of undoing, Savchuk recognizes the artist’s only real active choice in her search for personal and artistic development. But surely, I interject, artistic creation at large, not to mention experimentation, cannot only be marked by this supposed feeing of ecstasy, or can it? Of course not, claim the two in heterophony – there is also the other side: failure and disillusionment.
Improv1@halas.am by Cassexxe Vibrato is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.