Improv1@halas.am by Daniel Sarid
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.
“Good & Bad are Concepts Created by People within Scenes”
If one were to meander through the Israeli experimental scene, or the free jazz scene, or even the standard jazz scene, or you know what, even the classical music scene, one won’t need long before s/he is introduced with the name Daniel Sarid. Hence, it’s a very interesting fact that Sarid, although an accomplished pianist and composer, doesn’t consider himself an active musician when compared to some of his colleagues, who I must add, would disagree with him wholeheartedly. Regardless, Sarid was one of those products of the 80s who were fortunate enough to bring about the birth of a new scene in Israel, encompassing experimental styles from classical avant-garde to free jazz. This came about, at first, with his managing years at the Gada Ha’Smalit, by now a defunct mythical venue for experimental music, and later with his joining forces with two other Israeli musical greats – Assif Tsahar, and Ilan Volkov, in the formation of the Levontin 7, still active now in it’s 10th year. The Levontin 7, other than being the “it” place in Tel Aviv for many years, represents a meeting point for various musical genres coinciding quite peacefully under one roof. It is quite customary to attend a free jazz concert there one night, an indie rock gig the next, a classical recital on a different evening, followed by an experimental evening of noise, closing with some heavy metal. This is perhaps why people react so fondly to this venue, as it has no agenda in its programming other than parading this lack of agenda. But more so, and as you’ll soon discover, it represents this same generation of artists Sarid is part of, and their insistence on creating in Israel a scene corresponding with similar scenes in the world, yet acting in a manner completely of its own.
Sarid travels back in thought in order to describe his journey, and begins with his adolescence in the 80s. The defining mood was one marked by an inability to feel a sense of individuality within what was then still a highly a recruited society. The ethos of Zionism was still quite alive, and it seemed that any conscious or even subconscious act of self could be deemed as an attack on the collective spirit. Sarid couldn’t find his voice within this culture and its manifestation in language and art. As a telling example, he recounts for us his feelings upon hearing the music of Pink Floyd for the first time – an experience he describes as mind boggling. Here was a music that paraded the individuals creating it, and almost celebrated the individualistic status. At this point, Sarid was not yet aware of the problematic aspect of idolatry of self, as he was simply awe struck by the possibility of setting oneself on the pedestal rather than the “cause”, or societal issues.
Sarid continues to describe how his father once took him, the adolescent musician, to see the Globe Unity Orchestra, who was on tour in Israel. This reconnects, in Sarid’s mind, to the first performance of Cecil Taylor he saw in Chicago at the age of 15. In both instances it was not the music taking the forefront, but the energy and spirit. These were musical examples in which an ensemble is formed out of complete distinguishable individuals. For Saird, this music presented a possibility for an individualistic practice in art, a practice far removed from his then surroundings.
Hence it should come as no surprise that a few years later we find Sarid in NY, immersed in a scene, which, at first, provided a mirror for his lack of knowledge and provinciality, and this although he was already considered a bonafide member of the jazz scene in Israel. More interestingly, it was during the NY years that Sarid slowly realised that music was only a part in a larger spiritual practice, and came to an important underlying understanding regarding freedom – namely that freedom isn’t about being alone.
Sarid noticed that many of the finest protagonists of “free” music were, by default, outcasts – lonely individuals struggling for survival within a society (not necessarily financially, although this many times was the case too). He realised that the position of these same artists, being critical, immediately excluded them from within artistic societies that simply weren’t able to contain this criticism without seeing it as an outright attack. In accordance, Sarid describes a difficult period of struggle where although feeling free, he also felt extremely lonely. This was the feeling that also led to his eventual return to Israel. But with this return Sarid finally managed to create a synthesis between his personal development, music, and society.
Sarid mentions our past guest, Harold Rubin, as instrumental to his personal realisations upon his return. Rubin representing, possibly as he does for an entire generation of improvisers, this portal from specific musical thought towards a holistic approach. Soon after, Sarid is already managing the Gada Ha’Smalit, which allowed a renewed connection with society and the founding community that will, in time, become the experimental music scene in Israel.
In almost immediate reaction, Sarid warns of scenes, quoting Bob Dylan who said: “good and bad are concepts created by people within scenes”. The Levontin 7, hence, was a practical solution brought about by three friends within that fledgling scene who shared the common ethos claiming that there is no such thing as a bad genre in music.
And now, back to Israel 2016, Sarid describes himself as a person who doesn’t much see himself as a soloist or indeed someone producing solo work. However, both his solo endeavours (as the examples recorded for us at Halas) as well as his ensemble formations (as can be seen in his upcoming trio CD release) represent a facet of his inner search. In a simple fashion, Sarid presents a simple and beautiful notion: “our need as societies and individuals is for healing and therapy, and music is my way”. And so finally, I reach a closer understanding of why Sarid doesn’t necessarily refer to himself as an active musician, but rather sees music as a way of life… a shade of relation to self, which is much grander than music alone. Although I relate with this sentiment, I still have to disagree… in my eyes Sarid is as close as one gets to the real deal.
Improv1@halas.am by Daniel Sarid is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.