Improv@halas.am by Haggai Fershtman
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.
Haggai Fershtman is perhaps one of the most active musicians in Israel today. Perhaps I exaggerate, and one can find an even more active session musician on the Israeli scene, but one will surely not be able to find a more versatile one. Fershtman is, at 43, almost a legend drummer/percussionist in our parts, and has managed to play alongside some of the biggest names in Israel regardless of the scene or genre. Be it various shades of rock, metal, punk, funk, reggae, jazz, classical or experimental, Fershtman has travelled there and acted like a local! In our constellation Fershtman also reveals himself as an avid thinker, tackling our topics with an analytic conviction that points to the fact that these issues are not new to him in any way. In fact, Fershtman was the only guest so far who has, in advance, planned discussion topics in reaction to our ongoing research.
With an academic fascination in philosophy and psychology, Fershtman rapidly answers my questions and allows us to sum up complicated ideas that were already featured in some of our past installations. “With a never ending variant characterising artistic creation and expression, it is the (artistic o.i.) repeat that should be the anomaly, and not change”. This expression in thought is perhaps the most crystallized representative of Fershtman’s mindset: he embodies a moral and artistic pluralism, and relates to experimentalism from within that same frame, claiming that the basic tenet of the practice must be the presentation of a question mark where once a resounding exclamation mark reigned. Fershtman continues and relates this idea to older ones by Theodor Adorno, and recognizes technology and specifically recording as the main game-changer in terms of artistic expression and thought. Recordings, tells us Fershtman, allow not only the unique voice to be heard directly, and not only through representation, but also allows the wide scale dissemination of content leading towards a familiarity with genres, allowing a more nuanced experimentalism. He concludes this train of thought with a notion from Marx, relating experimentalism to the artistic responsibility a creator might have, and the latter’s moral/social task in using art as a transformative, ethical mirror. How is this done, I ask? Fershtman replies: by allowing art to question our societal, agreed upon symbols.
Fershtman is the one to immediately announce our following topic: the subconscious. Art, tells us Fershtman, is very similar to the subconscious in its attempt to rearrange personal or collective symbols; this, with a utilitarian focus in mind, leading towards a more aware/able psyche, or on grander terms – more aware/able society. Fershtman is a generous man – he does not skimp in gestures, words and affection, and indeed, in order to exemplify his ideas, he gives us a very personal yet telling story from his past as a young drummer: As the young Fershtman discovers his prowess in the field, he finds himself accepted and even somewhat acclaimed, yet takes heed of the competitive nature he begins to discover within himself. Lead by his ego, and its almost universal tendency to demand space, Fershtman finds himself “setting himself up”, as he terms it. Later I realise that the “setup” was in fact a sort of paralysing fear seeming to arise in ensemble playing every time a musical moment seemed to gain momentum. It was at these points that Fershtman would, almost instinctively, take an experimental stance and decide to bend or break the moment in order to circumvent an egotistical desire he was not fully comfortable to identify himself with. This can serve as possible example to a connection, through art or music, with the subconscious. The adult Fershtman continues the thought process he could perhaps only feel as a young man, and speaks of the function of the body as an energetic receptor. He relates to completely free improvisation as a practice through which he notices how the body reacts almost instinctively to its surroundings, taking into account this never ending variant of possibility. According to Fershtman, this allows not only a dialogue with one’s surroundings, but also with one’s subconscious.
Travelling through our next topic, Béla Tarr’s film – Werckmesiter Harmonies, we discover another aspect of experimental necessity according to Fershtman. The main notion Fershtman relates to in the Hungarian film is its reference to the historic technicality in musical practice, shifting from natural tuning to its opposite, represented by equal temperament; this idea, as a possible metaphor to supposedly technical or even scientific processes that could potentially point towards a totalitarian mindset, and how this idea seeps into societal thought or thoughts of governance. Fershtman relates this to the idea of the great subconscious and how it must affect the smaller, personal subconscious. “Individuals will always look to contextualise their existence through symbols. If an experimental practice attempts to question these symbols, then a vehement negative reaction should not come as a surprise”. These symbols are that which keeps everything in place, giving existence a subjective meaning that allows one to disregard the traumas trapped in his/her subconscious. But then you have those who feel comfortable enough to dive into the subconscious, or even explore it on artistic terms, and I add: and even audiences that would like to partake in such spectacle. A thought crosses my mind, which I share with Fershtman: imagine a future society, where individuals are in a secure enough mindset allowing the notion of experimental artistic self-exploration to seep through the ranks and become a common practice. How much shit art and mindless self-adoration will we have to endure as a consequence? We both shudder at the thought, but agree that we are still a long ways away, perhaps completely off track altogether. It was here I suddenly realized that we had managed to turn a resounding exclamation mark into a serious question mark. Experimental? No doubt. Good, however…?
Improv@halas.am by Haggai Fershtman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.