Improv1@halas.am by Kdoshey Zaglambia
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.
Kdoshey Zaglambia (Tomer Damsky & Eyal Bitton)
Roughly 3 months ago I asked the Jerusalem based artist, singer, instrumentalist, and electronics wiz-kid, Tomer Damsky to join me as yet another guest in Experimental Israel. Through various projects in the past two years, I have come across Damsky in the role of creator, singer and performer, practicing all of the above with a shameless lack of affiliation to genre and style. This, I must admit, has already but become a trademark of the younger generation in the local scene, and specifically something I attributed to the Jerusalem based scene (although Damsky herself didn’t quite agree as to a clear divide between the different scenes in Israel). Regardless, she paraded a renegade talent and a voice of her own that, try as I may, I simply could not pin down stylistically, making her a prime candidate for that which I attempt to explore through this research.
About a week before our scheduled broadcast, Damsky, who is more often than not an avid collaborator, asked me whether she could invite a guest of her own on the program, in which they will perform together. The guest in question is Eyal bitton, a housemate of Damsky’s and a member of a non-official artists collective based around their shared Jerusalem flat in the Cats Square. Together Damsky and Bitton form the electronics duo – Kdoshey Zaglambia (referring, more in cynical jest, to the 100,000 Jewish inhabitants of the Zagłębie Dąbrowskie in Poland who were murdered during the 2nd world war). I obviously relish these opportunities, as they open up the research at hand to new voices and ideas, and gladly welcomed this new arrangement.
Awaiting me in the studio was the duo coupled with two huge metal plates, one of which was fitted with a metal string as well. The two would later rattle, hit and mainly bow the same metal plates, which were both amplified with a pickup and contact microphone, and whose audio signal was sent into an array of effects that were spread across the studio floor. The two beautiful sets presented by Kdoshey Zaglambia in the studio corresponded with noise and drone based music. However, the outcome sounded much richer and much less prone towards claiming the usual stomping ground of these aforementioned styles. Rather, it seemed to pass through musical signposts in an improvisatory fashion, collecting what was needed, and carrying off towards a new destination until the pieces were finally concluded.
However, the real point of interest was during our interview: Damsky and Bitton, although humouring me at first, seemed quite reluctant to join my usual analytical tendencies regarding experimental practices. We managed to get through some of the duo’s biography as an ensemble and individuals. We continued to inquire deeper into a specific project they had conceived, involving a task score set to a group of performers in a site-specific building in Jerusalem. As interesting as this was, we weren’t really able to extract something more illuminating from the details of this topic, and soon moved on towards another, namely the Tel-Aviv/Jerusalem divide. Although here too, Damsky, at first, was willing to indulge my lead, she soon claimed to have no interest in this type of discourse whatsoever, and it was only a matter of seconds before she allowed herself, with what seemed like complete and utter mutual consent, to hijack the interview towards an open ended improvisation, which Bitton and myself shortly followed.
Suddenly, we were in a fantastical radiophonic space fuelled by the backdrop of cassettes played through a varying speed tape recorder, and our own voices. We continued to use our cell phones that were playing our live feed from Halas, and played it back into the studio microphones, creating a unique type of feedback. Not knowing how serious we were about the whole thing gave the entire act, for me at least, a feeling of great excitement. And indeed, in conclusion of our first such session, Damsky proclaimed: “This is experimentalism”! I call this our first such session, as shortly after this proclamation, we found ourselves in a mock interview/improvisation session that took us pretty much to the end of our program.
My immediate intake from this was a realisation of comedic improv as a complete act of experimentation. Indeed, I doubt whether there was more than a momentary comical success shared by us in the studio, yet the playing field felt very familiar even if using very different tools. To me this also seemed as a highly productive training ground for the creation of specific radiophonic pieces – we were forced by volition of the moment, and our mutual choice to participate, to immediately take on the medium and try as much as possible to utilise it to our best advantage. But more than anything, I have to claim a connection to a facet I have already noticed before during such impromptu dealings in our studio, namely calling to mind the program I made with artist, Uri Katzenstein. In that session, as well as this, it seemed that the rapport and chemistry between the performing individuals was the essential factor enabling this state of “play”. “Play”, in this instance, representing a physical/mental space where a mutual agreement on supposed “rules” is instated (mainly in order to be broken), coupled with an amiability or generosity allowing each participant to truly shape the narrative.
So we had a blast in the studio, creating perhaps not the most meaningful content, yet something that could still illuminate, if only through practice, that which I try to explore. Not to mention the two riveting sets presented by the duo, which of themselves could be seen as material shedding ample light on the topic. However, going through the whole series of events leading up to the program, there would seem to have been a very important omission that I would now like to dwell on: Just before the show started, I went through my usual check of the Halas server by broadcasting a short teaser to the soon to be aired show. As we have been encountering some technical difficulties lately, I decided to take extra caution and even played the Halas page on my cellular device in order to make sure we were broadcasting properly. I decided to use this handicap and shape it into something a tad more artistic, and so allowed the microphone in the studio to pick up the broadcast from my phone, and thus created the aforementioned feedback loop used during our actual session. The duo was already set in place, open microphones and headsets on, and as soon as they saw me fooling around in this manner, took their cue to join in. Before we knew it we were in a three-way improv including voices, cell phones, tape cassette, and various objects at hand. As I stopped the broadcast, I said: “shame I didn’t press record, that was pretty cool”. I don’t remember whether we’d even planned something concrete, but it was obvious to us all in the studio that we were going to attempt something similar during the broadcast, and as you heard, attempt we did. In retrospect, it raised the question of whether that chance moment was not the basis of our later attempt during the broadcast? Were we trying to recapture something, or rather reach an optimal goal only hinted upon by that rough yet exciting moment of play? Did we succeed, or is this perhaps not even a valid goal to set for such experimentation? Regardless, I couldn’t help but agree even more with Damsky’s claim that this indeed was true experimentation.
Improv1@halas.am by Kdoshey Zaglambia is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.