Improv@halas.am by Sharon Gal
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.
Sharon Gal opens our 16th session with a characteristic storm! We dive head first into her world of singing, or voice artistry, or performance, or musicianship (call it what you will) with one of a series of recorded etudes exemplifying her approach. Gal, a native of Haifa, now living for the past 20 years in London, seems to be a part of that same subset we have already encountered before, namely London-based Israeli experimenter.
The aforementioned etude attempts to explore a closely amplified voice exhibiting, for the lack of a better term, extended vocal techniques. Gal explains that this is a method not only for exploring the voice itself, but turning her subjective exploration into a didactic. Singing, she tells us, is still taught in a very defined and somewhat archaic fashion. Yet, what of extended voice usage? What of unidiomatic techniques? How about anti-powerful amplification based singing? And what of the voice as the ultimate instrument, whom every person possesses? We immediately realize that Gal is the real deal – a true explorer in music. This perhaps is made even more evident when Gal takes us back to the early 90s and her first forays into professional music making with the bands Mouth Crazy and Voltage. True, they were identified to some extent with the post-punk genre, but as Gal herself tells us, most of the creation process was based on improvisation.
As far as our research is concerned, Gal’s most distinct characteristic is her complete refusal to define herself and the experimental realm. Gal refers to herself as a musician – not voice artist, or singer, or instrumentalist or even performer. Experimentalism, she asks? By now that word has had so many definitions that it’s almost impossible to tell what one means when they use that term. She continues and clarifies that experiments have been in existence (at least in their modern form) since the early days of the 20th century, and that a simple definition is either too easy, or completely impossible.
Together we swerve through some of the focal points we have already visited before. It seems to me that with Gal too, one of the main points of interest is awareness. She describes to me an ability to be influenced by every aspect of living and reality culminating in the act of performance. Gal uses the concert venue (any venue) as an example: the venue itself will have utmost influence on the performance it hosts. Once you get on the mic, even during the sound check, and realize that the qualities of the hall are so and so, it’s up to you, the performer, to take them into account; they have now become part of the composition. Of course, this example carries relevance to all other fields of existence based upon one’s awareness and sensitivity to detail, and to disregard these as trivial in a compositional/performance context is a sin to the entire practice. It is important to note that Gal isn’t tying these attributes specifically to experimental practices, but rather to music making at large; a notion that prompts in me the thought of integration – experimentalism and its mindset as integrated into the realm of music making at large. Perhaps an overstatement or wishful thinking on my part, but certainly a thought that brings us back full circle to the same Sharon Gal who dedicates herself to etudes based around these practices. The same Sharon Gal who tells us these etudes are not crafted with singers or even musicians in mind; perhaps they carry a message on an emotional level for those who are open enough to learn from experiences in fields different than their own? “The voice is truly the first and ultimate instrument, and every person has one. Hence, these etudes could serve as pure music training for some, whilst serving as treatment on an emotional level for others, indeed if they are open and aware enough to use them as such”.
Gal, an avid improviser, again, doesn’t necessarily link herself to the purist practice, as she is fully aware that sometimes she improvises with a theme in mind, linking her thought-process more to a through-composed venture. Regardless, her performances enjoy her knack for theatre and ritual, which always give Gal’s pieces the added value of meaning veering away from the here and now so identified with improvised music. One of the most fascinating stories she tells us relates back to the London Gathering – the ongoing democratic (perhaps anarchic) weekly meeting of UK-based improvisers. Gal recounts the story of a time where she dabbled in cello playing and brought her instrument to one of the Gathering sessions. As sometimes happens, attendance was high, and as then occasionally happens, volume was booming! On that particular session, Gal sat down by Paul Shearsmith, who played trombone. Whereas Gal herself was virtually unheard in this setting, Shearsmith’s instrument was able to carry through the chaos. A moment before realizing her playing in this context was futile, Gal noticed that Shearsmith, sitting beside her, was able to hear her fairly well, and was reacting to her every sound. This prompted Gal to keep on playing, and slowly she realized that her movement and energy in playing could similarly act as stimulus to other players. And so, she continued playing as if fully heard, realizing that not only her sound carries significance in this context, but perhaps her movement, or energy, or perhaps even something she isn’t aware of at the moment. It is perhaps true that this story does not relate itself immediately to experimental practices, however I cannot imagine it taking place outside the haphazard realm, a realm so deeply bound with experimentalism from its onset.
Improv@halas.am by Sharon Gal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.