Adam Scheflan

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Released Dec 07, 2016
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Israel Adam Scheflan Searching for
SkillIt is interesting to
consider the difference between a child’s state of play and how the same child
could be taught music: Whereas in play, one can obtain a unique skill based
around his/her interest and natural proclivities, the run-of-the-mill musical
training begs to unify the subjects and assumes a non-agile, goal oriented practice.
And whereas a musical child left to his own devices could eventually become an
interesting non-idiomatic player, the same child could find the ‘one size fits
all’ attitude constraining if he were to be trained in that manner. That child
is now that man and our 32nd guest on Experimental Israel: Mr. Adam Scheflan. Scheflan, a maverick
guitar and bass player and all round performer/producer, comes from a rigorous
background. Bringing to mind our former guest, Shmil Frankel, Scheflan too is a product of long years of training, and indeed like
Frankel, Scheflan too started noticing a growing affinity with the bizarre in
music he was listening to from an early age. From rock and pop through straight
jazz and then combining all of the above in his current practice. Scheflan, in
current years, is slowly moving from the performer/producer slot towards the
sole creator. And when musing on creation, Scheflan veers more often than not
towards the new, open and indeed experimental.  Mainly occupied with
the ‘precision’ of ideas these days, Scheflan explains that not only the
through composed, but also spontaneous ideas require their full extraction. “This
is the artist’s true responsibility”, he claims. We discuss the Kutiman Orchestra, a project Scheflan takes part in as
hired musician, and even with this type of funk-based song writing, Scheflan
hails the bandleader, Kutiman, as someone who has managed to make retro
materials without being kitschy or self indulgent; indeed traits Scheflan
equates with responsibility. “The question is whether you are marking something
or doing it”, Says Scheflan… “Marking is easy, my 6 year old kid can mark an
experimental performance pretty accurately, however doing requires understanding the historical context of what you’re
playing. Responsibility entails musicality and cohesiveness”. Reflecting on our
own collaboration in ‘Spotlight’, Scheflan continues and remarks that
any piece or process requires, at the very least, a performer’s query as to the
layered meanings it might have, and this requires time and work. “The written
score is tantamount to a groove – it opens up the sphere for decisions. And
this is the true experiment – whether one can make informed and musical
decisions based on all the skill and knowledge s/he or has at hand”.  Scheflan brings to mind
yet another past guest, Alex Drool, who claimed that his musical shortcomings were the basis of his entire
career trajectory. In his case, it was a coupling of what he terms ‘lack of
ability’, coupled with incessant boredom that brought him to his current
standing. With Scheflan there’s a twist added to this story: A self-proclaimed
rock and pop kid turns into a failed straight jazz musician as a teen. He
recalls teachers of his renowned music high school creating a divide between
the first and second tier jazz students. Being perceived second tier actually
liberated Scheflan, as he recognized the opportunity to focus on other, perhaps
more personal, sides of himself. Not knowing how to practice or read scores
properly actually created room for a more intense listening and defining of
tastes. These tastes, continues Scheflan, were in many cases consequences of
mixing with his peer group and recognizing their influences. Shortly after,
Scheflan was already a member of PEZZ, a legendary and (for now) disbanded
super group, where he took on a first shot at total improvisation. Thus, claims
of not being really good at any skill yet knowing what he likes lead Adam
Scheflan to a mishmash of talents, all devised mainly through experimentation. However, Scheflan also
recognised the need for skill early on. As an example he mentions his first
forays into free improvisation with Harold Rubin, Daniel Sarid and Haggai Fershtman, all of who were steeped in the jazz
tradition. Through these meetings he became aware of the need to “feel the
ground” whilst searching for sound, or something else. And the skill referred
to is not a technical know-how – if anything, claims Scheflan: “…this
technicality can open up the sphere for many hacks; why does an experiment
always require the ceremony? Must the flux of intention be stamped upon the
listener at every instance? Why do we always seem to aim for an exploration
from A to B, rather than present shorter forms? There are, no doubt, creators
that require a grand canvass, Such as Iancu
Dumitrescu or Ana-Maria Avram, however this becomes immediately evident upon hearing their music. Compare
that to the lone ego calling ‘me me me’ within a collective experience”.
Indeed, as Scheflan sees it, the skill referred to is a comingling of technical
ability, listening and contextualisation. “In a context where it is so easy to
fake a noise piece to an expert audience, yet even the lay-listener is able to
note a bad Mozart performance, we are confronted with a problem. In free music,
only the performer knows what the true direction is”. This is, according to Scheflan,
both this music’s advantage, and shortcoming.So how does one do it?
Well, in Schefaln’s case it requires arriving attuned to the performance, and
be aware of the possible frames in which he might be working: “With frames, you
know more or less what you are going to get”; and the frame could literally be
anything from style to direction, etc. More so, where free music and
improvisation are concerned, Scheflan attempts to ease the audience’s
scepticism regarding the performer’s ability. In fact, the experimentation in
many cases, claims Scheflan, is the listener’s. Which is why it is important to
train in front of an audience: “…they bring in the element of commitment, of
having received what they deserve, of being presented with that which every
person wants when they leave their home in favour for a cultural experience –
to be rocked”! Scheflan takes the opposite stance to my claim that this
requires a charitable audience. He claims that it requires charitable
musicians, as mostly audiences are quick to write off an experience, or react
to a moving experience in an unforeseeable fashion. But the stirring of
emotions is of the essence, no matter the reaction. Scheflan believes that whatever
one might present to an audience, this has to be experiential music from
artists who understand their placement on a long historical trajectory. “If it
isn’t experiential, then we get dangerously close to that which experimentalism
is partially to blame for, namely throwing a blanket over the listeners eyes
and masturbating. And then there’s no communication, no journey, no nothing.
For people outside the genre it is usually achingly clear when someone is being
unauthentic or doesn’t understand their genre top to bottom, but within the
playing field one sometimes gets lost”.To my questions
regarding locality, Scheflan muses: “There is definitely a shift in recent
years in Israel. When I started out playing in the Harold Rubin circle at Ha’gada
Hasmalit, I was constantly eyeing that coming in from Jerusalem. It seemed as
if whilst we were still at jazz, they were doing abstract noise and electronics…
Now, due to the Levontin and many other such venues, much of this has come to
Tel Aviv as well… Israeli experimentalism doesn’t have a sound or character
yet, but we’re definitely experiencing a boom”. But Scheflan also claims that
the sound in Israel, mainly due to the country’s size, is a bit conservative:
“Working in the same circles creates conservatism. Searching outside your
immediate comfort zone and learning from others negates conservatism. Those
active in avant-garde in Israel are something of a privileged elite. When this
opens up to the periphery, the scene will become meatier”. And in this context,
I query, what could be deemed the difference between the centre and the periphery?
Scheflans immediate response: “knowledge”… “I have had the opportunity to be
exposed, which in turn allowed me to explore and then become part of
something”. However, when thinking
of own solo creations, Scheflan claims he is still trying to figure out what it
is he can offer the world. Ever a “fan boy” of sound – his method was following
sounds he was interested with. When looking for his own sound, he actively practices
it the only way he claims to know how – like a performer.


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