Albert Beger

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Released Apr 17, 2017
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IsraelAlbert Beger Being in the
EternalSaxophonist, Albert Beger, describes himself as a person who had gone
through a major personal change, and hence, musical change in his life. Whereas
he describes his past self as a critical and unhappy person, the man sat in front
me in the Halas studio during our meeting was a picture of openness, acceptance
and embracement of the unknown. Whereas I imagine Albert Beger always being an
essential person, he claims his current life experience embraces process more
than concrete goals. Although he still recognizes the place of ambition, and
indeed the role this trait continues playing in his own life, he attempts to
distance himself, and indeed his students, from prostration to given rules.
Beger would rather take the path of openness and love, accepting a process as a
unique personal journey that could not take any other form than the form it
does. Finding exclamation marks radical, he equates the question mark with
beauty. In itself, this might sound like a fairly common life-philosophy, but
in the case of Albert Beger we are encountered by an experimental approach that
was shaped by this same philosophy, or perhaps even was the initial impetus for
this life change. Commencing his music tuition with the flute at the ripe age of 22, Beger
supposedly strays from a prescribed and safe path in favour for a great
unknown. Harbouring only a deep admiration for music and a need to express
himself, Beger seeks the professional help of Uri Toepliz – the then first
flute of the Israeli Philharmonic. Flabbergasted with his anti-conservative
approach, yet moved by his unwavering resolve, Toeplitz agrees to take on the
young and inexperienced Beger – a relationship that continues for 6 years.
Beger then takes on the saxophone, mentioning a simple reasoning: “with flute
it was Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull; the saxophone was because of Coltraine’s
Love Supreme.” At the age of 30, Beger moves to Boston in favour of studies at
the famous Berkley School – there he takes on the tutelage of the nearly
retired Joe Viola. Beger recalls these as formative years, yet notes that the
only connection between the person he was then, and the one he is now, was his
love for music and playing. With a background in jazz, rock and prog, Beger has always been
fascinated with noise, or what he would later realize were called extended techniques.
Yet although Beger always took an exploratory approach to playing, his
compositions disclose an ongoing research in melody and form. Beger relates to
his meeting with late Israeli composer, Arie Shapira, as a turning point in his
playing. Shapira, stemming from a classical gone avant-garde approach, was a
champion of non-classical performers, as it was with them he felt he was able
to achieve a recklessness frowned upon within the classical realms. Beger, from
his point of view, encountered a music that begs to be performed as written,
yet allows much freedom and interpretation, and sounding throughout like a
structured improvisation, although fully notated. This prompted in Beger a
taste for what he refers to as Compo-improvisation. Not a genre specific
practice, it allows Beger to explore the boundaries between a through-composed
venture and improvisation. Beger describes his work-process with his current
quartet, saying they could be playing from notes, or flow charts, or graphic
representation, which emphasize the melodic and formal structure of the piece.
So long these are kept in tact, anything goes. In His current band, going out
on a solo could potentially lead the piece in unseen directions and indeed,
towards new themes, yet as long as there is a feeling of melodic exploration
that doesn’t neglect form and process, Beger is game! “My spiritual dad was
Coltraine – I wanted to play just like that. Later, I had to teach myself how
to not play like that.” This prompted in him a musical research with no
boundaries, where any music could become a potential influence: “When asked, I
tell people I am a jazz musician just to make it easier. In Israel I am branded
as a free-jazz musician. But all of these rubrics simply don’t suffice – they
diminish the practice and refer to a scene that is no longer in existence. Free
jazz was of the 60s. Jazz?” he asks, “who plays bee-bop today?” For Beger, teaching and practicing became a way of life – an ongoing
exploration that could potentially take him anywhere, certainly within music,
but also in life at large. “This is the 21st century” he claims,
“and no definition can truly capture the shift that is happening in art.”
…”There is a problem of wanting to define everything, make it supposedly
objective, which is simply negated by a curiosity that began to be explored as
early as the 60s. For instance – the course I teach for Master students at the
Rubin Academy is not geared towards musicians of a certain background. It tries
to circumvent the divide, and rather ask what is the mutual ground?” I ask
whether he believes curiosity is enough? What of the “trait” and technique?
Beger believes that teaching today should allow a glimpse into foreign
influences, attempt a look at the wider picture, and should always follow the
inherent interests of the student. “We cannot attempt to choose for these young
people what is central and what is peripheral.” As an example, Beger calls to
mind his own son, Stav, an up and coming maverick producer on the Israeli pop
scene: “This was a child that was diagnosed as dyslexic, with ADHD, learning
difficulties and what not. In my day no one would have cared, but today
education attempts to embrace the difference.” But, as Beger discloses, it was
actually Stav himself that managed to steer himself in the right direction.
Seeing there weren’t as many “rights” and “wrongs” as when Beger himself was at
a similar age, Stav was allowed to explore his potential, and find his own paths
of learning – in his case, through the aid of computer-based music software. “Hence,
to me, we shouldn’t be training the skill of these young people, but actually
their intuition, and allow them to be outside the convention if that is where
they find comfort and joy. For us there was one way to learn – “the” way. More
and more today, you have young computer programmers, businessmen, etc. who have
not received even one day of formal training. Yet, they follow their intrinsic
instincts and desires, and find an alternative way to excel in their fields.
They are not the product of schools, but of intuition, ambition, and will. So
if this is the case with business and computers, why shouldn’t it be true for
the arts as well?” So when it comes to his own students, Beger takes the “it’s
not about the knowledge, but about what you do with it” approach. “I believe
that music students should be trained in the spirit of improvisation.” To Beger,
this gears towards a new skill that could potentially be of greater use in the
long run than any particular technique or titbit of knowledge. As he sees it, this
attitude would mainly teach students to relinquish any fear of finding the
answers within, and with their personal process of research.But it is virtually impossible to separate this supposed professional
approach from Beger’s more holistic life philosophy: “ Mankind is heading
towards a completely new direction. Look at China, who is currently building
the world’s largest telescope in the hopes of finding traces of extra
terrestrial life. Mankind is already beginning to understand that we are
heading towards a qualitative change that will completely shift the way we
communicate or maybe even think. This is probably why mankind has always wanted
to share its own knowledge with potential forms of intelligence out there, and is
continuously preparing for the influence of such foreign forces. Extra
terrestrials brought us knowledge in the past, and this could potentially be
the case yet again. This is now the new “race to the moon” – superpowers are no
longer attempting to build stronger armies or procure stronger weapons, but are
actually attempting to obtain more knowledge. Then why should we in our small
practice not do the same?”

To Beger the first step to any type of learning begins with mindfulness,
which to him begins with Veganism, or the refusal to hurt or exploit any other
living being. “Boundaries and openness are not required merely as an artistic
basis, but as a spiritual one. We know absolutely nothing, but if you are aware
and mindful, you are able to stay awake.”… “Every person has the potential to
create, but our history as a species and as individuals sends people on a track
of negation and exclusion. Yet, we require expression, and our ability to
embrace the unknown is a huge plus. If the door is open, grace is invited in.
Extra terrestrials that learn of our dealings will not have the similar problem
that we experience with boundaries. They will not bother themselves with the
stories of mind mingled with consciousness and psychology that we tell ourselves.
To them, we will seem unified, and our music, stemming from one unified sound
experience and source – overtones. But the stories we tell ourselves are just
that – stories. If we know so little about this existence, about the time we
are given in this world and of what potentially awaits us thereafter, why not
choose the story that allows us to be in the eternal?”

Instrumental Yes