Beketa Leumi@halas.am by Faye Shapiro
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.
On it’s 9th session Experimental Israel hosts the composer and voice artist Faye Shapiro. Shapiro is a prime example of a new type of musician who embodies in their work and performance a link between several worlds that have started mixing quite late in musical and artistic history. Perhaps this is a sign of musical academicism finally catching up, or perhaps a sign of musicians shifting away from academic paradigms; perhaps it is a sign of our times, or maybe simply an insight into who and what Faye Shapiro truly is.
On the one hand, Shapiro was classically trained as a singer from a young age, but at a certain point finds this particular expression confining, or at least insufficient. She describes herself as an 18-year-old woman with many questions regarding self that simply found no outlet in her known modes of expression. This quest sends Shapiro to studies of Anthroposophy in Israel as well as Switzerland, where she also studied art, and back again to the realms of singing and composition at the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem, only now with an angle of her own.
Shapiro claims that the main lesson for her in the teachings of Rudolf Steiner had to do with learning patience and listening where artistic processes are concerned: “There is a moment where you are no longer talking to the piece, but the piece starts talking to you”, and the main question is how to serve ideas optimally. This notion relates immediately to Shapiro’s ongoing work with ABRA, the singer-quartet collective that she is a member of. ABRA present to audiences finished pieces that the members collectively and painstakingly construct. However, the methodology involves first and foremost a very intimate and personal relationship between the members of the ensemble, and the use of improvisation as a basic working tool. ABRA, as a unit, present the possibility of improvising with materials, again, in order to understand what it is they want of the performer, and not vice versa. Shapiro describes the collective as a tool for slowing down the decision making process, whether it’s about choosing materials or deciding what to do with them. Unlike artistic collectives that eventually fall into the traditional role of leader and lead, ABRA truly is a collective effort that requires time. The exploration is of voices, and personalities and materials that are slowly shaped into a form, but it also requires the resilience of an ongoing improvisation, indeed, allowing the materials to express themselves fully.
Shapiro strikes me not only as a person with a deep inner world, but indeed as a person that doesn’t, or maybe cannot, suffice with half-baked processes and answers. In passing she describes her work within and without ABRA as a sort of ritual. Hence, it isn’t a chance occurrence that we reach the topic of mantras and how this world of meaning is inserted into Shapiro’s work. The ritualistic repetition existing in many belief systems is here taken into ABRA’s rehearsal process: Rather than committing to binding decisions regarding forms or materials, there is actually a process of repetition and “stay of execution” for all that is brought to the musical table. It’s as if there’s an underlying belief that everything that’s been stated has been stated for a reason, and now it’s up to the creators to discover why.
This idea of mantras and reinstatement receives a deeper meaning with Shapiro’s creation for us at Experimental Israel. Her piece Beketa Leumi, uses texts taken from a talk show where the speakers were two opposing figures on the Israeli political spectrum: the staunch right-winger Miri Regev (Likud party, and current minister of culture), and the Palestinian (and Israeli citizen) Dr. Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al party). Those acquainted with the figures at hand can already imagine the heightened debate and extreme rhetoric used in such an exchange. Shapiro asks a relevant question regarding this “conversation” and wonders - are there certain things that cannot be written down? Are there means of expression that could only be effective as speech, and perhaps once you transform them into writing they loose their potency? The mantric reinstatement in this particular case is in Shapiro’s act of taking particular high-notes from the spoken text and composing them in a manner that paints them in their truly ridiculous fashion. In the heat of the spoken moment, the texts receive particular dramatic meanings, whereas in a different context they seem utterly ridiculous and disjoint. With this piece, Shapiro asks of her listeners to take note of a how vocalization shapes reality. And again, we return full circle to the initial question of what a material wants… what it actually requires.
And it’s as if we’ve spoken of it the whole time through, but in fact we’d never once mentioned experimentalism. In some ways I felt a tad ashamed to prompt my guest for answers on this topic, as it seemed we managed to dig much deeper. But asked I did, and Shapiro answered: Experimentalism is simple, really... if there is an apparent research in what one does, then one is experimenting. It’s like looking at the difference between a person practicing Yoga and a modern choreographer. Whereas the former practice requires exploration with a set form, the latter, at least ideally, is an opening for objective research (whether that actually takes place or not). I query further and ask whether the experiment should be apparent to the audience in order to have its full effect? This perhaps prompts the most resolute reply of the day from Shapiro: “It means little if you’re avant-garde, but whatever you do simply doesn’t work! Experimentalism doesn’t mean trying things out on a captive audience. There must be a risk-take, but at the same time also responsibility - the stage and performance demand reverence, experimentalism or not”.
Beketa Leumi@halas.am by Faye Shapiro is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.