Improv firstname.lastname@example.org by Guy Barash
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.
A Question of Identity
Experimental Israel begins its long journey of trying to trace the outlines of experimental trends, and specifically the Israeli ones, in conversation with the composer, and electronics performer and improviser – Guy Barash.
Barash is perhaps the perfect guest to start with, as he, like many others of his generation, had started his training with the Israeli composer, and perhaps forefather of the experimental movement in Israel, Arie Shapira, who has recently passed away. As such, he represents a crossroads between the traditional classical education befitting a score-based composer, and the renegade role that seems to have “stuck” to many of Shapira’s students.
Barash, quite tellingly, lives abroad, and presents us with a curiosity as a modus operandi. As a composer he feels more comfortable with “checking things out” than subscribing to a known style or ism. So much so, that he treats his role as musical director of his concert series at the Spectrum in New York as a sort of workshop: allowing composers, performers and audiences to re-examine their roles vis-à-vis each other. As an example, he introduces us with snippets from a piece By Karlheinz Stockhausen that had been performed in one of his concerts at the Spectrum. Aus den Sieben Tagen from 1968 is an anomaly for Stockhausen, as it presents us with open scoring that is very uncharacteristic of the German composer. In fact, despite his admission in the late 50’s to the uncanny similarity in outcome of his own works and that of John Cage, he is still recognized as one of those composers who over-specify more often than not. So much so that according to Barash, he had at some point ordered Aus den Sieben Tagen to be removed from his official catalogue of works. This itself was reason enough for Barash to want to perform the piece for his New York audiences. And indeed, one must confess that the piece sounds more like a bona fide improv session than a Stockhausen one.
Barash, like Stockhausen, is quite aware that experiments might end in failure and that a positive outcome will have to do with a marriage of dedication and chance. Unlike Stockhausen, however, he welcomes this facet and discusses further similar influences such as Zorn’s game of musical chance, Cobra;the work of Ornette Coleman and William S. Burroughs in their chance meeting on the film Naked Lunch by David Cronenberg;as well as presenting us with his own improvisation, based on a reading of Howl by Allen Ginsberg.
Speaking of Beat poetry and 50’s America raises the query that marks the entire meeting with Barash: is there something intrinsically American about experimentalism? Is it perhaps a reaction from “across the pond” to a culture that cannot untie its links to the past, and this despite a philosophical and artistic post-war movement that more or less blamed European culture at large for the largest historic atrocity unto that point in time? Or is it perhaps a culture making its own original claim to modernity after having for years lived in the shadow of an older and more oppressive culture? The idea that resonates in Barash most is that of creating one’s own identity: Experimentalism as a means to discover who one truly is. Artistic ventures aside, freedom, as a concept, seems in 2016 almost an American brand. Barash questions this, and makes us realise that freedom in itself is not of the essence – if you want to discover who you truly are you must start playing with freedom.
The music of Guy Barash most definitely embodies this playfulness. Even when deadly serious, like in his collaboration with poet Nick Flynn on Seven Testimonies and Proteus, it seems that there is a constant search; an unrelenting feeling of not having fully reached your destination, or a question whether that destination even exists.
Improv email@example.com by Guy Barash is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License.