Maya Dunietz

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Released Jan 20, 2017
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IsraelMaya Dunietz The RemainsMaya
Dunietz is perhaps the most visible character on the Israeli experimental
scene. Her unique style of piano playing, improvisation and general technique
have made her, from a young age, one of the foremost collaborators in Israeli music
at large. Couple this with a true all around knack for composition in various
styles, installation, art, a flamboyant personality, and you get this same lady
who has been rocking Israeli music at home and abroad for almost two decades,
and she’s only in her mid 30s! Dunietz is not one to get caught up on stylistic
preferences. Hers is a hunger that cannot be satisfied with sticking to
ideological guns. She brings her unbiased self to each and every project she
takes part in, and links her inner research to whatever’s brought to the table.
This is also the point that sparks our interview as I mention to Dunietz the first
time I’d seen her perform: She was in her late teens whilst I was in my early
20s, and even then she already struck me as an experimenter. Hence, I started
by questioning this trajectory, as it seemed quite marked by its opposition to
most of our guests who have reached experimental music as a form of departure.
This was not the case with Dunietz, who claims she was “always dealing with the
remains. It was like an uncontrollable urge to find a window or door into
something else – a way to simply upheave everything… This wasn’t a reaction to
anything, or an attempt to be special – it just seemed like the most reasonable
thing to do.” Musing together on the possible reasoning for this character
trait, Dunietz suggests “there is always an inner urge to act in a certain way,
but the reasoning is usually unknown.” She exemplifies with links to her
compositional practice: “sometimes you have an idea for a piece and you want it
to be a certain way, but finally the outcome is quite different.” That gap is
where the inner desire steps in and demands its rightful place.Dunietz
recognises her first inspiration in the form of the composer – Keren Rosenbaum,
a former pupil of the late Prof. Arie Shapira and perhaps the first composer (I
am aware of) who started the Israeli migration to the famous Royal Conservatory
in The Hague. At the age of 10, Dunietz first met the then 21-year-old Rosenbaum
in a music camp, where the latter introduced the former with contemporary
music. This marked Dunietz’s first awareness with the fact that one cannot bend
a piano sound in a similar fashion, to say, a Jimmy Hendrix guitar. This
started her off on a trajectory of tampering with her instrument, which is
still very much part of her ongoing practice. Dunietz recognises this
realisation as her first utterance of experimentation, as she suddenly viewed
the piano as a sound medium and not a utilitarian instrument – an experience
shared in exactitude by our former guest, Nadav
Masel. Years later, this same inner calling drew
Dunietz away from the piano and into explorations of her own voice, and into
her project with voice artist Michal Oppenheim – The Givol Choir. Givol was a
makeshift ensemble of musicians and friends dedicated to the exploration of new
music and performance. It was also a means for Dunietz to finally explore yet
another departure that she claims she could never fully achieve, namely
composition: “I always, even from an early age, had ideas for compositions, but
as soon as I came round to writing notes on paper I got stuck.” Givol was a
vehicle for Dunietz to explore open-scores and process compositions, which
clarified that perhaps the problem with writing was not she, but rather her
chosen medium of through-composed scores. This departure from Piano, into
voice, and through composition marks a pivotal and perhaps an inevitable shift,
as it links us more clearly to Dunietz today, who has since dabbled in various
forms of creation taking her as far as instrument building, and even
installation and museum pieces.The
ongoing topic of experimentalism seems to Dunietz like a complete minefield, to
which she at one point even reacts with this comment: “I have a feeling I am
going to be unhappy after this interview, because I’m afraid that we’ll never
reach the point.” However, along the way we encounter a unique array of thoughts
and an actual negation of this idea altogether, when Dunietz declares: “one
mustn’t be able to define experimentalism – it stops being experimentalism if
you can actually define it”! One of her more delicate and interesting
observations along this thought trajectory includes a notion she first learned
from Michael Pisaro. Pisaro claims that whereas in the past music practitioners
used to wear both the hat of the craftsman as well as the theoretician, these
have, today, become two separate practices. Nowadays theoreticians analyze
music with their agendas in mind, leaving practitioners to always sound quite
“fluffy about their art”, as Dunietz puts it. In her emphatic manner, Dunietz
exclaims her true feelings regarding this observation: “What ever happened to
musicians explaining to us the links between their art and how the world works”!A
true improvising spirit, the improvisational practice represents for Dunietz
the crux of the experimental paradigm. She claims that her life-long pursuit was,
amongst other things, to learn how to react to the moment. Dunietz, like many
others before her, mentions her mentorship with the great Harold
Rubin, who “would simply never stop playing.” “…As
soon as you thought the moment was over, he would continue with new material,
which either made you search for new material yourself, or if you had already
reacted, to search for commitment towards that which you chose. Sometimes you
felt as if you had truly used up all of your material – so now what”? Delving
deeper into the topic of improvisation, Dunietz claims that her focal point
within the practice is to “never loose tension – this is the true experiment.
Yes, you should approach every session of improvisation with intention of
making it great, but actually, by simply being there and keeping that tension
you have already done that which is expected of you.” My immediate question,
hence, is what would she consider failure in the context of improvisation?
“Failure in a group context is the lack of listening; in a solo context is when
you fail to convey your idea, or follow it through convincingly.” Beautiful to
see how this same conviction leads Dunietz into a marvellously blessed moment
of insecurity, where she notes that at this point in life she feels more like
the “professional”; and asks herself whether her practice has truly remained
experimental. However, her constant beacon is a knowing search for an
“intuitive action that carries a universal truth – a body of raw energy”, which
she, like many of our past guest, links with that same nameless relationship the
improvising musician creates with her audience. Dunietz goes as far as saying
that she is positive that sometimes the ideas entering her mind during an
improv performance are those planted there by audience members.Having
said all that, Dunietz is also a bonafide composer, and I wasn’t about to let her
off the hook so easily. What of scored music and experimentalism – is there
nothing to be said about that? Dunietz, first and foremost, reacts adamantly in
opposition to “unserious performances of open scores.” She has a true aversion
towards a type of performer who treats any kind of open score as an act of
triviality, or as a new age philosophy to be trifled with: “These scores
require precision, intent, focus, awareness, for the performer to be in tune
with the moment and her surroundings, and not too shy. These scores require as
much precision and care as any complex score with all its tiny notes.” We go on
to muse about Cage and his related practice, and ask whether he was
experimental? According to Dunietz, and Cage himself mind you, he wasn’t, and for
Dunietz, quite old fashioned too. However, “… delicate performances of his
(Cage’s) scores disclose a cosmic unity that one can also achieve by taking
drugs or meditating.” I continue to hammer the topic in, and ask whether
perhaps all music is experimental? Dunietz answers with a wonderful open-ended
statement, recognising that a first performance, by default, is experimental:
“First you experiment, but then you have a result. With Improv you are staying
open throughout, and hence potentially always experimenting. But perhaps there
are types of music that leave room for the same openness every time you listen
to them anew.”

few hours after we’d finished our interview and each of us went their merry
way, Maya Dunietz called me up saying: “I knew this would happen”! Suddenly
after the interview many concrete thoughts came to her and she was adamant on
sharing them. We tried to figure out the best way to resume our conversation,
but eventually decided that Dunietz would tell me her thoughts and that I would
summarise them here. Departing from the point in our interview where I asked
whether all music could be considered experimental, Dunietz offers the
following idea: “When creating music from scratch, there is always the moment
of curiosity, and discovery. This is a truly experimental moment where the
results are less important. But eventually an idea or set of ideas is committed
to and then you have a concrete piece, teeming with set meanings. On the other
hand, your point of departure could be something lacking any kind of
experimentation, but somewhere along the lines you find yourself peppering that
same product (piece, performance, etc.) with experimentation so that it has
more room to breath. I believe that there are people whose task it is to be
dealing with experimentation. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a life long
pursuit, but can be a period in one’s artistic career.” Here I interject,
asking Dunietz whether these people are on a mission? Dunietz replies: “They
don’t have to be chosen, or on a mission – it can in fact even represent a
shortcoming in their character – an instability, or something similar. But
their practice is a sort of constant reminder to us all that experimentation is
there, and it requires only a simple act of awareness to be able to turn it on.”

Instrumental Yes