Shmil Frankel

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Released Feb 28, 2016
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Experimental Israel Shmil FrankelEvolutionExperimental Israel
continues its journey into the great unknown of understanding the possible
meanings of this little understood beast – Experimnetalism. On our 6th
installation we had the honour of hosting one of the most prolific and diverse
musicians on the Israeli scene, Shmil Frankel. Frankel (born 1968) is a
maverick string player, improviser and composer who has had the rare experience
of working as musician in two completely different scenes - the Israeli and
British one. This perspective adds to the richness exhibited by this very full
and whole person, who is also an instrument builder as well as trained in
Chinese medicine. Frankel needs little introduction
to our topical issues, and it truly seems that they are all part of his thought
process and regular philosophical meanderings. With no prompting on my part,
Frankel comes into the studio with a prepared answer to a question not asked,
and proclaims: improvisation is not Experimentalism! He goes on to explain that
whereas improvisation is to be found in almost every activity in this life and
world, experimentalism is something else. One improvises all the time, Frankel
reminds us – in fact, the more acuteness one shows to detail, the more factors
or unknowns are inserted into the improvisational equation. Take a classical
violinist, who would not regularly be deemed an improviser, but in fact she is
improvising all the time. For instance, she plays the same concerto in
different halls, with different orchestras – all of these factors change with
every new performance. The more acute this performer is to little details that
change, so is she in fact improvising with unknown factors – a different
sounding hall, or orchestra, or tempo, or even ambient sounds or humidity. All
of these can become a factor leading towards, or requiring improvisation.
Frankel continues and gives an example from his own life: in preparing for a
concert with a through-composed piece, he was confronted with completely
different results than imagined when hearing the piece in the commissioning
venue. Suddenly, without having prepared or even imagined these possibilities,
he was required to improvise in order to get as close as possible to his
desired result. However, Frankel equates both scenarios with a plumber hired to
fix a problem left unknown until the actual moment when he is confronted with
it. Is there a chance he will not be able to fix it? Of course! What are his
aids? Well, the many tools he has with him that were collected throughout his
career. And suddenly this notion of improvisation truly existing everywhere
becomes quite clear. Experimentalism? Yes,
improvisation can be experimental, but isn’t necessarily. An experimental
effort necessarily means delving into the unknown. The experience toolkit
described before can still be available at hand, but the experiment, if truly
new, might deem the toolkit completely useless. Frankel finds it very difficult
to set boundaries between the technical and emotional, and leads towards a
notion of the experimental sphere actually emanating from a vast energetic
sphere or whole that we both in some ways agree upon, but cannot fully describe.
The closest we manage to reach, in my opinion, is when Frankel describes a
possible scenario in experimental improvisation where he could initiate a
musical process by, using his term, “inviting” the situation to shift in a
certain direction. This invitation can be followed, or declined, but in case
something does create a shift in an improvising ensemble as a consequence of
such an invitation, energy is created, which now also includes the audience and
its own emanating energy. The performer, audience and material are united in a
search through an unknown territory where the only defining factor is the
energetic reaction on behalf of all participants. It reminds both Frankel and
me of this moment where things seem to miraculously glue on an improvising
stage and for a brief period of time give out the feeling of having reached a
destination without having ever envisioned it, but only by yearning for it in
some way.This to me seemed like
a pivotal understanding, as it pinpointed the fact that regardless of the
openness, lack of criticism and freedom that the experimental research-lab requires,
we are all very aware of when we have reached a supposed destination, vis-à-vis
when we are simply still looking for something unknown. This made me question
whether the experimental sphere doesn’t require a boundary, arbitrary as it
might be? If we can agree, even at least in certain instances, that what we
were looking for was found, does this not mean that we (the performer and
listener) are working in a sphere of agreement? This is, at least in
part, answered when I query Frankel about the difference between the British
and Israeli experimental scenes. We immediately discuss The Gathering, the ongoing London based meeting point for
democratic music making now in its 25th year. We both attest to
first hand experiences where the mutual musical agreement was taken astray by a
force disabling the entire effort. This also reminds Frankel of many established
improvisers who deem The Gathering, for instance, a sort of renegade hardcore
activity within the free improv scene. This in some way strengthens my resolve
regarding the required boundaries even within efforts that are completely new
and unknown. Frankel respectfully disagrees and retorts – even if we imagine,
as we did with The Gathering, a situation where a participant takes a fairly
glued moment and suddenly starts slamming doors, in effect disabling the
musical sphere created, he is still, by having imposed this action, creating an
experimental space. True, perhaps this cannot be an experiment in music
anymore… maybe it is about art now, or life at large, but it still bears the
essence of flirting with the unknown. Hence, a scenario such as described above
can perhaps quite locally be deemed a failure, but in the grander scheme of
things, experimentalism is always a success. We are simply led into a place
that has no meaning for us yet, or a sphere we cannot as of yet recognize, but
it is there, no doubt, because someone obviously decided to explore it. More so, Frankel
submits a rare story of a meeting between British saxophonist and improviser,
Evan Parker, and the Israeli scene, which in some way sheds light on this idea
of working from within a sphere. Parker was invited to play in Israel with
local performers and noticed that there is an uncanny tendency for following
new ideas on the Israeli improv stage. Whereas new ideas are inserted with
caution and have to truly fight for their space in the British arena, Parker
noticed that the Israeli improvisers aren’t only unabashed about presenting new
ideas, but are actually more than happy to ratify ideas presented by others.
Frankel and I cannot agree as to whether this is good or bad and meet on some common
ground stating the pros and cons of this behaviour. Yet we both agree to it
being quintessentially Israeli, and not relating only to music. Regardless, it
reinstates the notion of experimentalism not being able to really take place
outside of a context (or perhaps us not being able to see it as such).  Frankel, who seems to
agree with most of our gusts so far in thinking that experimentalism can thrive
in any artistic context regardless of style, takes this notion one step further
and claims there must be something universal about the hunger for the new. In
response I immediately confront him with thoughts arising in a previous
installation with the composer and lecturer, Amnon Wolman, and ask whether
there isn’t something to be said for awareness – doesn’t experimentalism
require from the doer an awareness of what s/he is intending to do despite any
knowledge (or the lack thereof) regarding the destination? Although in
agreement with this thought, Frankel himself presents experimentalism as a form
of ongoing evolution unique to our species. We humans have neglected some
traits and tools that serve us no more; we have picked up others that are very
specific. But the main change in our world today is that we no longer have to
work hard in order to live. We are bombarded with options and choice on every
aspect of living, and in fact, if anything, are quite bored. Whereas to some
members of humanity it is more readily clear that they are searching for new
stimuli, it is in fact something inherent to our species, says Frankel. We no
longer have to find better tools for daily problems, and we seek the advice of
specialists when dealing with these problems anyway. This leaves room for us to
start exploring our subjective points of interest with an experimental
approach. The aim of which is to become more complex, or perhaps richer as a
species, or more sensitive to detail. Frankel calls this finesse, and this
finesse can undoubtedly be seen as an advance in our collective psyche. We somehow manage to
return full circle to that same performing musician whose improvisational
qualities are a function of her acuteness to detail, or the experimental
endeavour that cannot be deemed in any way a failure if looked on from a
distant enough perspective. Again, after the microphones in the studio close and
Frankel and I are left to the residue of our thoughts, it is my reaction to
something that Frankel says that prompts a deeper understanding in me. He
claims that the Sex Pistols could be deemed as experimental as any effort
within the “serious” music scene. Coming from serious music, I instinctively
frown. But a short exchange reveals that I in fact know very little of where
the Sex Pistols were coming from, what their audiences were accustomed to, and
how new this new something must have seemed to them. I mull on this for while
and must agree that in order to truly recognize an experimental effort, one
must be at least to some extent in the know of the sphere, scene or boundary
from within which it is created. If I realize that I simply don’t know enough
about punk to recognize the Sex Pistols as experimental, I must also realize
that an eyebrow raised at any experimental effort must say more about me than
it does about the experiment.


Instrumental Yes