The 19th installation on Experimental Israel hosts a wonderfully versatile artist who I take the risk of describing as almost an odd choice for that which we try to explore. Adaya Godlevsky is a harp player, singer, composer, installation artist, actress, and yes, improviser, who seems to encompass all these worlds in her practice, yet isn’t identified with any of them in particular. Perhaps, by default, she is only really identified with her unique instrument of choice, the harp.
Regardless, in the past 2 years I have mainly encountered Godlevsky in her role as improviser. This is a practice she seems to partake in with a knowing conviction, and accordingly, she is not a stranger to ensemble playing with the main protagonists in the Israeli scene, as well as the international one. Godlevsky reveals her ongoing attempt in pairing herself in “strange” pairings, and a specific fascination for pairings with electronics – both, as a means to veer away from the ingrained “sweetness” of the harp.
Godlevsky hails from the religiously infused Jerusalem, and indeed a religious family, although parades no affiliation to such observances these days. She started her training in classical (concert or pedal) harp as a teen only to give it up around her army service at 18. Later she trains as an actress in the illustrious Nissan Nativ Actors’ Studio, and commences a career as actress. Soon, however, guided by her biographical narrative, we are introduced to what I see as the main facet of her character – the need for change. As an actress, Godlevsky finds herself drawn more and more to fringe theatre and multidisciplinary practices. It’s as if pure acting as a practice didn’t manage to satisfy her artistic needs, and it is this same hunger that leads Godlevsky quite seamlessly back to harp playing. At this point Godlevsky puts on the analysts hat and suggest that the initial choice of the harp as her main instrument shows, in itself, how important it always was for her to be special. Hence, returning to the harp was a means to colour her multidisciplinarity with a shade of her own. Soon after, singing is admitted into her performances as well, and the picture of the artist we know today begins to crystallise.
The return to harp playing brought with it a fascination with improvisation, which for Godlevsky was also a means to compensate for the scant repertoire available for the instrument. I suggest that this must have not been the first time Godlevsky improvises, as surely the thespian practice includes improvisatory didactics. Godlevsky agrees, yet suggest that text and stage work, at large, allow an organic space for improvisation, as the moment must, by default, define many aspects of such a performance. In fact, installation, tells us Godlevsky, shifts most of the performance’s weight towards the moment as the defining criterion of the event.
Experimentation, tells us Godlevsky, is a means to advance oneself artistically. More so – Godlevsky recognizes experimentation and emotions as an intertwined array, in which the emotional spectrum always takes the forefront. “Every repeat performance is an experiment,” says Godlevsky. “Giving life to a repeat performance requires a combined effort of two supposedly contradicting factors: concentration, and substantial release. Yet there is also a general positive outlook required for the creation of a secure space, and this means seeing the seemingly negative as positive, or rather, as an opportunity”. An example for fertile ground for such risk taking can be seen in installation work, says Godlevsky. She continues and mentions, in this context, her various collaborations with her partner, the artist – Uri Levinson, and claims that Levinson is much more prone towards risk taking, making their mutual work not only fruitful, but also teeming with the feeling of experimentation.
Looking at a few examples from her practice, one can easily see the links with experimental practices. Her debut album as composer was followed by a call to specific artists (and subsequent gallery showing), asking them to react to her pieces through a different artistic medium. In the launch concert for her second album, Godlevsky herself played and sang the new compositions – song that stylistically corresponded with more popular styles. Yet, in almost complete negation, Godlevsky invited close colleagues and acquaintances to interject each of these songs with moments of free improvisation, as if saying: although not on the album, this represents me too!
In reaction to her first improv set of the evening, I suggest that many of her materials seems recognizable to me, as if I’ve already heard them before in her past sets. Godlevsky doesn’t shy away from this remark, and together we agree that this aspect raises the interesting question regarding what constitutes improvisation in the first place? She mentions that she has practiced for this broadcast, and indeed treats those same known material like old friends that she revisits when she feels lost during an improvisation. “It’s always an interesting dialogue with improvisation, as the question can also be when to insert specific materials, and how much control to exercise over them”.
It is at this point that I ask Godlevsky whether she ever takes risks such as changing the entire setup of her harp in order to make sure she does not revert to her known materials, practices and idioms. To this Godlevsky replies by simply accepting the challenge, and suggests that we try to do just that for her next set in the studio. And indeed, at the end of our conversation, as I wrap up the session for our listeners, I can just catch a glimpse of Godlevsky at the corner of my eye, making quick changes to the levers above each string of her harp, in effect unrecognizably detuning it for herself. She starts playing, and though there are still some trademark mannerisms to be found in her playing, Godlevsky manages to create a sound world that is completely new to me, and hopefully to her as well. We are notably exhilarated after this performance, and shortly after are joined by Godlevsky’s partner, Levinson, who summarises the entire experience: “It was all worth it if only for that last improvisation”.
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