Being in the Eternal
Saxophonist, Albert Beger, describes himself as a person who had gone through a major personal change, and hence, musical change in his life. Whereas he describes his past self as a critical and unhappy person, the man sat in front me in the Halas studio during our meeting was a picture of openness, acceptance and embracement of the unknown. Whereas I imagine Albert Beger always being an essential person, he claims his current life experience embraces process more than concrete goals. Although he still recognizes the place of ambition, and indeed the role this trait continues playing in his own life, he attempts to distance himself, and indeed his students, from prostration to given rules. Beger would rather take the path of openness and love, accepting a process as a unique personal journey that could not take any other form than the form it does. Finding exclamation marks radical, he equates the question mark with beauty. In itself, this might sound like a fairly common life-philosophy, but in the case of Albert Beger we are encountered by an experimental approach that was shaped by this same philosophy, or perhaps even was the initial impetus for this life change.
Commencing his music tuition with the flute at the ripe age of 22, Beger supposedly strays from a prescribed and safe path in favour for a great unknown. Harbouring only a deep admiration for music and a need to express himself, Beger seeks the professional help of Uri Toepliz – the then first flute of the Israeli Philharmonic. Flabbergasted with his anti-conservative approach, yet moved by his unwavering resolve, Toeplitz agrees to take on the young and inexperienced Beger – a relationship that continues for 6 years. Beger then takes on the saxophone, mentioning a simple reasoning: “with flute it was Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull; the saxophone was because of Coltraine’s Love Supreme.” At the age of 30, Beger moves to Boston in favour of studies at the famous Berkley School – there he takes on the tutelage of the nearly retired Joe Viola. Beger recalls these as formative years, yet notes that the only connection between the person he was then, and the one he is now, was his love for music and playing.
With a background in jazz, rock and prog, Beger has always been fascinated with noise, or what he would later realize were called extended techniques. Yet although Beger always took an exploratory approach to playing, his compositions disclose an ongoing research in melody and form. Beger relates to his meeting with late Israeli composer, Arie Shapira, as a turning point in his playing. Shapira, stemming from a classical gone avant-garde approach, was a champion of non-classical performers, as it was with them he felt he was able to achieve a recklessness frowned upon within the classical realms. Beger, from his point of view, encountered a music that begs to be performed as written, yet allows much freedom and interpretation, and sounding throughout like a structured improvisation, although fully notated. This prompted in Beger a taste for what he refers to as Compo-improvisation. Not a genre specific practice, it allows Beger to explore the boundaries between a through-composed venture and improvisation. Beger describes his work-process with his current quartet, saying they could be playing from notes, or flow charts, or graphic representation, which emphasize the melodic and formal structure of the piece. So long these are kept in tact, anything goes. In His current band, going out on a solo could potentially lead the piece in unseen directions and indeed, towards new themes, yet as long as there is a feeling of melodic exploration that doesn’t neglect form and process, Beger is game! “My spiritual dad was Coltraine – I wanted to play just like that. Later, I had to teach myself how to not play like that.” This prompted in him a musical research with no boundaries, where any music could become a potential influence: “When asked, I tell people I am a jazz musician just to make it easier. In Israel I am branded as a free-jazz musician. But all of these rubrics simply don’t suffice – they diminish the practice and refer to a scene that is no longer in existence. Free jazz was of the 60s. Jazz?” he asks, “who plays bee-bop today?”
For Beger, teaching and practicing became a way of life – an ongoing exploration that could potentially take him anywhere, certainly within music, but also in life at large. “This is the 21st century” he claims, “and no definition can truly capture the shift that is happening in art.” …”There is a problem of wanting to define everything, make it supposedly objective, which is simply negated by a curiosity that began to be explored as early as the 60s. For instance – the course I teach for Master students at the Rubin Academy is not geared towards musicians of a certain background. It tries to circumvent the divide, and rather ask what is the mutual ground?” I ask whether he believes curiosity is enough? What of the “trait” and technique? Beger believes that teaching today should allow a glimpse into foreign influences, attempt a look at the wider picture, and should always follow the inherent interests of the student. “We cannot attempt to choose for these young people what is central and what is peripheral.” As an example, Beger calls to mind his own son, Stav, an up and coming maverick producer on the Israeli pop scene: “This was a child that was diagnosed as dyslexic, with ADHD, learning difficulties and what not. In my day no one would have cared, but today education attempts to embrace the difference.” But, as Beger discloses, it was actually Stav himself that managed to steer himself in the right direction. Seeing there weren’t as many “rights” and “wrongs” as when Beger himself was at a similar age, Stav was allowed to explore his potential, and find his own paths of learning – in his case, through the aid of computer-based music software. “Hence, to me, we shouldn’t be training the skill of these young people, but actually their intuition, and allow them to be outside the convention if that is where they find comfort and joy. For us there was one way to learn – “the” way. More and more today, you have young computer programmers, businessmen, etc. who have not received even one day of formal training. Yet, they follow their intrinsic instincts and desires, and find an alternative way to excel in their fields. They are not the product of schools, but of intuition, ambition, and will. So if this is the case with business and computers, why shouldn’t it be true for the arts as well?” So when it comes to his own students, Beger takes the “it’s not about the knowledge, but about what you do with it” approach. “I believe that music students should be trained in the spirit of improvisation.” To Beger, this gears towards a new skill that could potentially be of greater use in the long run than any particular technique or titbit of knowledge. As he sees it, this attitude would mainly teach students to relinquish any fear of finding the answers within, and with their personal process of research.
But it is virtually impossible to separate this supposed professional approach from Beger’s more holistic life philosophy: “ Mankind is heading towards a completely new direction. Look at China, who is currently building the world’s largest telescope in the hopes of finding traces of extra terrestrial life. Mankind is already beginning to understand that we are heading towards a qualitative change that will completely shift the way we communicate or maybe even think. This is probably why mankind has always wanted to share its own knowledge with potential forms of intelligence out there, and is continuously preparing for the influence of such foreign forces. Extra terrestrials brought us knowledge in the past, and this could potentially be the case yet again. This is now the new “race to the moon” – superpowers are no longer attempting to build stronger armies or procure stronger weapons, but are actually attempting to obtain more knowledge. Then why should we in our small practice not do the same?”
To Beger the first step to any type of learning begins with mindfulness, which to him begins with Veganism, or the refusal to hurt or exploit any other living being. “Boundaries and openness are not required merely as an artistic basis, but as a spiritual one. We know absolutely nothing, but if you are aware and mindful, you are able to stay awake.”… “Every person has the potential to create, but our history as a species and as individuals sends people on a track of negation and exclusion. Yet, we require expression, and our ability to embrace the unknown is a huge plus. If the door is open, grace is invited in. Extra terrestrials that learn of our dealings will not have the similar problem that we experience with boundaries. They will not bother themselves with the stories of mind mingled with consciousness and psychology that we tell ourselves. To them, we will seem unified, and our music, stemming from one unified sound experience and source – overtones. But the stories we tell ourselves are just that – stories. If we know so little about this existence, about the time we are given in this world and of what potentially awaits us thereafter, why not choose the story that allows us to be in the eternal?”