Seven is considered a lucky number in the Jewish tradition, and only God knows why, but perhaps it’s not a chance that our seventh guest on Experimental Israel is one of the most intriguing figures on the Israeli scene – Alex Drool. Drool is heralded as a unique voice in the Israeli improv scene – he seems to holistically combine somewhat “traditional“ playing of objects with an uncanny talent for performative actions as well as an acute sensibility for space. Hence, it was quite interesting to meet this artist who explains that things couldn’t have been much different for him.
Drool takes us back to his first memories of attraction with the bizarre in the form of public Israeli television shows about 20th century painters. In his case it was the program dedicated to the Dutchman, Karel Appel. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the art created by the Dutch master that caught his attention, but rather the synth music accompanying the show, by Appel himself, taken from the CD entitled Musique Barbare. There was something about this first meeting that Drool looks back to as a sort of watershed moment, realizing then that his tastes were drawn to this somewhat different sound.
Drool continues to describe his short stint with violin playing cut short due to its colliding with his favourite TV show at the time. He later on re-enters the music scene as a self-taught drummer with various noise bands. There doesn’t seem to be a particular memorable moment where Drool started improvising, rather – he was always improvising, as even in those fore mentioned bands there was no set plan: the players met, improvised on themes and slowly built materials. This same thread, tells us Drool, connects seamlessly to his future attraction with free improvisation as he practices it today. Drool mentions that his “learning” how to improvise happened on the job. The main shift was in his sensibility to sound. Whereas at first he was more concerned with his own actions, slowly he started giving in to the actions of fellow players and indeed to the sounds created as an external force to be reckoned with.
Generally speaking, Drool is not one to entertain my usual academic requirement for definition. He seems to see everything in his practice as a subjective life-choice, a personal exploration going beyond music, and mainly something so personal that little other than a description can be said of it. I find this hard to fathom and probe further – I remind Drool of the first performance I saw of his in which he inserted some materials from complete left-field, and connect this to his general style in saying that one can never really know what to expect of him next. I suggest that he seems very willing to deal with materials that few other artists are willing to deal with, taking them to an extreme, and as if that isn’t enough – he seems to move between materials so quickly leaving me as an audience member constantly on my toes. I use the word courage to describe this.
Believe it or not, Drool excuses himself at this point and simply replies: “I just get bored very quickly”! More so, he feels the need to apologize to fellow performers, as he is quite aware of his stage activity in many ways dampening or overshadowing fellow performers at times. This comes to me only as half a shock, as it is true that I have noticed in many instances Drool requiring something quite different from his stage colleagues. Although I personally have always seen this as a blessing, a different side of this artist is exposed to me. It’s as if his is such a personal and deterministic search, so much so that he realizes that sometimes he takes casualties. And again, is there anything to learn from this? Is there perhaps a theory I can latch on to, or even a tagline? Apparently not! This is the way Alex Drool is… he eats, he sleeps, he shits, he plays, and he improvises. What is he looking for? Well, to start with – not to get bored!
It is interesting to note that academia at large has started researching boredom as a benefit when considered in psychological terms or even when productivity is concerned. The underlying question to any such research is why does boredom exist in the first place? Whereas there are many answers and no definitive one, the answer most interesting to me presents the concept of boredom and dreaming (not during sleep, but rather day-dreaming, or projections if you will) as connected. Boredom, in that sense, can be seen as a consequence of projection: I know what the situation is now and I’m bored. Boredom is presented as a symptom of our mind projecting into the future, or seeking an alternative to what is perceived locally as mundane. The projection is, of course, based on what one thinks they can achieve, and in some instances this is a stimulus for action. The same researches make a connection between genius and necessary boredom, and in fact tie huge artistic and scientific advancements with what we tend to consider a very unappealing and somewhat mundane feeling.
It was at thins point that I was sure that all I wanted to do was wrap up and have Drool play for us in the studio, as it was clear to me that whatever he ends up presenting for us there will certainly be of a more distilled language than anything he shares in words. All the loose ends in my mind were tied together neatly and suddenly what I saw as a wonderfully quirky style received clear recognizable meaning, as clear as seeing this man sitting in front of me.
But continue a bit we did, where Drool spoke fondly of members of the local and international improv “family”. To my questioning, he refused to see a difference between national styles. He claims that once an improviser is on stage there is a sort of island created around that performance. “In Improv, one is never wrong because we are searching. So mistakes and failures are also a part of a standard performance”. “That first performance of mine you saw in London… you loved it, but some people came up to me after the show saying they hated it, and it’s got to be that way!” Drool links this fact to the obliteration of stylistic notions, seeing there is always space left for the unknown, and this, of course, renders any recognisability or lovability somewhat futile. It’s as if he were saying that if someone ends up liking your improvised performance, you are either improvising to a known theme (or repeating yourself), or that same person is as surprised as you are when they discover they actually liked it.
Drool mentions that he and I are possibly the opposite type of person. Whereas I look for definitions, he seems to thrive within chaotic and somewhat conflicting feelings that are, he tells us, the basis to his entire practice. I retort by suggesting that as a composer I was always harassed by the notion of having to take responsibility for my musical actions. Drool replies with a wonderful story of how he single headedly managed to derail a performance a few months back, by sticking to an action (in this case, clicking using a plastic cup) that disabled his stage colleagues from continuing. He was confronted on this not only by his colleagues, but also by some of the audience members as well. Whereas he feels somewhat guilty as far as his colleagues are concerned, he claims he really wants it to be this way. His responsibility, hence, is in knowing that if he doesn’t fail sometimes, he must be doing something wrong.
And as is more and more seeming to be the rule, I find it’s a beautiful story Drool tells me after the microphones are gone that seems to sum up this brilliant person: Drool takes me back to an improvisation performance in which he was confronted with some proper Swing styles the other performers brought to the table. What can I do with this he asked himself? His immediate answer was to mimic in silence the performance of an overtly avid jazz drummer. Whilst the other performers later chided his actions, it was clear to me, as it was to him, that this was the only angle he could take. When Drool mimicked for me in the studio his mimicking of that same jazz drummer, I realized something very important: OK, I was laughing out loud, but I also realised that I immediately understood something about jazz, and free improv, and borders, and rules and mainly, Alex Drool. I suddenly asked myself what I would have done in his place? Knowing myself, I would have probably stopped my performance. Not only did Drool not stop his performance, but he continued to find ways to research himself and his practice in places where he didn’t even want to be.
In passing Drool tells me that maybe, if he knew how to play an instrument real well, he wouldn’t be doing what he does: “Maybe if I could play real good Blues guitar, I’d be doing that all day long, but this is all I can do”. All that is good and well, but if Alex Drool’s style and thinking are a consequence of lack of ability or boredom, then bless them both.