Experimental Israel returns after its Passover hiatus with the composer, voice-artist and improviser – Anat Pick. Pick, like our past guest – Amnon Wolman, comes from a generation that had a first hand experience of experimentalism and improv arising as a distinct Israeli culture. Pick identifies immediately that it was not her generation that brought this practice to its current state, but rather a younger generation, which at that time worked almost exclusively as an island based around the mythological Ha’gada Ha’smalit (a now defunct prominent stage for experimental art and improv in Tel Aviv). However, arriving fashionably late into the “scene”, Pick manages to give a first-hand account of what she describes as monumental performances and sessions that were, for her at least (and perhaps for others too), a milestone in improvisation.
Pick suggests to us a personal biography that we are by now quite used to within the experimental sphere: As a young classical pianist, entering the academic system in Israel, Pick discovers she is unable to toe the line. The latter not due to an outstanding proclivity towards the extremes of musical content, but simply because she found it hard to concentrate, especially when academic writing was concerned. Pick finally managed to conclude her piano degree in London, and soon returned to Israel for no reason other than a personal calling.
I am surprised to realise that Pick refers to herself first and foremost as a composer. I was absolutely sure that the many performances I’ve seen of hers were all improv sets, but apparently I was wrong. Yes, her pieces are text-based, dealing with the sonic attributes of language (rather than the syntactic side), and her use of her own instrument – the voice, acts in an exploratory fashion that really leads towards feelings of improvisation. However, Pick carefully transcribes her pieces in a notation borrowed from early 20th century Futurist practices. In fact, upon asking Pick to improvise for us in the studio she mentions that she rarely improvises as soloist at all!
So where did the young classical pianist finally become the experimental creature we know and love today? Here too we discover a type that is already somewhat familiar: Anat Pick picks up the plastic arts as she returns to Israel, leading to sound-poetry, through Dada and Futurism, and the final segway into her personal voice-based compositions. The latter is later combined with the welcoming scene around Ha’gada Ha’smalit, which Pick claims gave her the courage to try her own ideas out in front of peers and public alike. Pick concludes: “I am not a singer, or rather, don’t use the pitch-based side of the voice”. In fact, her exploration of the human voice relies heavily on her own instrument, which she claims sets the tone for any future performance her compositions might have. In effect, Pick’s case in itself presents an experimental paradigm: a composer writing sound-poetic voice-pieces, for her own “untrained” instrument, which finally sound very much like improvised music.
Now intrigued, I query further regarding Pick’s feelings on improvisation, and the difference between the latter practice and composition. In fact, when did Pick start improvising at all? Here too, it was an ongoing collaboration with a local artist and hopefully soon to be guest on our installation, Jean Claude Jones, that initiated her into the practice. JC Jones took Pick on an imaginary voyage in which he was the driver of a bus, making vocal sounds, coaxing her to do the same. It is interesting to listen to the two improvise together on common ground years later as a voice-guitar duo in an album soon to be released. Composition, says Pick, is an act of pleasure: one takes ideas, and scrutinises them to a degree that leads towards a feeling of closure. Improvisation, however, is an act of release: the ideas rarely go through scrutiny at all; they are iterated and subjected to a process that differs mainly in its lack of judgement. This type of material can seldom lead us towards closure, claims Pick.
One of the most poignant remarks made by Pick throughout the interview has actually to do with a question I impose regarding gender: why is it that there are so few women working within the experimental field today? Pick and I immediately agree that this isn’t a local issue relating to Israel or experimentalism, but rather the unfortunate case within many fields. I keep on prompting, and claim that the few women active within the Israeli experimental scene seem to present an output that is uniquely theirs, not overshadowed by the output of male peers. Pick retorts with the mention of Dada artist, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, who managed to fully recognise, and create an exciting discourse with her zeitgeist, yet treated largely as mad with no apparent reason other than her gender. It is, of course, clear that things have shifted quite dramatically since those times, but the trends are unfortunately similar. Suddenly Pick suggests a possible answer to my question: “it is more difficult for women to break from a “language”. The deeper meaning is that it seems much more plausible for a person to break something from within its centre and not the periphery. Women, continues Pick, are by default still considered society’s periphery, and hence, it takes more of an effort to sound believable when trying to break something, or perhaps less of an effort to simply sound crazy.