Language & Narrative
The first time I saw Daniel Davidovsky, our 34th guest on Experimental Israel, perform live I was sure he embodied the uniqueness of character epitomising the improv scene in Israel. With time I discovered two things: that this aforementioned notion was a manifestation of my tendency to romanticise, and the second discovery was that my first intuition was actually right! Davidovsky’s bio is not an anomaly within the Israeli or indeed international improv scene: a saxophone player from the age of 13 grows into an improvising maverick who doesn’t claim one particular setup, stance or style, other than an adherence to what he refers to as “telling a story”. Musicians that are “connected with themselves”, tells us Davidovsky, must by default have their own language; this, and not the setup, instrument, or style, is the true forefront of their music. A statement that makes complete sense when thinking of Daniel Davidovsky’s practice, as whether he chooses the saxophone, computer, 4 track tape recorder or another provisory setup, he always seems to be talking with the same voice.
I ask Davidovsky to muse with me on the composer/improviser divide, and to that he almost immediately replies: “there is no divide”. Quite a contentious statement to make regarding two musical practices that have engaged in all out war against each other in the not so distant past. “The improviser must follow a compositional thought-process, as with improv too it is the story that is of the essence. A set that didn’t work is a set in which I didn’t tell a good story, or perhaps had nothing to say to start with, or maybe I just got muddled with the story I was hoping to tell. A good improviser is one that exhibits a musical language that easily correlates with his/her personality”. Indeed, Davidovskytakes this notion even further and claims that the raison d’etre of improv as a practice is to allow human expression in the most unconditional form.
When Davidovsky composes, he does so with open scores. This perhaps seems at first like a default, or maybe even expected from someone who dedicates his musical life to chance and the moment. However, with Davidovsky there’s more to this than meets the eye at first: he tells us that when attempting to write a through-composed score, he always gets the feeling that this expression does not convey the experience. In effect, Davidovsky doesn’t choose to write the scores in an open manner, yet he is simply drawn to these visual iterations again and again. “There’s something to be said for individuality, your own story, your behaviour, or your requests of others, and finding the right way to express this in a written score”. It’s as if Davidovsky is expressing that which composers lament on a daily basis, namely the distance between the written score, and the actual music one expects to hear. This divide compels Davidovsky to always search some version of open scoring – according to him, this is the closest visual representation of the experience, and he refers to an experience that isn’t merely acoustic.
“I believe people who practice free music regularly, have attention deficit disorder, and that this practice presents the proper means of expression for them”. A radical statement if it were not said after quite a few installations in which our guests named boredom as one of the key attributes for change in their work, on and off stage. Davidovsky continues and relates this theory to himself by recalling his early days as a young saxophone player. His first teacher came from Klezmer, and so Davidovsky found himself playing Klezmer. Later he moved on to jazz, and davidovsky found himself playing in that idiom. However, he couldn’t shun the feeling that he wasn’t playing from the depths of his soul. He was trying very hard to domesticate these feelings by practicing within given idioms, but as he grew older he couldn’t help but notice that what he really wanted was to break free. As he himself puts it: “I discovered I was trapped in the body of an improviser”. And so, his onward journey took Davidovsky to a musical space devoid of habit, where he immediately felt at home. With Klezmer, he mentions, my fingers were in the lead, whereas I was looking for the leadership of the mind and more so, the heart.
I continue with a query that has interested me, and had therefore found its way into many past installations, but to which I believe I haven’t received an apt reply as of yet: Why are so many people fascinated with improv and live experimentation today (and I am referring to audiences as well as practitioners)? In hopes of stirring a response I cheekily equate this fascination with perversion and voyeurism. Davidovsky disagrees with this prognosis and claims that this fascination stems from a hunger for knowledge. He calls to mind his children, both millennials (a term they themselves had taught him) – they were born into a highly globalized world in which information was much more available compared to the world Davidovsky himself grew up in. And of course, with the accessibility of knowledge comes a greater, perhaps almost insatiable, hunger for more knowledge. “The world of content is changing rapidly, and with it the accessibility to knowledge. I think of things that I myself took half a lifetime to learn and compare this with my kids, both of whom were speaking English before the age of 10”.
But if it hasn’t dawned on you already, I’ll say it outright now: Davidvosky lives in the realm of feeling and emotions. And for him the utmost expression of elation can be found in playing with others that prefer to be emotionally stirred in a similar fashion. Audiences, as he sees it, require this “walk on the precipice” in order to react emotionally, or rather, could not find a way to react emotionally to that which is presented from within a safe and cushioned comfort zone. For Davidovsky, the real skill of improv is to manage to open up that place from within which one’s true language flows. This flow allows the “walk on the edge”. “It’s like riding a bicycle, requiring a delicate balance whilst in motion, but the skill is not in the pedalling or the technique, but rather in being able to recognize the need for an open channel of awareness. The criterion for good improvising is in managing to open up the listener’s associative world. The spontaneous improvising groups’ excitation is in their ability to trace and follow one story, which all participants share”. This story, spoken through their collective language, is the narrative hitting the listeners’ ears, and if something had managed to penetrate through into the listeners’ associative world, then, according to Davidovsky, the story is clear enough, regardless of whether it can be interpreted in different manners.