Born 1956, Dror Elimelech is the 3rd most senior guest on our program after Amnon Wolman/Kiki Keren Huss and Harold Rubin. Coming from proper classical training, Elimelech had never made music his only profession. Trained formally as psychiatrist, and receiving artistic acclaim mainly for his prose and writing, Elimelech presents us with a unique look into an experimental scene active in Israel before most of our guests on this program were of age. Amongst our many featured artists, year zero is quoted as somewhere in the early 90’s and indeed with the commencement of activities in Ha’gada Hasmalit. These years mark the start of an ongoing improv practice in Israel brought about through the formation of a non-unified collective that was drawn to experimental expression. Indeed, that movement created the backbone for today’s vibrant experimental scene. And in similarity to many other such scenes in the world, the experimental one in Israel didn’t grow out of academia, or even one particular strand of experimental practice. It was, rather, a mark that the ‘time had come’, as many people from different fields and practices seemed to converge around this new and exciting mode of expression.
Although Elimelech was active in this iteration of the scene, his presence there dwindled as time passed. His heyday, as it were, was in earlier times, where it wasn’t entirely clear whether there was a scene here at all. Indeed there are stories about a new music scene in the 70s and 80s that attempted to negate that which was rife in Israeli academia – namely an archaic compositional approach, corresponding with European trends from the beginning of the century (such as the 2nd Viennese school, Bartok and Stravinsky). Elimelech, as well as a handful of composers and performers, attempted a dialogue with relevant European and American trends, which, of course, meant dealing with chance operations, electronics, and improvisation as well. For Elimelech, the relevant music of that time would have been Ligeti, AMM, Varese, Cage, Feldman, Scelsi, Oliveros, Mumma and mainly Stockhausen between 1950-75, which Elimelech quotes as the main experimental composer of the day. Indeed these names seem like fitting counterparts to Elimemlech, who contextualises his own music with terms such as chance, meditation, mysticism, non-linear syntax, and cosmic approaches. On the Israeli scene, Elimelech also quotes an important name of the time, Joan Frank Williams – an expat musician from the US who attempted to spark up a contemporary music series in Tel Aviv. Her series – Music in a Different Dimension ran from 1972-1985, and featured, for the first time in Israel, the main international voices of post-war avant-garde alongside similar voices in the Israeli scene. Another important name quoted by Elimelech is that of the mythical radio personality, Zmira Lutzky, who for decades championed cutting edge contemporary music, and that of Elimelech, on her various installations on classical Israeli radio. But it is extremely important to mention that at this time in Israeli musical history, unlike today, the entire experimental practice did not exist beyond the realms of academic classical music. Putting one and one together, Elimelech soon realised that bringing his music to stage will require a proactive DIY approach. Soon he started curating his own concert series’, some of which will run for the better part of 20 years. The most important of which was Night Happening – A Forum for Intuitive and Experimental Music, which ran from 1986. On these concerts, alongside his own music, Elimelech featured what he felt were corresponding voices of that time in the Israeli scene. However, from his perspective, a bleak picture emerges of a fledgling scene, whose members are all but dispersed, inactive, or deceased.
The reality is that there are probably others, who were members of this initial scene, who had simply incorporated themselves in other, newer scenes. Not so the case of Dror Elimelech, who came into the Halas studio with an arsenal of recordings dating back to the 80s and 90s. So plentiful was his select discography that I immediately decided to dedicate most of our broadcast to music rather than talking. The music itself disclosed a relevant discourse for its time – a voice that was both in correspondence with contemporary trends and yet of its own. Dealing with material in a similar way to most of our guests, namely locating it between the through composed and the improvised, Elimelech presents a very self-aware compositional aesthetic. Similar to the late Arie Shpira, Elimelech too prefers the non-refined, broken, lean sounds rather than their opposite presented through the age-long ideal of classical European music. In fact, Elimelech convinced me that a mark of that time in Israeli music could no doubt be a search for an ‘Israeli’ sound, and equating this sound with harshness, leanness and brevity. Whereas the generations of Israeli composer Elimelech might have encountered as a young man championed the sounds of ‘regime music’ – a hybrid construct of central European training, Socialist ideals, and fervent Zionism, Elimelech’s generation were already a bit more awake and cynical. This was perhaps the first generation in Israel to collectively call the ‘bluff’ of the Israeli government, its supposed socialist infused equality, and mainly its military control of a growing civilian population in the West Bank and Gaza. This was a generation that equated the old musical styles with compliance and regime pampering, and accordingly attempted to distance itself from this style of expression. If the post-war aesthetic ideal in central Europe was to obliterate personal affectation, experimental Israel of the 70s heralded ugliness and harshness. In his music, Elimelech, no doubt, presents a unified aesthetic: It seems that although his proposed narratives are personal, they always seem to harbour that feeling of non-aesthetics, or subjective ones; a mode of expression seeming much more in tune with today’s experimental scene than the classical scene of its time.
However, the feeing I received more than any from Dror Elimelech was that of the loner – the prophet attempting a lost cause approach at a disinterested audience. I personally recall hearing similar stories from my late teacher, the composer Arie Shapira. He spoke of a musical dessert, where the efforts of similar composers were, at best, overlooked, yet usually provided fertile ground for musical feuding within the small Israeli classical scene. In a country where academia, radio broadcasting, concert programming, and funding was so centralised and small, such feuding could prove detrimental for composers such as Elimelech and Shapira: The latter having to wait for his musical revival with composers and performers of a younger generation, and the former experiencing a slow ‘fade-out’ from within the music scene altogether. Elimelech struck me as harbouring a strong resentment towards supposed representatives of different music scenes or schools, and was mainly flabbergasted at my own spirit of non-attachment when it came to this type of discourse. This difference in approaches could be attributed to our different personalities, as Elimelech attempted to claim. For me, however, it was a manifestation of the truly healthy scene we have here today! The story of experimentalism begs to define the style more and more on sociological terms. Suffice it to review the thoughts and ideas of our former guest, Assif Tsahar, in order to understand how deeply intertwined are the experimental mode of expression and the way we as individuals perceive ourselves in societal terms. The story of Dror Elimelech, as is that of many of his contemporaries, is of a modern man, apt for the inherent loneliness of the 21st century – a subjective loneliness devoid of any objective ideology or creed. However, Elimelech was stuck in a society that begged to see all as unified. It presented supposed objective truths, in a time where the rest of the western world, and no doubt its artists, were beginning to give more and more credence to the exploration of reality through subjective means. I have to say it filled me with pride and gratitude towards the current manifestation of our experimental scene in Israel. A scene that welcomes the new as well as old, and accepts a multitude of points of view or expressions regardless of training and technique. But mainly, a self-reliant scene that doesn’t beg acceptance or validation from any external sources other than itself.