Guy Osherov (AKA Guy Dubious)
A couple of weeks ago I was approached by a young Israeli composer who had just finished her bachelor’s degree in the US. Making her first steps as a professional experimentalist (if such a thing actually exists), she wanted to get a better grasp of the Israeli experimental scene, and assumed I would be the right person to talk to. We met for tea, and very quickly we started speaking of my research here. Her first question was whether I could find something that sets the Israeli scene apart from other scenes. Granted, this is something that I myself am trying to grasp, and have yet to reach a definitive conclusion, but I could at least offer her this thought: Apart from it being a huge conglomeration of highly talented and skilled practitioners per capita, the scene here has absolutely no claim to funding! It is not affiliated, like some other places around the world, with the classical music scene, and so the non score-based work makes the relatively small Israeli commissioning pool virtually out of reach. In fact, the experimental works that do seem to get to stage and hence funding seem to always veer towards a different art form (dance, museum based practice, video, etc.), making a claim for funding more feasible. This fact, inadvertently perhaps, deems the experimental scene rife for collaboration, and more so, allows collaborations between artists coming from different genres and scenes altogether. Guy Dubious, our 39th guest on Experimental Israel, alongside with his friends and colleagues Ori Drumer, and Ron Kazir, recognised these attributes of a scene long before I did, and also recognized the need for a venue that would celebrate this unique attitude. The Zimmer (“Room” in German), currently in its 3rd iteration, was initially conceived as a working studio that also hosts live music. It was supposed to answer the working and performative needs of experimental practitioners, but also immediately, due to its innovative curation, became the hotspot for genre bending performances. Dubious, who co-curated gigs in the Zimmer from 2008-2013 attests to evenings hosting anything from free improv, to metal, dance music, and dance practice inclusively. This is very much still the line of curation at the Zimmer, although it somehow feels to this writer that the heyday of the venue is past.
Dubious himself does not hail from a musical tradition. He attests to a healthy curiosity as a young man that had always raised important questions within him, which would later become the impetus for his artistic calling. However, his first foray into improv was at the request of a friend who used to play on the streets (not busk, but simply play outside). Dubious asked whether he could film the same friend in one of his sessions, and the latter’s reaction was an invitation to take part in the actual music making, so that Dubious is not an “outsider” to the act. Dubious joined in with a tape cassette, and it is this first improv session that laid the foundation for his future musical practice.
Upon my request of Dubious to take part in our research, he made quite an inquiry as to the equipment we have available at the Halas studio. I questioned this curiosity, and would soon discover that it is Dubious’ regular tendency to utilize the performance space and its equipment to its utmost. Eventually, during the session itself, Dubious ended up using his own setup coupled only with the electric pedal organ in the Halas studio, as well as a room mic that picked up the ambiance sound in the studio. Although I felt Dubious was “in the know”, I still had to make sure that he was aware that the an open room mic will pick up ALL the sound created in the studio, and not only those made by him. These sounds can be heard throughout Dubious’ first improv set, where his music is coupled with my creaking chair, his cassette tape changes on our unforgivingly loud wooden table, me pulling my nose (I was quite ill that day), and mainly – Avigail from the Digital Art Lab, who films our artists on a regular basis. Yes, Dubious was aware, and not only was he aware – he welcomed these surprises. In fact, I’m quite sure that these surprises are in many ways the validation for Dubious’ practice.
Dubious takes us through what has now become (at least for me) quite a characteristic stance, which sets awareness at the forefront. The boundaries of this awareness are limitless, as they can encompass not only the sounds themselves, but also the body that creates them or indeed the thoughts that the same mind thinks. Whereas with former guest, Amnon Wolman, who suggests to us awareness as a gateway between that which isn’t and is experimental, Dubious bases his entire practice on this stance. He questions everything, and allows literally everything to shift a given performance. His is an act of total improvisation, where shifts of light, body motion, interaction with his setup, ambient sounds, weather, you name it – all these and more can be the basis for change and reaction, and they can all shape the end result. At one point during our interview, Dubious even questions the machinery he uses itself, asking whether we are not confined by the inner workings of a mixing desk: “There is a such a clear relation of cause and effect in a mixing desk channel, where the original signal is always pointed towards”. Dubious has lately started imagining a mixing desk that truly “mixes” its various inputs, and allows change on numerous levels of variability. For instance, 3 separate signals going into that “mixing box” could literally get lost and when the user attempts to change one of the parameters on the machine, s/he is not entirely sure what result s/he might receive. More so, what if the sound emanating from this box could be affected by simply shifting one of the cassette tapes (feeding it its signal) on the table? This, according to Dubious, would be a perfect instrument for someone such as himself, as it would obliterate the traditional relation of cause and effect, and would allow him as performer to simply and constantly be in a state of reaction. It’s as if he were saying that in a situation where cause and effect are no longer clear, and any minute difference could relate to change, one has to be aware of everything – literally everything. As interesting as this sounds, I had to inquire whether this philosophical stance does not obliterate yet another traditional layer of cause and effect, namely the artist producing something interesting for an audience to hear. Or in other words, does this imagined practice withstand any kind of critical appraisal, or is it simply a research tool? Dubious has obviously thought these notions through, and responds accordingly, directing the focus towards the creation of new types of relationships, and indeed moments of beauty that couldn’t otherwise be found. And what is to be said of the role of the creator, which I shy from calling composer, as Dubious himself shies away from this description? To Dubious he is like a grand beholder, placing himself somewhere on the spectrum between complete control and total lack thereof. Dubious himself attempts to avert from binary dichotomies in this instance and describes the act of the creator as a subtle dance between these supposed two extremes. The method of travelling on this spectrum transpires through what Dubious refers to as a “cut”. This cut is where the experienced professional intervenes, and makes knowing decisions based on prior knowledge and experience. This is perhaps the most pivotal decision made throughout Dubious’ entire creative process, as it is one of its only marks of proficiency. Indeed, the professional demand of sound exclusivity is something that Dubious hardly relates to. He wholeheartedly takes on the approach that embraces every sound as music, and thus welcomes even what might seem to some like interference.
In order to clarify that this approach is not a half-baked endeavour, Dubious takes us into his fascinating PhD research at the Universtiy of Birmingham, where he explores sound, but actually does so in an art department. The latter choice in many ways a logical one, as his topic is sound recording, a topic Dubious sees as relating to material, and not to a fixed language come practice, such as classical western music practice for instance. In similarity to his ideas regarding the mixing board vis-à-vis his imagined “black box”, Dubious’ research attempts to shift the focus from that which we assume as fact, and starts with questioning the validity of such resolve. His point of departure within the field of audio recording, is where one takes for granted the utility of the machinery in question, specifically pointing our attention towards the fact that the speed at which audio is recorded must correspond to the speed in which it is played back. Indeed, if one were to take the simple action of changing either of these speeds, we would get a distorted yet recognizable recording at one side of this spectrum, and a completely different sound source at the other. This calls to mind an audio recording that has turned quite viral in past years, claiming, at least, the slowed down sounds of crickets actually resulting in a beautiful choir-like sound. Real or fake, the idea remains – the utility of the recording and playback apparatus are taken for granted, and only a small shift is required from this paradigm in order to open up for us an alternative reality where cause and effect no longer adhere to set rules. Dubious continues with yet another interesting example – in this instance, taking the idea of hiss into account. Hiss is a recording artefact that exists to this day, even in digital times. Whereas it is our knee-jerk reaction to try and obliterate hiss (even Dubious himself tellingly turned down the high frequency EQ dial on our studio mixer in order to avoid ample hiss generated by his setup), we never seem to ask ourselves whether we can utilise it, or amplify it, or maybe attempt to view it as within the frame that we reserve for meaningful content. Here again, Dubious exemplifies in thought that which he exemplifies through his work and possibly life – the framework from within which we act, react and practice, is a construct of utility turned into supposed objectivity. Dubious, with his aptly chosen stage name, would like to remind us that it is such simply through the eyes of the beholder, and that a slight shift of gaze could perhaps allow us to see it all differently.