Guy Harries, our 38th guest on Experimental Israel comes from a heavily rooted classical tradition. Studying classical flute as a youngster in Israel, he was also the son of an artistic father (specifically, a dance practitioner), who was a fan of contemporary culture and music in particular. This allowed Harries an early glimpse into avant-garde trends and more so, sparked within him an appetite for what would later become his practice. At that point in life Harries was still only writing songs, albeit songs with what he refers to as “weird harmonies”. Only later, through an early 90s collaboration with his friend, Yariv Malka, he was to discover synthesizers and their raw power. And this was perhaps the beginning of a long trajectory that leads us to the Halas studio of 2016, where Harries effortlessly sets up an electronic rig that hints to his expertise in the field. This is no fluke – Harries joined the Sonology course at The Hague Conservatory at the turn of the 21st century and ever since, electronics have played a huge part in his creative life. However, he is also following an ongoing attempt to “veer away from the computer screen”, and does so by looking at various performative aspects that, amongst others, include theatre, space utilization, different analogue instruments, and mainly an aware focus at live electronics performance practices.
As an academic, Harries is currently attempting to tackle this huge topic of live electronics performance in a similar fashion to that which we are doing here at Experimental Israel. He first noticed the question: The tradition of electronic music is no longer novel – this is a fact! We are no longer surprised at hearing a concert of electronic music, brought to an audience through speakers. More so, whereas the first generations of electronic performance had a default spectacle at their disposal (i.e. huge analogue instruments, requiring minute detailed attention, coupled with an era rife with performance art), our age is already within the vortex of an accelerated electronics diminution (digital technology, laptops and their increasing accessibility). The latter, coupled with the default of sound diffusion, and the lack of any unified performance practice, lends itself, more often than not, to dull performance scenarios, and this is unfortunately true across musical genres. Harries recognizes the current return to analogue equipment on stage as a performer’s attempt to rekindle the relationship between him/herself to the instrument, in similar correspondence to a violinist and their instrument. Harries claims that there is an a-priori ingrained pressure set on such a violinist and their supposed performance “stance”, as the cause and effect of their actions and ensuing sounds are achingly clear. Therefore, how does one relate in research to performance practice in a field that seems to no longer have such a practice? The key word is: survey! Harries is building a website, which is currently in its beta phase, called: www.liveelectronicsound.com. This website attempts to look at live electronic practitioners and their suggested performance scenarios, all along taking into account that the platform will have to stay open, and allow for a community effort on behalf of fellow practitioners, and this only due to the fact that the practice is in no way set in stone and at a constant state of flux. However, the basic impetus for this exciting research lays at the core understanding that technological advances are no longer at the forefront of electronic music; hence art and its context are again the focus.
And indeed, the few examples Harries expands upon during our interview exemplify the dire need for such a survey. Harries first mentions the Swiss artist, Steffi Weismann, active in the fields of performance, mixed media, video art and sound art. But in this instance, Harries refers to her work as sound artists, and particularly to her novel setup, which Harries describes as: “she is the sound”. This becomes evident upon seeing one of Weismann’s works utilising her “sound belt”. Weismann’s sound belt is literally an article of clothing draping her waist, fitted with sound devices and speakers. This offers Weismann an immediate relation to her surroundings, audience, and space, and in an “all in one” approach tackles the entire crux of live electronics performance. A contrasting example is given in the form of Byron Westbrook, the NY based sound artist, who finds a novel solution for a known question relating to electronic music in a live context: how does the audial outcome differ from the concert to the home scenario? Westbrook devises audio files in his home studio, later to be used in a concert scenario. However, he never arranges these materials beforehand, but simply allows the moment of performance itself to dictate the shift of events. What more, he consistently chooses to obliterate the stage element of a live performance, by setting up his stage on the floor amongst the audience. This also allows him to manipulate sound diffusion during the concert itself, and thus, like Weismann, but in a completely different manner, he creates a scenario that immediately validates the live performance. Harries explains that his research, due to the ongoing mass of artists and works to be looked at, will have to be sub categorized. One of these categories he calls “situations”, and within this category we find the topic of group improvisation. Harries relates to group improvisation as the ultimate act of surprising oneself within the live context. Relating this particular practice to the grander category of “situation”, Harries points out that the situation of a performance shapes the expectation and indeed its performative context. Whereas a sound artist presenting a gallery concert could use the exact same instruments, and sometimes sounds as a live DJ set, it is the situation, or indeed setting, that shapes this performance and allows the audience a better understanding of what the playing field of such a performance might entail. Harries thinks of this as “sound ecology”, and exposes a holistic approach that doesn’t attempt to break down a performance to its many parts, but rather make sense of a whole as representing a situation or scene.
Touching upon our topic of experimentalism, Harries claims he simply sees himself as “greedy”, as he loves many things in music and really wants to try out everything he can. However, a deeper inspection of current musical and artistic practices, leading our discussion towards an appraisal of modern society at large, exposes an essence of what experimentalism means to Harries: “The world is tried of the star – we are starting to experience ego fatigue! People’s attention span has diminished, and with this aspect comes a search for different interactions. Mainstream art is heavily comodified – this is where we still have stars, and the diminishing attention span is tackled by presenting more information on how to consume the product, with ever growing tiers of content around the actual product, which in many cases seem to overshadow the product itself. However, another approach is an attempt to search for the exact opposite – making that which is considered “alternative” even more so, and to surround it with less branding. Indeed, the artist within this latter stance seems more open to collaboration and is willing to view his/her god given talent as an invitation for participation. We do not see as many stars as we used to in the world of composition, and the submergence of interactive pieces into the canon of works no doubt points at a paradigm shift of sorts. Still, one must be vigilant with these iterations of interactivity and question whether they really set themselves the goal to add to the paradigm shift, or do they merely try to jump the bandwagon and use interactivity in order to entertain”? This weighty question leads Harries and I into his two wonderful sets for us in the studio, and a mutual musing on the unavoidable political nature of art and artistic practice: “it’s easy to forget that we make a difference when we stand our ground and beliefs, but we do. Defeatism is a trap, because we can easily neglect to see our ability to shape reality, yet every choice we make can shape reality. When we decide to leave our homes in the morning and smile at people rather than frown at them, we are shaping reality. It seems like a infinitesimal detail, but its chain reactions could create a huge difference, or even a shift in how things are”.