What the Moment Asks
Experimental Israel continues its journey in attempting to trace the outlines of Israeli experimentalism with our very distinguished guest, the guitarists and multi-instrumentalist – Ido Bukelman.
Bukelman takes us through his own personal journey as a run-of-the-mill jazz guitarist who slowly discovers his personal language to be distinct from the jazz idiom and even its freer trends. Accordingly, into the Halas studio entered a tall and ever smiling individual with a one-man-band setup that wouldn’t shame any such street performer. Bukelman first claims his space with a rug on which the entire setup will be laid. The many instruments to be strummed, plucked or hit include his acoustic guitar, always at hand, as well as a mallet that never seems to be discarded. With these two protagonists Bukelman continues to engage a setup that includes two floor toms, a set of cowbells, cymbal, zither accompanied with e-bow and (tiny) cymbal, a resonating metal music stand, small gong, and prepared banjo acting more as a percussion instrument than a stringed one. Bukelman’s mastery over this setup is almost complete. With it he manages to give both the visual and audible effect of a performer playing on one extended instrument.
The sound world created here, both texturally and in terms of form, is reminiscent in some distant relation to the sparseness of Morton Feldman, who seems to occupy much of Bukelman’s thoughts at this point in life. Indeed, Bukelman discusses current and ever-changing influences that are almost exclusively modern classical, yet these references too seem to find their way into his own sound world only fleetingly.
To this listener it seems that Bukelman represents a musician who was almost forced into the world of experimentalia and improvisation by the default of his honest search for his true voice and technique. Indeed, his approach towards improvisation, which in no way can be deemed purist, acts like a search for a perfect marriage of collected materials with the excitement of live interaction.
Bukelman surprised me when admitting that he had been practicing with this particular setup in the months leading towards the broadcast. Indeed, he asked that we record his session, but do not broadcast live so that he would be able to edit and in some ways choose or control, if you will, the materials presented. However, upon questioning him, Bukelman admitted that he had no idea what he was about to do. I was, at least at first, confused by these supposedly conflicting factors.
The session began by Ido asking me whether he could turn off the harsh studio lights, and so we did. Suddenly, in that same half darkness that would soon turn complete, I found myself understanding in action that which I couldn’t understand during our conversation. Bukelman knows his setup inside out, so much so that he can perform on it in complete darkness. The little shreds of light remaining allowed me a glimpse of a man who constantly travels in his mind through the setup and chooses very carefully the next sound to be played. At one point I caught Bukelman literally scanning through his instruments as if he were looking for something, a very specific something, and at the last minute finding it in the form of a dull thud that left a smile on his face.
This was a perfect representation of that which he tried to explain to me earlier during the interview: the improvisational space allows an act of love, be it between fellow performers, or the soloist to the sounds and forms slowly created. The many materials and instruments collected beforehand are but a potential for something – that one goal or destination that we might be heading towards. Then the improvisational process seems to give Bukelman the freedom to discover what the materials truly want. It’s as if he almost spiritually approaches the moment with some intimate request in mind, asking it to help him find the right path for all that needs to be said. Controlling the materials in the form of a score is not an option as far as he’s concerned– the improvisation acts as a means to step away from the thinking self and connect more deeply with the feeling self; that which does not judge, but simply allows things to be the way they are.
It is interesting to note that in the few times I have heard Bukelman perform, he seems to exemplify this ethos in complete honesty: each of these situations took place in a different time and space, with different performers and setups. And indeed each time, Bukelman managed to illuminate the moment in a completely different fashion although using similar gestures and materials at times. It was absolutely magical to witness firsthand that the mastery Bukelman has over his own instrument is as true for his mastery over events in time. It’s as if he was able to expertly shape moments into a perfectly timed narrative and build towards a drama that seems to have surprised him as much as it did me.
After one of our recording sessions, Bukelman paused and asked to listen to the recording. It was the guitar sound in the recording that he was concerned with – here was an unknown factor imposed on him, which he never for one moment criticised or tried to change. Yet he wanted the time to get comfortable with this sound, and take his place aside it not as if he were in control, but rather as if he were there to facilitate a process that he was honoured to be a part of.