Sharon Gal opens our 16th session with a characteristic storm! We dive head first into her world of singing, or voice artistry, or performance, or musicianship (call it what you will) with one of a series of recorded etudes exemplifying her approach. Gal, a native of Haifa, now living for the past 20 years in London, seems to be a part of that same subset we have already encountered before, namely London-based Israeli experimenter.
The aforementioned etude attempts to explore a closely amplified voice exhibiting, for the lack of a better term, extended vocal techniques. Gal explains that this is a method not only for exploring the voice itself, but turning her subjective exploration into a didactic. Singing, she tells us, is still taught in a very defined and somewhat archaic fashion. Yet, what of extended voice usage? What of unidiomatic techniques? How about anti-powerful amplification based singing? And what of the voice as the ultimate instrument, whom every person possesses? We immediately realize that Gal is the real deal – a true explorer in music. This perhaps is made even more evident when Gal takes us back to the early 90s and her first forays into professional music making with the bands Mouth Crazy and Voltage. True, they were identified to some extent with the post-punk genre, but as Gal herself tells us, most of the creation process was based on improvisation.
As far as our research is concerned, Gal’s most distinct characteristic is her complete refusal to define herself and the experimental realm. Gal refers to herself as a musician – not voice artist, or singer, or instrumentalist or even performer. Experimentalism, she asks? By now that word has had so many definitions that it’s almost impossible to tell what one means when they use that term. She continues and clarifies that experiments have been in existence (at least in their modern form) since the early days of the 20th century, and that a simple definition is either too easy, or completely impossible.
Together we swerve through some of the focal points we have already visited before. It seems to me that with Gal too, one of the main points of interest is awareness. She describes to me an ability to be influenced by every aspect of living and reality culminating in the act of performance. Gal uses the concert venue (any venue) as an example: the venue itself will have utmost influence on the performance it hosts. Once you get on the mic, even during the sound check, and realise that the qualities of the hall are so and so, it’s up to you, the performer, to take them into account; they have now become part of the composition. Of course, this example carries relevance to all other fields of existence based upon one’s awareness and sensitivity to detail, and to disregard these as trivial in a compositional/performance context is a sin to the entire practice. It is important to note that Gal isn’t tying these attributes specifically to experimental practices, but rather to music making at large; a notion that prompts in me the thought of integration – experimentalism and its mindset as integrated into the realm of music making at large. Perhaps an overstatement or wishful thinking on my part, but certainly a thought that brings us back full circle to the same Sharon Gal who dedicates herself to etudes based around these practices. The same Sharon Gal who tells us these etudes are not crafted with singers or even musicians in mind; perhaps they carry a message on an emotional level for those who are open enough to learn from experiences in fields different than their own? “The voice is truly the first and ultimate instrument, and every person has one. Hence, these etudes could serve as pure music training for some, whilst serving as treatment on an emotional level for others, indeed if they are open and aware enough to use them as such”.
Gal, an avid improviser, again, doesn’t necessarily link herself to the purist practice, as she is fully aware that sometimes she improvises with a theme in mind, linking her thought-process more to a through-composed venture. Regardless, her performances enjoy her knack for theatre and ritual, which always give Gal’s pieces the added value of meaning veering away from the here and now so identified with improvised music. One of the most fascinating stories she tells us relates back to the London Gathering – the ongoing democratic (perhaps anarchic) weekly meeting of UK-based improvisers. Gal recounts the story of a time where she dabbled in cello playing and brought her instrument to one of the Gathering sessions. As sometimes happens, attendance was high, and as then occasionally happens, volume was booming! On that particular session, Gal sat down by Paul Shearsmith, who played trombone. Whereas Gal herself was virtually unheard in this setting, Shearsmith’s instrument was able to carry through the chaos. A moment before realising her playing in this context was futile, Gal noticed that Shearsmith, sitting beside her, was able to hear her fairly well, and was reacting to her every sound. This prompted Gal to keep on playing, and slowly she realised that her movement and energy in playing could similarly act as stimulus to other players. And so, she continued playing as if fully heard, realising that not only her sound carries significance in this context, but perhaps her movement, or energy, or perhaps even something she isn’t aware of at the moment. It is perhaps true that this story does not relate itself immediately to experimental practices, however I cannot imagine it taking place outside the haphazard realm, a realm so deeply bound with experimentalism from its onset.