Experimental Israel’s 8th session introduces quite a treat for music lovers in our parts, as it features Uri Frost – instrumentalist, composer and improviser, who seldom gives interviews. It is somewhat telling (although not entirely clear of what) that out of all the offers this individual must have received throughout his career, it’s actually talks of experimental trends that manage to entice him from his hard shell!
Frost describes himself as a guitarist who actually learned how to play through improvisation. Whereas he never really managed to study music formally or even learn how to read notes, improvising with random tunes on the radio was his way of moving forward. And so, even early on in his development we see something that will return with a vengeance later on in Frost’s life: improvisation as a didactic tool. Fast-forward to his young adult life – Frost is deemed a leading figure in the Israeli rock and pop scenes, gains a serious following, and becomes exclusively identified with this genre or idiom. However, it is a 4-year stint in London that exposes Frost to himself as a free improviser and, in fact, presents to us the second generation of his ongoing career.
Frost describes his move to London coming at a time where he realises that something needs to change in his musical life. In his new home, he finds himself involved with free-improvising musicians and describes himself as unable to play with them to any satisfying extent (although, unsurprisingly, they kept inviting him back). Frost recalls recognising his complete inability to leave behind the rock and pop idioms he had mastered throughout the years, and expressed a feeling of jealousy commingled with frustration at not being able to do what he refers to as “letting go”. Fast-forward again to today’s Uri Frost looking back at his first forays into free improvisation and recognising this practice, again, as a didactical tool. In this instance, the lesson was how to unlearn all of the musical mannerisms that had served him faithfully so many years. He suddenly saw all his technique and know-how as restrictions disabling him from freeing himself as required by this new musical practice. Frost pins the crux of the matter on the dichotomy he noticed between his supposed ability to shine in one musical realm, compared with his complete inability to partake in another, which simply asked him to let go.
And so, improvisation at its freest, tells us Frost, is not about idioms, styles or experimenting even. To him it requires a shift in consciousness. I interject with a question – does he mean the relinquishing of judgement? No, he continues, he’s referring to a mental space in which judgement cannot even exist; a free improvisation requires a shift in consciousness like in meditation. The aim of which is a letting go on a mental level that could potentially allow one to truly explore new places without thinking, but simply by being. Improvisation, tells us Frost, is a “live” act! It explores something in the “now” and only occurs during that moment. There might be no relevance to this moment in two years or even two seconds, but for now it exists and serves as a true reflection of the mental state of the performer. This is perhaps why Frost deems the concert stage as imperative to the improvisational process – it allows the extra musical drama (i.e. personal psychology, relationships on stage, etc.) to shine. Listening to improvisation concerts from recordings, says Frost, seldom carries the same weight. And this is perhaps also why Frost sees himself mostly as a collaborator – he believes that the sphere created on the improvisation stage is a relationship, and accordingly, he chooses his collaborators carefully. Personal friendships are not a prerequisite, but it certainly helps.
It seems that Frost manages to reach quite similar conclusions to some of our former guests, conclusions that can easily lead to a better understanding of experimentalism. So what can be said of his own thoughts regarding experimentalism as a concept? Well, the big surprise is that the term experimental in itself means very little to Frost. He suggests experimentalism as a mere term depicting either a musical genre, or, on the flip side, an ongoing effort by artists throughout history to always veer forwards. If one is doing something they have never done before, it’s an experiment, and hence, experimental. Frost immediately adds that he isn’t an academic, and this is made exceedingly clear with his sufficing with his definition and not needing to delve deeper. However, being an academic, I continue delving deeper in search of an answer. And so, pushed to the corner, Frost suggests experimentalism as a state of mind. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the artistic outcome – one need only approach an artistic effort with this shifted consciousness, and there you have it – an experimental effort. This idea, too, resonated with former guests such as Amnon Wolman and Shmil Frankel – both equating experimentalism with a mindset.
But perhaps the most telling part of the interview is a moment of passing where Frost admits that as a composer, the main focus of his musical efforts these days, he is obliged to improvise. He reminds us again that he has no formal abilities allowing him to compose (other than on his instrument), and hence the default is the collection of materials and playing around with them until they find their way into a piece. How does this happen, I inquire? “If it’s not fun, I don’t do it”, he tells us and confesses to rely solely on his tastes – his likes and dislikes. Frost simply plays around with the materials until they find their rightful place, or not. Indeed a game… an improviser’s game.