A New Religion
Due to his dual expertise, which encompasses the fields of music and philosophy, Yoav Beirach offers us a unique point of view in relation to our ongoing research topic. Beirach, a bass player, came originally from Jazz. This fascination led quite seamlessly into the realm of free jazz, a practice that, for Beirach, represented the epitome of artistic radicalism at the time. In fairness, one must mention that Beirach is a product of the late 70s, and hence, was a tad late in boarding the free jazz train. However, it was only a matter of time before Beriach’s high school friend and classmate, the drummer Ariel Armoni, introduced him to Assif Tsahar and Daniel Sarid, who, due to their future involvement in the creation of the mythical Levontin 7, represent experimentalism for an entire generation of Israeli musicians. For Beirach this quartet was not only a means to expand his understanding of jazz, but also an ‘invitation’ into a new fledgling scene that encompassed more than merely experimental practices. This is the scene that formed the backbone of what could later be described as the Israeli experimental scene.
True to his holistic understanding of art in its politico-historical and hence, social context, Beirach decides to quite music for a while and simply reflect on his trait. His main difficulty was with “the way music is practiced.” His personal feeling was that “one must be more critical of his intentions.” The underlying question for Beirach was “how do people act when they create music?” For him, academicism in its artistic context represented an artificial escape, and he found no need for it. His inner voice begged an awareness of the context in which one creates, and this, in the widest possible sense.
Beirach’s first example is of a technical nature, yet drives his point home in a clear fashion: “The advent of audio recordings begs a revised inspection of musical form and notation. However, in this sense, experimentation and research should not be the ideal, but rather a means towards an end. I would like to hope that, in essence, a Madonna concert and an experimental one are pretty much the same.” The ideal presented here by Beirach, in essence almost political, is an attempt to soften the boundaries between that which is considered ‘serious’, and that considered popular/folk: “Our privileged artistic and social standpoints require us to find a new language. Yet how do we avoid detracting from our past artistic and social milestones whilst still setting course towards a new trajectory that takes into account all there really “is” in social and cultural terms?” A standpoint that presents a built-in contradiction, as it requires us to forgo the age-old paradigm that equates diatonicism with progress.
This train of thought leads us clearly and seamlessly into Beirach’s current musical practice which encompasses traditional and popular Arab music as well as free improv, rock, pop and more. Finding the non-collaborative approach problematic, Beirach attempts, as much as possible, for his practice to be devoid of boundaries and hierarchies. The underlying political question to his practice is: “what does it mean to be together?” This presents Beirach with yet another ingrained conflict, namely between musical professionalism, and his broader stance as a naïve anarchist.
In immediate relation, Beriach’s PhD explores an intersection between music and philosophy; specifically it researches the philosophical history of music theory. One of the pillars on which his entire theory stands, stems from questions regarding “a moralistic approach towards art in a godless age”: “We seem to completely disregard the fact that past artists were predominantly religious. As such, their art, and indeed its building blocks, would have represented for them a sort of objective truth. It was much easier to speak of things in terms of good vs. bad, or pretty vs. ugly, as there was an external moral compass guiding society at large.” For Beirach this observation immediately begs the Kantian query regarding our (western) authority on supposed objective knowledge. In god’s world, the western privileged authority over truth seemed a given. However, in a godless world such as presented by the west today, has god’s representation not been merely replaced with the ‘religion of atheism’? For Beirach, Kant’s assumptions on the matter were not only visionary, but quasi-prophetic. In a true godless universe, our stance towards questions of authority over truth and supposed objective knowledge must be shattered. Accordingly, our new stance should enable us to embrace much more than we were historically accustomed to, and allow room for points of view that potentially negate or even contradict our ongoing historical trajectory.
Going even deeper into this question, Beirach reminds us that western music theory has always been based on science, and specifically Maths. This immediately promotes supposed objectivism, which in turn leads towards a quasi-fanatic following. In effect, there is no difference in our approach towards these supposed cultural ‘truths’ in a religious world vis-à-vis a godless one. In both we are confronted with representations of a higher order, which we can only accept as gospel. “Hence”, asks Beirach, “does the non-religious stance really deliver what it claims? Have we simply replaced one religion with another, or are we truly at a point of qualitative change allowing us to perceive truth as relative, or culture as representing a superficial construct?” No doubt, all questions begging an experimental approach towards art, and indeed life at large.