On our 15th session I started off with presenting our guest as one of the names that is repeated by a majority of our former ones. The reasoning behind this fact is immediately made evident as soon as Yoni Silver sits down at his instrument and starts playing. Silver is currently known as a bass-clarinet improviser exhibiting phenomenal technical ability and creativity, however this is just another faze in the short yet action-packed career of this fascinating artist. His prowess in clarinet playing was preceded by a focus on composition, as well as jazz saxophone playing, and earlier on, violin playing. Yoni Silver presents a rare case of musician that seems to be able to jump between each and every one of these heavy topics without flinching, yet as an improviser he manages to create a world of his own that, in some ways, includes all of the above, yet sounds like none of them in particular.
Silver comes from the fairly traditional background of classical music training come jazz training. However, around his early 20s Silver starts feeling the composer itch, which sends him off his trajectory as instrumentalist and opens a window onto the written page. It is at this point that Silver almost forsook his instruments, and started gaining first hand experiences in the fallacy of classical composition training, which he describes as unbearably exclusive. No doubt, a situation known to some of us very well, where, prompted by overly rigorous teachers, one is almost forced to take sides regarding what serious music-making is, and what could be considered peripheral and hence, unimportant. Silver immediately started feeling an inner reaction to this classification, and in many ways prompts a train of thought that leads us through the interview.
One of the focal points of our discussion is a question regarding validity: Why is a through-composed piece considered more valid than an improvised one? And if already on the topic, what is an improvisation? Are all improvisations experimental? And what can be considered good or bad in a musical sphere that is so much affected by mood and surroundings? Silver and I joyfully muse on these topics, not really attempting a real answer, yet one exception shines through: Silver presents himself as a person with a growing affection towards the spontaneous, more so, an admiration towards it. He manages to shed light on what I perceive as an age-old paradigm: the topic of control. Silver claims that with notated music, there is very little control over immediate sound. The composer sits and writes directions on a piece of paper, not really knowing what reaction they might create, for whom, or when. Where will the piece be performed? What will the temperature of the hall be? Will the performers be having a good day on that particular performance? A myriad of such queries can be raised, questioning the validity of a written piece. I immediately contradict in saying that only the written page can allow true control over a musical scenario and one’s subjective yet concrete ideas. Silver is quick to reply with an answer asking us to imagine a composer unsatisfied with the results of her piece, going back to the drawing board and making changes to a piece she has now but almost lost any connection with its original stimulus, not to mention impetus. The composer might think she reacts to a concrete reality, whereas it could be a momentary and fleeting feeling that prompted her need for change within a piece she by now has no visceral connection with.
Continuing this fascinating train of thought, Silver expresses ideas regarding improvised music, describing it as a true act of control. All aspects of music making are narrowed down to that one moment of performance. The music emanating there carries the possibility of a true reflection of what transpires in the moment. Silver goes deeper and crystallizes a topic first suggested by a former guest, Amnon Wolman, namely – awareness. Only Silver takes it one step further and recognizes the true need for self-awareness. If one feels agitated, angry, fatigued or any other feeling that is not considered a stage-worthy proposition, one need only be aware and honest about presenting these feelings, and by doing so allows us, the audience, a possibility to connect even deeper with the given moment.
In circular motion we return to the topic of validity, and are reminded that contemporary art is, at least nowadays, treated with immense suspicion. So much for crediting the art of now for the mere possibility of shedding light on our own times, our society seems overly keen on setting past utterances on pedestals unbefitting their dimensions. And one is left with a double lost battle – the first prompted by the aforementioned attitude, coupled with an avid academicism unable to quantify that that cannot be analyzed. It is at this point I believe I finally understand something, a notion I had been skating alongside for a while, but could not pin accurately: the experimental thought, in many ways, begs an analysis with tools we have yet to fully perfect. It’s as if an integration of theoretical-musical and emotional practices is needed before we will be able to say something truly valid about this practice.
Silver ends with a subjective comparison between the local Israeli scene and the British one, in which he is currently quite involved. From his words I get a feeling that Israel is in a lucky position to be in its baby steps as an experimental culture, and culture at large. Although the scene here began its journey with cautious attempts veering towards known forms and rehearsed sounds, we are slowly entering a time where the boundaries are getting blurred and where artists from different spheres work together in the creation of a practice seeming less and less definable. The British scene, however, is marked by an ever-growing search for definable styles. This perhaps seems like a contradiction to the ethos at the base of the whole experimental practice, yet very much befits a reactionary movement still fighting to be recognized as valid within a well-rooted musical culture.
“People treat the sounds of their instruments as Monads – a black box that is able to undertake a finite set of actions, and which isn’t destructible; a black box that doesn’t prompt one to dissect its inner makings,” Silver tells us. A few moments later, as I make my closing remarks allowing silver to set up for the final improv session of the day, I see him spontaneously grabbing our battered acoustic guitar and a small drum. The speed in which this decision is taken makes Silver seem quite comical for a moment, trying now to revaluate and simply take control of his new array of sound making objects. It prompts in me an old-new question in a stronger manner than ever before: When did he make up his mind to do so? Where does he find the courage to do so? And oh, is this spontaneous comedy going to interfere with his playing, or be integrated in it? The first sounds are made, and we are both flying in this new world he has just now created for us. And here we are now, and again now, and now again! If I’ve ever done so before, I do so now with ever-greater resolve – hear this person play… he is the true non-monad.