Electronic and organic

Combining human emotion and the cold maw of computers, Phototaxis will rock the stage at the Tel Aviv Music Festival.

YAEL FELDINGER Photoaxis 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
YAEL FELDINGER Photoaxis 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It makes perfect sense for electro-soul band Phototaxis to utilize the showcase of the Tel Aviv Music Festival to unveil their debut album Pretty Ugly next week. Because if any music epitomizes the city’s cerebral and physical collision of esoteric yet accessible sounds and ideas, it’s the weirdly enchanting compositions that Tel Aviv indie renegades Itai Tsuk and Yael Feldinger bring to the mix.
Drawing inspiration in equal parts from the dreamy electronics of Portishead and the rhythmic propulsion of Massive Attack, but doused in soulful vocal gumbo concocted by Feldinger’s Etta James meets Billie Holiday goose bump-inducing timbre, Phototaxis proves that human emotion and the cold maw of computers can coexist in one band.
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“It took us time until we discovered our bond,” said Feldinger, recalling when Tsuk was hired as keyboardist for her previous hard rock band, called Feldinger, a few years ago.
“I knew Itai was talented, and when he and I and started workings on some songs together, something clicked. We’re really opposites. Itai likes Radiohead, and I like more blues and black soul and the classics. We didn’t plan anything, but that mix just happened.”
Deciding to dissolve Feldinger (“I had just had my first child, and I felt that the music was too aggressive for me,” she said ), the duo began spending most available time in a room percolating musical ideas and creating song fragments based on Tsuk’s involved electronic keyboard tunes and rhythms.
And Phototaxis was born, named after the locomotory movement that occurs when a whole organism moves in response to the stimulus of light. It seemed like a fitting name for a group making music at one turn so organic, but on the other, totally electronic.
“I’ve been playing around with computers and music since I was a kid,” said Tsuk, who attended the Rimon School of Music and now programs full band sounds out of his keyboard, complete with cellos, trumpets and syncopated percussion.
“Most of our material comes from improvisation; sometimes it’s just gibberish, and we put some really good beats on it and try it out,” added Feldinger. “We’ll throw away stuff if we don’t feel we capture the moment. That’s the fun part about it – when it just comes out lyrics and all, sometimes I don’t even feel it’s my music.”
Or as they put in on their Myspace page in rather Zohan-inspired, broken English, “In a small room in Tel Aviv, we sit and ‘cook’ all day long a funky full of spices and essences-delicious music.”
Despite the dubious written grammar, Feldinger’s lyrics – exclusively in English – are considerably more eloquent, focusing, in her words, “the human troubled mind.”
“The first songs I wrote were in English, back when I was 21 and traveling in South America,” she said. “Then when I came back, I figured, ‘All right, I’m here; I should write in Hebrew.’ But every now and then, a song in English would appear. And then something opened up and I had the vision of what I wanted to sound like, and most of the music I heard – in my head and in my life – was in English.”
Even though she possesses a piercing voice, which is as formidable an instrument as Tsuk’s array of keyboards, especially when she holds a megaphone up to the microphone as she is prone to do, Feldinger said she never developed her talent as a child, due to shyness.
“I was a performer since
I was a kid. I used to entertain everyone in the room, do imitations of singers. But when I got older as a teen, I became shy. I didn’t know I could sing well,” she said.
While she looks up to contemporary indie singers like Bjork and PJ Harvey as role models, Feldinger admitted that her sights are set a little farther back in time. “I’m in the Etta James era now, and of course Billie Holiday, that dark and sleek sound,” she said.
After slowly recording their debut album – Pretty Ugly – over the last year, Feldinger and Tsuk have fleshed out their studio sound by adding four band members for their live shows – playing cello, trumpet, bass and drums.
“We’re always trying out different things, different ways to work,” said Feldinger. “We feel that we’re making big music, and we don’t want to narrow ourselves and not close any option. We feel that adventure can happen at any time.”
Like at the Tel Aviv Festival show on October 21 at the Cameri Theater Café, where Phototaxis will host Efrat Gosh for part of their set.
“Efrat came to a show of ours in Jaffa, and we found something in common. I’m sure it will be a blast to play with her; she’s a really talented singer,” said Feldinger.
Despite choosing a decidedly non-commercial musical path – it’s a stretch to think that any of Phototaxis’ songs would be played on say, Army Radio – Feldinger and Tsuk are firm in their belief that they’re creating direct, honest music and are in it for the long haul.
“We’re not thinking about who our market is or trying to write a hit or if we’re more geared for an international market. It’s not really important if you’re really open to what comes next,” said Feldinger. “We’re really energetic and hard workers. This is our life.”