This MusraraMix Festival takes a look at protest, technology and art

As for the past 21 years, this year’s international interdisciplinary arts bash takes place under the aegis of Musrara – The Naggar Multidisciplinary School of Art and Society.

 THE PRECURSOR to the Voi installation invited the public to listen with their body. (photo credit: Nadav Yahalomi)
THE PRECURSOR to the Voi installation invited the public to listen with their body.
(photo credit: Nadav Yahalomi)

What is music? What is sound? Those are two of the central issues that wend their way through the conceptual fabric of the Voi installation, which will be on display at Canada House on Shivtei Yisrael Street, as part of this year’s MusraraMix Festival, May 24-26. 

As for the past 21 years, this year’s international interdisciplinary arts bash takes place under the aegis of Musrara – The Naggar Multidisciplinary School of Art and Society.

You can add to those two posers the issue of how we relate to sound, and to music. There are so many factors that influence the way we perceive and appreciate music, some of which are taken into consideration in the crafting of Voi by thirtysomething musicians, composers and sound designers Matan Daskal and London-based Daniel Grossman. 

The former also engages in dance, which tends to work its way into his onstage demeanor when, for example, he conducts the Castle In Time Orchestra. The troupe’s website describes the outfit as “an independent orchestra that was formed by the need to hear and create a large ensemble that contains classical and electronic instruments that perform original music.” That, in suitably loose terms, also comes into the equation over at Musrara.

Daskal and Grossman have plenty of previous experience with this sort of freewheeling artistic exercise. The current work is successor to two earlier ventures in which the pair buried loudspeakers in the earth and invited members of the public to lie, sit or stand on the surface and experience the subterranean sound waves with their body and ears. That, in itself, has to shake up your notion of sonic ingestion.

 DANIEL GROSSMAN (L) and Matan Daskal explore listening and human and inanimate object interactions on different levels.  (credit: Daniel Grossman) DANIEL GROSSMAN (L) and Matan Daskal explore listening and human and inanimate object interactions on different levels. (credit: Daniel Grossman)

You can’t say they don’t work for it. “The first time we did something like this was at a place called Shdema [in the vicinity of Ashkelon],” says Daskal, referencing the Tamoon, or Interred, installation. And they didn’t just find themselves a funky location and get down to it. 

“We slept there, out in nature for a few weeks,” he adds. They wanted to soak up the vibe of the spot before they got – literally – down and dirty. “We got a bulldozer and buried loudspeakers in the soil – not deep, only a bit into the ground.” 

It was a different sort of aural experience for the patrons as, no doubt, Voi will be. Mind you, this time the room, at Canada House, will not be partially filled with soil, as was the case at the last edition of the Love Art Make Art Festival in Tel Aviv. For that outing, Daskal and Grossman brought in several truckloads of red loam and summarily poured it all into an historic building at the First Train Station, which was due for conservation and restoration, interring a bunch of loudspeakers in the process. 

“It was a physical [listening] experience for people,” Daskal observes. “They felt the vibrations. They connected with the ground in a spiritual way. It was a sort of primordial experience, which was also very natural.”

They took the project a stage further, in a sort of oxymoronic way. “Then we said we want to move it into the city, to create a kind of museum-like experience, in a confined space,” Daskal continues. “It was like bringing nature into an urban setting. Sort of a contrary kind of thing,” he laughs.

That is essentially what any artist is looking for, to change our viewpoint and get us thinking. “For me that is a way of changing consciousness,” says Daskal. “I like it, when I present art, that people’s minds are opened up in new ways, that they open up rooms in their brain that they haven’t visited up to that point.”

KEEPING AN open mind is central to the artists’ approach to their work. They can come up with an idea, an image of how they want to assemble an installation, only to turn the whole thing inside out and end up with an entirely different end product.

That can be exciting and scary in equal parts. “I sometimes get jealous of people – like the ones putting up drawings and paintings on walls in the space next to our room here,” Grossman chuckles. “They don’t have to juggle too many things. They have fixed works, and all they have to do is decide where to stick them on the wall. We don’t have that privilege.”

And how. When I popped along to their allotted berth in Canada House the pair had, basically, just unpacked the loudspeakers and dotted them around the room in pairs in no particular order. The boxed units, in rudimentary looking wooden cases, looked a mite weather beaten. “Those are the stains from the red loam,” Grossman explains. The speakers had already put in a shift in Tel Aviv and were now ready to give their all to Voi.

Grossman notes the work – however it eventually materializes – is the result of a rare treat for the artists. “We have been working on Voi as part of a residency program at the Musrara School. We were fortunate enough to be selected from a group of artists to take part in the program.”

That, he says, allowed them the luxury of getting the lowdown on the human and physical landscape before they approached the technical and technological minutiae of such a complex artistic undertaking. As with the Shdema experiment, they were able to absorb the ambiance and energies of their surroundings before hooking up the speakers, considering where to place them and what music to feed into them. 

“We were given spaces and resources in order to get into the process of creation and explore the neighborhood, the school and surroundings, in an immersive way.”

It has been a fruitful phase for Grossman and Daskal. “We were invited to spend a whole month at the school, and we find the area and the people in it fascinating, stimulating and inspiring,” Grossman continues. “We look at this time as a milestone in the creative process and our creative relationship. Normally we develop a work and have to set it up within a few days, and we don’t have a lot of time to investigate and get to know the space.”

They have had a lot to sink their artistic teeth into. Musrara has a rich and checkered history of cultural, ethnic, religious and social interaction. Sometimes that delivered enriching cross-pollination rewards and, other times, led to strife. Arabs, and Jews of various stripes, have inhabited and coalesced in the neighborhood over the years, and the spot was also perilously close to the Old City in pre-1967 times when Jordanian snipers intermittently made life difficult for the locals. 

Musrara was also the socioeconomic pressure cooker that spawned the Black Panther movement of the early seventies, which challenged the established Ashkenazi-controlled national pecking order.

Daskal and Grossman took all of that on board, and were in the process of funneling it into the sonic maze in waiting. Like me, they were eagerly waiting to see what was in store for them at the end of the elbow-greasing continuum. 

“These works are very serious productions. They involve so many details. It’s not like we make a clay sculpture, or are sitting in a studio and recording something,” says Grossman. “There are so many logistical aspects.”

At least there is a physical geographic anchor but it is also very much a vigorous evolutionary business. “We are trying to offset all of that and constantly stay within some sort of a creation process, rather than being in a situation whereby we have decided on something and we are just going to tick all the boxes and make the thing,” Grossman adds. “It is site-specific and process-based and relationship-based, between me and Matan, and the place where we are situated.”

 FLUIDITY AND flexibility are the name of the artistic game, and we, the art consumers, also stand to put in our pennyworth. 

“In Tel Aviv we tweaked the work every single day,” Grossman recalls. “It might have been the sound or lighting. A creative work shouldn’t be frozen in time. It can change at any time, in response to the feedback we get when the audience is there. We can see the interaction and then we modify things.”

Apparently, anything, and everything, goes. Daskal says there is an animation process involved. Not that we will exactly end up watching cartoons. “We decided the loudspeakers that were once in the ground, won’t be buried this time. We relate to them as sort of monuments. They are almost musicians themselves.

“After all, they are speakers,” he smiles. “I told Daniel that, when I listen to music, I really like to look at the loudspeaker. It conveys the thing. It is the performer. The appearance of the loudspeaker affects the way I hear the music.”

That line of thought is enhanced by the fact that Voi incorporates far more than the regular stereo set pair. “There are lots of speakers in this, 16,” Daskal notes. “We animate them, and they relate to one and other. They interact.” That will also have some say in where the speakers end up in the room, in relation to each other and, by definition, fine tune the listening experience.

When tackling such an amorphous proposition it helps to have the sense that you can trust your partner in creative endeavor. “Daniel and I have known each other forever,” Daskal laughs. “We were at the Jerusalem Academy school when we were 14.”

The two clearly shared similar artistic interests. Their paths diverged after a while, but they interface every so often, bringing to their new fray their individually acquired creative baggage. “We meet up every year or so and, suddenly something new emerges from all the experiences we have had in the interim,” says Daskal. “It’s great fun and exciting to work with someone you know so well,” he adds. 

“It certainly is,” Grossman puts in. Makes for exciting, dynamic and adventurous teamwork, which Voi will, no doubt, impart.

ELSEWHERE ON this year’s Musrara Mix roster the Radio Baghdad trio will pump out some evocative sounds from the Iraqi end of the cultural world, while Berlin-based Italian experimental sound artist, improviser and performer Marta Zapparoli should keep festivalgoers cocking an ear or two.

Local historical developments will be suitably addressed, half a century after the Black Panthers burst on the scene and shook up the political powers that were. There are various slots that feed off the topic of protest, and particularly the way technology has impacted on resistance, and how art responds to technology. The thematic spread takes in numerous art forms including performance and interactive art. ❖

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