Time and space for music

There were several professional confluences, with Nitzan designing the covers for a couple of Cohen’s records and providing video art for the trumpeter’s powerful Big Viscious jazz program.

A scene from the This Does Not Die video installation  (photo credit: ROIY NITZAN)
A scene from the This Does Not Die video installation
(photo credit: ROIY NITZAN)
Compositions for Timespace are drawing to a close at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The three-part series is now in its final chapter with the This Does Not Die video installation, the result of an intriguing synergy between artist Roiy Nitzan and musician Avishai Cohen.
Based in New York, Cohen is an internationally acclaimed trumpeter known for his envelope-pushing jazz work, who also serves as artistic director of the annual Jerusalem International Jazz Festival. Nitzan, meanwhile, has a wide array of projects under his belt, including working on the visual effects for Ari Folman’s award-winning animation film Waltz with Bashir.
This Does Not Die, curated by Tal Lanir and Hagit Emma Werner, takes its textual premise from a poem called “Intent” by American poet-writer Susan Scutti, although the poem seems to be more of a springboard for Cohen and Nitzan to go off on their own artistic tangents.
The seed for the project was sown a few years back when Cohen heard a reading of “Intent” in New York. He was fascinated by the lines of the poem, and it immediately sparked an outpouring of musical creativity. The resultant score is not what you’d expect from Cohen. For starters, it ain’t jazz, and there is something of a gentle, inferred, ambience about it.
But, of course, This Does Not Die is not just about the music. It is about a marriage of the audible and the visible, and the intricate discourse between the two. When you enter the darkened exhibition space, it takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust to the absence of light. That is, until you see the giant screen to one side, on which the video action is in full flow. Actually, “full flow” might be something of a rhythmic misnomer. Nitzan’s work is of a contemplative nature, and you can gently ease yourself into the dynamic.
As you sit and observe, and ponder, you gradually get a sense of déjà vu, a feeling that you might have seen the sequence before. But you’re not sure. That is down to the fact that the video is more than twice as long as the soundtrack. Hence, as the screening is in perpetual operation, as is the music, sound and image repeatedly interface at different junctures. One of the most striking visual elements in the video is the faces. For starters, there is the craggy visage of Micha Lewensohn, the acclaimed theater actor, stage director and filmmaker, who died just three weeks after his slot was filmed. Then there are a couple of angelic-looking infants in the video – Nitzan’s son Lihu and Tom Lahav – and 40something actor, director and choreographer Avshalom Pollak who, in chronological and esthetic terms, occupies the middle ground between the generational bookends.
You become glued to the actors’ every expression, every facial nuance. Your heart soars as Pollak breaks into a sweet smile as he looks across the table at one of the youngsters, and a stone hits the pit of your stomach when his face takes on a bittersweet pensive, almost sorrowful, look. Lewensohn’s is the most magnetic of all. When he looks sad, it is as if the ground has been swept away from beneath your very feet. He conveys a sense of unfathomable grief and sometimes a touch of bewilderment. This emotive stuff and the seemingly understated Cohen score augment that perfectly.
Nitzan says the end product is the result of a nip-and-tuck process.
“Avishai and I have a symbiotic relationship. We have known each other since high school,” says the 38-yearold visual artist before expounding on the creative timeline. “He made a demo of a song a long time ago, it must be 10 years, after an open mic poetry night in New York.”
Suitably impressed, Cohen asked Scutti for permission to put her poem to music, and then relayed the chart to Nitzan.
“It was very vague but beautiful,” he recalls. “It was a three and a half minute song. Very tight, in fact.”
The composition sat idly in Nitzan iTunes playlist over the years, and the two pals stayed in touch. There were several professional confluences, with Nitzan designing the covers for a couple of Cohen’s records and providing video art for the trumpeter’s powerful Big Viscious jazz program. The latter included old footage of a birthday party in the US, cake, candles, and all, which Nitzan coopted and which fueled the idea of having a sparkler as the central element of This Does Not Die. The firework is a constant between Pollak and his various counterparts.
The idea for developing the visual-musical theme eventually evolved.
“I didn’t immediately tie in Avishai’s tune with a video work, but after a while, I said, ‘Let’s do something with your music. Let’s do a clip to go with it,’” he recounts. The catalyst came from the museum.
“Tal and Hagit were working on this series, and they asked me if I had anything to offer,” Nitzan says. “This project with Avishai was tailor made for it.”
It was clear to Nitzan that it was not going to be in the video clip vogue.
“Avishai hasn’t recorded the music on an album, and it really isn’t suitable for a clip. And, to my mind, the difference is that there is no beginning and end [to the video art or the music]. The song doesn’t run for three minutes and the video runs with it, and they both end. It runs sort of infinitely. Then we realized it could work in all sorts of ways – the image could impact on the music and vice versa,” he says.
And so it was. And a mesmerizing, thought-provoking offering it is, too.
‘This Does Not Die’ runs until September 30. For more information: www.timespacecompositions.com