Monday, January 21, 2013

Avi Pitchon on the Zion Sky compilation

Zion Sky, Topheth Prophet ‎– TP025, 2012.

We present Avi Pitchon's notes on the 2012 compilation Zion Sky, part of an attempt to apply Laibachian “over-identification” techniques to the Zionist cultural project. From an I.C.R.N. perspective the project is interesting not just because of the wide-ranging musical contents but because of the conscious ways in which it tries to (mis)-translate the aesthetic and conceptual strategies of European artists to the Israeli context. It is also intriguing (and no doubt perplexing for those with a one-dimensional SWP-derived worldview) to see European neofolk artists engaging with and perpetuating Zionist aesthetics – something which may offend elements of their audience as well as their long-term opponents. The project seems to represent dispersed techniques and strategies finding new homes in unexpected new contexts although in fact Israeli counter-culture is far more developed than many outsiders realise and Israeli artists have been active in industrial, martial and neofolk circles for some time now.

The Zion Sky project

The Zion Sky compilation album was produced as part of the 'Where to?' art exhibition, which opened in the Israeli Center For Digital Art in April 2012, and was released by the Israeli industrial label Tophet Prophet. The exhibition's theme was hidden/forgotten/neglected currents in Zionism. 
The compilation was commissioned and assembled by Avi Pitchon, aiming to appropriate Laibach's approach and tactic (without any limitation on musical direction besides perhaps a general desire for the sound, as well as content, to express a certain utopian awe) and apply it to Zionist history, thinking, texts and aesthetics. As opposed to the historical/research/archival approach of the majority of the exhibiting artists, 'Zion Sky' follows the intently a-historical clash of motifs demonstrated by NSK, as well as the revisiting of Zionism's aesthetic arsenal evident in the work of prominent Israeli artists like Yael Bartana and the Public Movement performance group. The intention was to speculate on utopian vectors whose trajectory never completed, to ask a 'what if?' about Zionism in particular and utopian ideas and movements in general.  

Full details and track listing can be found here.

Zion Sky: Saluting Those of Fair Hair and Features - Interim Conclusions

It might sound like clichéd curatorial squirming to claim that although the project did not achieve the objective it set out for itself, what actually happened instead is more interesting. Well, no, not more interesting, but surprising, to me at least. The compilation you hold in your hands was supposed to be something the former Minister of Culture Limor Livnat would listen to at home with pride. That former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liebermann would feel comfortable with. Well, all right, I’m exaggerating. However, as underdogs of Zionist resistance in pre-state Israel, some Etzel and Lehi underground veterans might possibly appreciate its melancholy grandeur.
When I advertised the call to contribute to a compilation album, I asked for music that celebrates Zionism as a utopian idea, as if nothing had ever gone wrong along the way. Music that would connect with the original, sweeping, engaging power of a modern national movement from the school of thought of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe. I wanted to create a collective musical act of over-identification, that is, an act that would be ‘more Zionistic than the Zionists’, and thus remind contemporary Zionism, which is collapsing under the burden of its own erosion, decay, and the injustice it caused not only to the non-Jewish residents of Palestine, but also to the Jews who answered its call for realisation, that powerful, beautiful utopian grandeur was contained in the original idea. That power without beauty cannot be just. That beauty without power cannot be realised. I wanted to create a moment of power and beauty that would stand before a centre that is gradually losing its mind in the dangerous panic of a wounded animal. To face it, but not from a judgmental, seditious, curtailing, sectorial position that is itself mad with hatred and frustration, but from a position that states: you were not born in sin. You are not born killers. There was another way. What would have happened if.

The music I received is full of power, awe and beauty. However it could be said that not one of the participating musicians managed for even a moment, even jokingly, to forget the present and remember parallel probabilities that have vanished into oblivion, to the quantum superposition bureau of lost souls: presence, but not in our backyard. None of the pieces on the CD managed to sift out the sound of mourning, of regret. Perhaps the fact that they did manage to shake free from the rage and frustration for a moment is an achievement, a first step.

Even my own contribution to the compilation did not escape this fate. Maybe because I recorded my track (the naked, minimalist cover version for the Eurovision anthem, Kan [Here], by Orna and Moshe Datz) after I’d already received all the other pieces, and the noble, colossally melancholy nymph clung to me too. The piece by Anat Ben-David is perhaps the closest one in the compilation to be virtually free of elegiac elements, musically speaking (yet the lyrics still mention blood and tears). The romanticism of the non-Israeli participants (tracks 3, 4, 6, 7, 11) comes from musical traditions that lament the fate of Europe, whether because of its surrender to globalisation, or its surrender to Judeo-Christianity. Even Na’ama Bat-Sarah, a skinhead member of the Jewish Defense League who lives in the JDL's birthplace of Skokie, Illinois (and appears on the CD under her moniker, Hadar), in a piece from an instrumental album devoted to the festival of Hanukkah, is more influenced by the dark industrial ambient music that was born in the old continent, than the triumphant rejoicing of the festival songs we are familiar with. The piece by Yarden Erez (originally part of the soundtrack for The Dining Hall, an installation by prominent Israeli artist Sigalit Landau constructed around the communal washing machine at the back of every Kibbutz' dining hall) imprints echoes of the Yishuv (pre-state settlement) days in mechanical, motoric noise, a mechanism that has lost its way but maintains its routine, clinging to it, incapable of stopping and restarting itself. Even Alma Alloro’s rendition, on a primitive Casio keyboard, of a Navy Troupe hit (indeed, military band songs succeeded in hit parades of the '60s and '70s) doesn’t sound joyous even for a moment. The two archival pieces – by Ma’atz and Duralex Sedlex, both from the '80s – are important for the compilation as representations of art that spoke a political language but with the same aesthetic force of those it confronted. The power of Hasha’on Hahistori (The Historical Clock) is in its detachment from the whimpering of the sanctimonious Left of the city squares, and its mobilisation of the ‘move, move, destroy’ (as goes the iconic Hebrew sample of Six-Day War orders shouted through military radio communications) momentum driving the pioneering sample-work that lead the piece and directing it against the movers and destroyers. Had the piece not possessed monumental grandeur, merely only opposition and defiance, it would not have been included in the compilation. Shir Hagiben (The Hunchback Song) achieved the original objective of this CD twenty years ago when it was performed in a Trojan-horse act of malicious over-identification at a 'Jabotinsky Quiz' TV broadcast toward the end of the Shamir administration, in 1992. Thus it marks a probability of endeavour that I believe can still be continued. A torch worthy of being picked up.
The song is the point of departure of my work in Where To? from the start, and the entire CD departs from the forgotten moment it created in actuality, for the purpose of commemorating and continuing it. The pieces by Seven Morgues and Poochlatz, Israeli representatives of dark ambient and power electronics, genres born in a Europe that looks back at the abyss of 1945, are filled with the static noise of collapse and destruction. The sweet rendition of the children’s song that concludes the CD is a lullaby of what was, the tears flow on their own, absorbed in dementia-ridden soil, sprouting the desire for the lost grandeur of belonging, the justness of the path, for realisation embodied in the golden orange fruit my mother, a seven-year-old Holocaust survivor, was handed as a welcome present as she disembarked from the immigrant ship, as it was manifested in warm Saturday afternoons of my childhood, playing football on the banks of Tel-Aviv's Yarkon River, my late grandfather standing behind, watching over me with a proud smile, wearing his suit as always, the Thessalonikian that he is.
Avi Pitchon

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