I have met Harel Shachal as a student at the New School University in NYC. It was Harel’s graduation year, and my first year at the Jazz program. I remember Harel walking back and forth in the hallways of the school, determent to “find his sound”. Even though I was too young (artistically) then to understand what does it really mean (searching for your sound), I knew I should stay close to this guy. I knew Harel was a musician I could learn from and be inspired by. I was right.
When I’ve decided to open a permanent location for FRAMED – I immediately called Harel to preform at it’s opening. Gladly he said yes! I am very excited towrds the events….
Here is an intervew with Harel, giving us a sneak peek into his soul and sound. Enjoy….
You’ve quoted Brahms when he says, «A great artist is measured by what he gives up».
What does this ‘giving up’ means to you?
In my opinion a great artist is measured by the artistic choices he makes. After he has acquired the necessary techniques and having mastered his art, then he has a choice of what to use and what not to use. What he does not use is more important in my opinion.
I like this quote because it means that when an artist is becoming a mature artist, he has his own choices. By giving up something that he worked for, something he earned in the hard way, if it is technical or artistic, a choice to use a certain style versus another, it is his. Differentiating his art and creating something pure, an unparalleled fingerprint.
You’ve mentioned that at this point in your life you are searching for silence in the music you make. How do you practice this search for silence?
Searching for the sound of silence is a way of life, not an actual sound that you can find. Actually at this point in my life I am searching for the sound of silence inside myself. It comes out in any aspect of my life. In the music I play or compose and in my relationships, when I move, eat, wash the dishes, speak or teach, everything. Searching for the sound of silence inside me, means that I do not let things move me and create too much reaction, too much vibrations. You see, thoughts are vibrations, sounds, noise. I am always aware of the sounds in my head. In simple words, I prefer the sound of silence then the sound of drama.
How do you think your music affects people? Or how would you like it to affect them?
The effect I have on people with my music is beyond me. I’ve learned during the years that it is impossible for me to know what others think. It is Inevitable that I have no control on what the subjective might observe from the sounds that come out from me. This is something I understood only lately, after I experienced a total amnesia. It was a physical brain event, something like a seizure. When I recalled my memory step by step, something extraordinary happened. I realized something that I could not understand before. There are no words that can explain the Power of forgetfulness, there, I found incredible silence. This amazing silence is in the realization that I have no responsibility for the knowledge others have of what I do, and that this knowledge is so varied that it gives a very different interpretation for everything, so every experience is subjective.
The first time I listen to music after that experience was a life changing revelation, and when I put my hands on the clarinet after that, I realized that it is only noise and the magic is in the subjective interpretation using the knowledge that we have about it.
So this amazing revelation released me totally from caring and freed me from the cultural bondage that held me all my life. I just do what I have been practicing and what comes out comes out. I have no ideas about it anymore.
Right now I am the result of too many reasons. I let go of trying to figure out myself and my effects on others. But the magic of music is going on and I can see it.
Your main musical influence traces back to a specific geographical space and time. But you also have other musical backgrounds.
what led you to the middle eastern makam?
As a kid I studied classical Piano, later on I switched to Saxophone and eventually I found my self with the Sol Clarinet. I was always fascinated by music, since my first memory. I grew up with so much openness to sounds and I let everything be absorbed within me. The cultural input of both western and eastern music was obvious on me, from childhood.
I think I was a composer in my previous life 🙂 I started composing from my first piano lesson and for some reason I was always attracted to the oriental sound so I would put it everywhere. Even when I studied Jazz at “The new School” in NYC I would tend to improvise the harmonic minor fifth above on the dominant chords and my teachers wouldn’t like it. I was always interested in both Western music and Eastern music so I was studying both at the same time but in my early studies, I focused on western music and only when I graduated I focused on Middle Eastern music. I got dipper into the Makam (middle eastern melodic system) and I discovered that it is a never ending story. You can study it all your life and it will never be enough. The Sol Clarinet is originally a Turkish oriented instrument but it’s sound is exactly the synthesis of the sounds I grew up on, the Jewish klezmer, jazz and the middle eastern.
At the shows I would probably perform some of my original and some traditional tunes. We are treating the tunes like in Jazz: We are playing them different every time and improvising on the base of the Makam, which is like playing on a form in Jazz. When I perform, I find that the first thing for me is the focus on the sound of the Sol Clarinet, I like to look at it as an extension of myself, my real self, my soul, if you want to call it something. The musicians that are with me are also part of this soul thing, we are not separated beings but extensions of each other so we are part of one thing.
I am so lucky to have with me two amazing musicians: Thomas Moked Blum and Ben Dagovitch.
Thomas Moked is an unbelievable musician, he is a multi instrumentalists who plays the Guitar, Violin, Viola, Oud and many other instruments. He is also a producer and electronic music master so in this concert he will be “giving up” a lot 😉 He will be playing mainly the Guitar and some Viola both with some electronic effects. Thomas is based in Berlin for the last few years but we used to play together a lot when he was part of my Band “Anistar”. Ben Dagovitch is an extraordinary percussionist that thoroughly explored the secrets of Indian rhythms and applied it to the middle eastern hand drums, we are playing together for few years now. He has great ability and flexibility with the percussions.
How does your daily routine look like?
I do not have a daily routine, since every day something different comes up. I teach at the Academy for middle eastern music in the Galilee, I compose a lot, I practice every chance I have, I like to keep on learning new music and I perform regularly with my bands as well as some freelance gigs and recordings. I also conduct on “The Sufi Orchestra” and not to forget that I have my wife and my three daughters, so my schedule is full and I am fortunate to do my own thing. The most important thing for me is that no matter what and where I always find two spots during the day to stop everything and sit down somewhere quite for half an hour to be with my self, relax and observe, searching for the sound silence.
From all the aspects of your creating process, what is your favorite (composing/practicing/
I just finished composing an hour long piece of music inspired from the Sufi Ayini which is the music for the whirling darwish’s ceremony. I also wrote words in Hebrew for it. It is for 32 musicians and I am conducting it next week at the Sufi Festival that happens in the south of Israel, while around thousand people do whirling. I think that this is the prime of my artistic creation so far and I hope to do more and more of that. If not, it is also OK since I am trying to keep my focus on the path of the sound of silence. In this path, the sound is the same when I conduct the music for thousand musicians, play the Clarinet by my self in my room, driving the car, walking in the woods or sitting in a coffee place in Middle of lower east side in New York.
I would say that the best creation for me is when I conduct or compose the sound of silence in my head.