Tel Aviv Diary June 3, 2004 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from June, 2004 Karen Alkalay-Gut

June 3, 2004

Here it is again.

Thin Lips (Israel) - 2004 - "Thin Lips" (45 min, Pookh)



1. Kitchen Intro 1:02

2. Thin Lips 3:03

3. Holborn Station 5:02

4. Joseph & Me 3:52

5. Cellular Phone 3:13

6. To the Muse 3:19

7. I Know Women 2:35

8. A Charm to Soothe Withdrawal 4:05

9. TV 3:13

10. TV Suite 1:20

11. Try to Remember 3:25

12. Tell Me 3:15

13. Martyrs 3:46

14. The Mad House You're In 1:32

15. Kitchen 2:35

All music: by Yarkoni. Lyrics: Alkalay-Gut.

Arrangements: Yarkoni & Sommer.


Karen Alkalay-Gut - narration & vocals

Roy Yarkoni - keyboards, piano, & string ensemble; sampling

Ishay Sommer - bass, acoustic & electric guitars; programming


Hadas Goldfarb - violin (on 13 & 14)

Sharon Balzam - bassoon (on 15)

Timrat Aharoni - flute (15)

Boris Martzinovsky - accordion (3)

Yatziv Caspi - mallet percussion (4)

Produced by Thin Lips.

Engineered by Yarkoni & Sommer.

Prolusion. The eponymous debut outing by THIN LIPS is a concept album based on the poetry of Karen Alkalay-Gut, the renowned Israeli poetess, who, by the way, writes more in English than in Hebrew. Some information about the other main creative 'forces' behind the project, Roy Yarkoni and Ishay Sommer, can be found in the prolusion to the review of Roy's solo album.

Synopsis. Surely, my first reaction to what I've read in the CD press kit was both predictable and understandable. What could I expect from an album where a poetess reads her works to the accompaniment of music? Nothing - before I listened to it. Fortunately, the shortest pieces: Kitchen Intro (1), consisting exclusively of the sounds of mallet percussion instruments, and the classically influenced synthesizer-based TV Suite (10) are the only tracks here that were recorded without Karen's participation. The album is brilliant musically, but it's Karen who made it sound just incredibly unique. Many poets are used to read their works themselves, but Karen's way of reading the poems and rhymes is very atypical, at least on this recording. In fact, she doesn't read them here. Her highly artistic narration is really one of a kind and, what's central, it often borders a singing and, sometimes, transforms into real vocals. Besides, I've never heard until now such a unique combination of music and narration as is presented here. The music is also something very particular, so the fact that Yarkoni and Sommer are part of the Cuneiform Records family doesn't seem to me to be accidental. While not Fifth Element and isn't of a unified stylistic concept, the music just shines with originality and congruence alike. It is both highly complex and intriguing, and even the sound of programmed drums can't mar my admiration about the album. It's enough to use a deductive method:-) while investigating the history of Belgian Progressive to come to the conclusion that, in the context of Progressive Rock, a classic academic RIO and Belgium are perhaps synonyms. Judging by the creation of Tractor Revenge, Ahvak, and this very project, the Israeli RIO movement is represented by proponents of exactly Belgian school of the genre. Well, I only wanted to say that RIO is the basic constituent of the music here. Being supported by Symphonic Art-Rock and Jazz-Fusion, RIO rules on Joseph & Me, To the Muse, Cellular Phone, and A Charm to Soothe Withdrawal (4, 6, 5, & 8 respectively), while the first two are, in addition, filled with flavors of Arabic music. (Though I believe there is little difference between a traditional Jewish and Arabic music). The album's title track (2) represents somewhat of an RIO Minimalism with some old-fashioned feel throughout, and Holborn Station (3) a confluence of RIO and Prog-Metal with elements of Jewish folklore and something reminding me of a French chanson. On TV, Tell Me, Martyrs, and The Mad House You're In (9, 12, 13, & 14) the jazzy constituent is out, while Classical Academic music is in, and this is what Try to Remember and Kitchen (11 & 15) are about in their entirety. The seventh track: I Know Women consist of textures typical for Symphonic Art-Rock and Jazz-Fusion and is also one of those few compositions on the album that doesn't suit its predominant stylistics. More than half of the tracks contain rather long episodes performed without drums, and there are not too many of the rhythmically accented parts in this work in general.

Conclusion. It's quite simple: I find "Thin Lips" one of the very best works of Israeli Progressive that I am acquainted with, and I believe I have heard most of them. But although the album presents a rather wide specter of different progressive genres and styles, I can bravely recommend it probably only to those who feel right at home when hearing dissonances and the like specific features of RIO and the other Avant-garde Academic music-related forms.

VM: May 19, 2004

There are other good reviews of this disk, but this one pays the most attention to me.

Cant get online my server seems to be down and I debate whether this inaccessibility might not be a good thing. Maybe when Im angry I should just shut up and maybe Im even wrong to be angry

June 4, 2004

There are vast limits to a private diary on line - i can only hint at personal details and hope that those who were there get the idea. You had to be there.

If I hadn't lived in darkest Long Island I would spend a long paragraph on the service I received today in supermarkets and how it is unique to Israel. I would blame the lack of resourcefulness of the Russian checkout women who were schooled in an indifferent communism, and maybe talk about the good old days when all shops were small and intimate.

But I had 3 years of supermarkets in Long Island where the blank look of clerks, salespeople, and people in mass services in general stays with me, and far outweighs anything i've overcome here.

Went to check out the Palestinian embroidery on the clothes at Comme-Il-Faut. They were as magnificent as I'd imagined - delicate unique stitches on high fashion blouses. The whole line is called "Shalom Bannot" which can be translated as Hi Girls, or Peace Girls, and I love the concept.

Yes I do have that old feminist concept of the '70s that if women were in charge there would be no wars.

Yes I do believe that it is on the smallest scales that people can begin to understand one another. That embroidery helps.

Here's something I wrote long ago on this:


Gaza 1974


After dinner I'm alone with the grandmother,
while the men talk business
and wives feed the children
bumping each other in the hidden kitchen. ,

I am a guest, an English teacher new
to the Middle East, without tongue,
and I cannot play in pantomime
like my daughter with the children and the goats.

In this bare room,
the old woman talks
as if eventually I must understand
her language

since she speaks in the feminine.


When I cannot answer, even after her long
probing looks, she shrugs,
takes her crochet hook from a pocket,
and points out the window
to a girl
dancing solemnly alone.

Her gnarled hands, wound with pink wool, move easily,
and soon she is making lovely rosettes in the bodice.
I take the hook and try to imitate, slip,
slip again, finally latch through the last eye
to pull the rose together. She smiles,
I show her a stitch of my own
which she examines, unravels,
then duplicates with a flourish.

Once I read this poem - a few months before the intifada - at some event in the American Embassy - and Abu Shakry from Um El Fahm came to tell me we should work together. After the intifada began i got scared. now i'm sorry.

June 5, 2004

Ezi's birthday. We celebrated last night at Mishmish, where Oren arrange incredible food and birthday cakes. By the time we were exhausted and ready to leave, around 10:30, there were customers beginning to arrive. Today Ann Wyler is giving a cooking class here - this is a real culinary weekend -

Now the fact that i barely left the house today is probably to my advantage - becuse there are some real dangerous israelis out there. there were more than 105 peoplewounded in traffic accidents this weekend! and we only have - what - less than six million residents and a one day weekend!

Now Ann is not only a most delicate chef, but she is also full of memories for me of Tel Aviv in the '70s and '80s. When i first met her she was the very sophisticated wife of a very sophisticated professor of philosophy who was trying to change the way Jews thought about their country - opening up the concept of government, of religion. And he and his colleagues seem now to have been forgotten.

June 6, 2004

Those were the days of the beginnings of Tel Aviv University, and the possibilities of conceiving a new way of life were so great, the star professors were the philosophers: Moshe Kroy, Gershon Weiler, Yossi Agassi. Even famous people like Dahn Ben Amotz sat in the big halls of Gilman when they taught.

Who would have thought in those days that the government would look like it does today?

I mean that they are at this moment passing an ammended bill in parliament about disengagement without withdrawal. magic!

It reminds me of an old joke about the guy at the whore house with only half the price needed for sex. They come to an agreement that he would enter only halfway, but she immediately feels there is something wrong and screams out, "You promised only half!" and he screams out, "I didn't say which half!"

Found myself in Ikea again tonight - this is because the kitchen we ordered for Orit keeps arriving door by door. So I probably have written about Ikea before - but hell, if I don't remember, the chances are you probably don't either. Now Ikea in Israel is unlike most Ikeas around the world not only because it takes 3 months to get the whole order together. It is also an amazing sociological experience. First - everything is in Hebrew. All the signs, all the loudspeakers, everything. And this despite the fact that at least 20% of the people there tonight were Arab. Lots of English being spoken as well. Second - on paper at least Ikea delivers all over Israel and Palestine. These are details that perhaps people don't see when then they read the foreign papers or watch BBC.

June 7, 2004

As I await the results of the 'no confidence' vote in the knesset today, i realize how predictable we are - nothing will change. The only difference is that the left is going with Sharon (because he's pulling out of Gaza) while the right is against him for the same reason.

In the mean tie there are new things happened - like the movement for separation - some people for example believe that Israel should withdraw from Gaza/Samaria and the settlers should make their own state there. Someone said - what a great idea - at last we'll have a country that supports us!

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