Tel Aviv Diary May 29, 2004 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - from May 29, 2004 Karen Alkalay-Gut

May 29, 2004

Tel Aviv on a sun-drenched Saturday - what could be more idyllic? Everyone I asked today managed to avoid watching the news last night - It may be engrained in our consciousness and sense of responsibility, but all of us share the sense of helplessness. The terrible things happening - all in the hands of Bibi, of Uzi Landau, of people for whom I have no moral respect, and upon whom I cannot have any influence.

May 30, 2004

The series on the Lavon affair, or "Haparasha," started last night. It goes through the dirty tricks in 1956 that caused the end of Ben Gurion's reign, the suicide of two Israeli "spies," and the imprisonment of my neighbors in Egyptian jails for a long long time. The story is pretty complex and ugly, entailing the staging of dirty tricks and the forging of documents in order to pass the responsibility. You can find the details elsewhere, but the relevance to the contemporary society is what interests me at this point.

Why are we exploring this issue now? Because we're looking at the subject of responsibility in our own government. The questions of what is honorable behavior, what are ethical choices in war time, what are heroes and what are villains, have all been opened up again.

I spent some pleasant time at Tel Aviv port this morning - a place that is becoming transformed minute by minute. I've already talked about how lovely the port is, but now it is being expanded and gentrified in a very attractive way. Those famous bulldozers are clearing off the rubble around the old port, and very soon it will be possible to promenade from Jaffa and the sounth of the city to the north.

As usual I look around at all the people and wonder how it is that so many people are not working and seem to be celebrating all the time in this city - but today it was with even more awe that i people-watched - because it is 40 degrees outside! I thought I was the only crazy person in this city.

I also wonder at the continual building and improvement. Here we are reevaluating ourselves totally and yet we continue to build. Take my street, for example. When I came to live here in '79, there was sand almost all around. (I think I've said this before) The donkey down the street would bray all evening and the rooster would wake me in the morning. our street was in a grazing path and every once in a while I would hear sheep or goats baaing as they passed with their shepherd. This was not bad, but it was pretty ugly, with sand all over and goat shit in the bare unshaded street.

Now it is green - tree-lined - and smelling of hibiscus... I could do with fewer houses, but the acacia, the jacaronda, the hibiscus...

May 31, 2004

Complaints have been coming in about my lack of personal details. Okay then - I got totally wasted yesterday morning over one breakfast champagne cocktail on the beach at a ladies birthday party - could barely work for the rest of the day - and then, when I finally gave up, and took off for Nona's, found clarity only in triviality

June 1, 2004

There is an alternative teaching day tomorrow at the university - and with the information in today's Haaretz that 111 Palestinians were killed only last month it seems to me that this is necessary. But I am at Bar Ilan at a conference, planned a while ago, and don't know how I'm going to be there as well.

Ironically, the conference is on memoir, but we have to think about how the memoirs of the past influence the future, especially in this instance.

Last week on a tv panel I said something about how we always rewrite history to suit our contemporary needs, and there was a split second of silence before the subject was changed. Today I began to see not only that I've always been right about the way we construct our histories but also that our individual stories in the historical context also is changed to fit our views of history.

To some extent

As I came home, my head full of theories about individual narratives framed to suit political dreams and realities, I heard my neighbor ranting - and remembered that not only had she been in Auschwitz, but, that long ago she told me (and it was corroborated by others) she had been one of Mengele's experiments. Now THAT history is impossible to avoid, to forget, to reshape. The postmodern buck stops with my neighbor.

And only today I had been skeptical when a holocaust survivor declared on stage that her past proved the necessity of the state of israel. It sounded just a bit like a shtik. But for the past 25 years i have lived next to a woman whose daily suffering does prove something like this - So maybe the artificiality of the use of the suffering of the past to prove a political point in the future has to be taken with restraint, but it doesn't invalidate that past.

But I wander - this subject is just too painful for me.

June 2, 2004

It's also the weather - these seem to be heavy allergy days, where the air weighs on my eyelids and i imagine that if i had lived in philistine days i would be naked on the beach.

But no, i'm a workaholic israeli and i drag myself back to the fray.

and home again. Bar Ilan does have amazing conferences, though, and a campus that makes me drool - the floors of the Brain Science building, for example, designed by the famous painter Yakov Agam, are enough to inspire a scholar to higher goals! The gazebo where lunch was served, the sound system in the lecture hall.

Oh, yes, and the talks were good too.

Meanwhile Roi and Yishai and I are returning to the stage in July - opening for Nekamat Hatraktor. In case you are wondering whether it is worth seeing "Thin Lips," read this review from Progressor

Hell, i can't resist putting it here.

Don't be lazy - read it all:

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

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