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Keith Rowe: Mixing Soundscapes and Politics at Musrara Mix Festival in Jerusalem

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Keith Rowe
Musrara Mix Festival #8
Naggar School of Photography, Media and New Music
Jerusalem, Israel
May 27, 2008

Music, at least apart from recorded documentation, may be the most impermanent art. Yet there are many musicians or concerts that can leave a lasting mark, altering the way we perceive music, the music- creating process and its very importance to our personal lives. Keith Rowe's 30-minute concert at the annual multidisciplinary festival produced by the Naggar School of Photography, Media and New Music was such a deep experience. Rowe, a founding member of the British free improv ensemble AMM and explorer of prepared guitar as well as the endless possibilities of electro-acoustic improvisation, performed at the end of the 3-hour program, following a series of local bands consisting primarily of students at the school.




But unlike the local bands who sounded so irrelevant and oblivious to the surrounding context—the political one and the socioeconomic one—while performing no more than a few hundred meters from occupied East Jerusalem and in a gentrified neighborhood that keeps pushing out its underprivileged inhabitants, Rowe sounded like an artist who assimilated wisely the political implications of the local scene. The strings of prepared guitar served him as a springboard for an adventurous, most memorable musical trip.

In this concert he chose to highlight the sound of a propeller that was put on the strings, with which he produced a disturbing and threatening sound, similar to that of a military helicopter. To this sound, he kept adding others—noisy sounds when he carefully rubbed the guitar's strings with a laptop mouse, then filtered resulting frequencies through other electronic devices, structuring them in a very detailed and nuanced manner. Into these soundscapes he inserted radio sounds—Palestinian talk shows, an Israeli news clip about the recent corruption scheme of Israel's Prime Minister—mixing them in with perfectly synchronized timing.

Like a painter drawing on a large canvas, Rowe arranged these dark sounds within a coherent frame, sometimes with surprising rhythmic patterns but without any attempt to impress the audience with his own virtuosity. He concluded the set with a Palestinian love song that emerged beautifully out of the dense electric storm, as if to signal that there still was some hope.

Overall, the sound of this concert was much more aggressive than Rowe's last solo disc The Room (ErstSolo, 2007) but, as on the disc, the artist's music was very personal and emotional. Rowe's artistic vision and masterful manner of exploring and arranging sound sources into a relevant and a meaningful political statement constituted a profound and unforgettable experience for the local, and suddenly very attentive, audience.

Photo Credit
Eyal Hareuveni

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