Encyclopedia of Jewish Music (Suspended, Incomplete) uses 6 clips of Jewish musicians— taken mostly from live television performances— to create an interactive instrument that transforms the footage to create eerie, hypnotic drones and rhythms. The minimal interface includes 6 movable, resizeable windows each carrying a clip with an extremely short loop (4 ms). As a window is dragged around the screen, the loop points for the clip shift depending on its specified axis (“streisand y,” for example, shifts when moved along the y-axis, i.e. up and down; “glass x” shifts side-to-side.) I chose the loop points for each clip around a loosely tuned E minor chord (most clips produce an E, B, or G) with a few exceptions (there are 2 clips that produce F#). A “control panel” is provided to toggle on/off for individual windows, as well as increase the loop duration to up to 1 second.
These 6 clips are unified by a.) the jewish identity of the performer and b.) their preserved status on YouTube. Because of the vastness and diversity of the jewish diaspora, the idea of “jewish music” is boundlessly varied, fragmented and potentially meaningless. It is hard to identify a clear lineage or even set of aesthetic characteristic to what “jewish music” is now. Placing Asher Roth— an artist whose work is completely devoid, both aesthetically and spiritually, of any trace of Judaism— next to Esther Ofarim, an Israeli folk singer, only demonstrates how wide the gamut is. But by collecting and uniting such disparate sources via Youtube, I am positing an optimistic future for Jewish music in the 21st century in which the cultural memory is accessible by way of digital immortalization and mass accessibility.
The internet’s process of automatic cataloging has always been really fascinating to me, and the potential of this process within the context of cultural memory feels staggering. I’ve personally struggled with what it means to make “Jewish music” as an American in the 21st century, now decidedly distanced from my Jewish heritage.
Aptly, this archive— which reaches from the early 1960s to the early 2000s— breaches a clear lineage to Jewish music, encouraging the user to rearrange the layout and composition of the piece, placing the 1990s above/under/behind the 1970s. Additionally, by dragging a window around the screen, the user is manipulating the narrative time of that individual clip itself.
Decontextualizing each performance by reducing it only to the mechanical tones of the footage suggests that these clips can be continually reworked, transformed, and distorted as we play with time; the user’s ability to increase the loop duration allows each clip to “breathe” more, and the clips become recognizably more human (and retain their history) when the loop duration is increased.
This piece draws loosely from (and inverts) Mark Fisher’s pessimistic ideas on the way the Internet has suspended culture, or ceased the development of new aesthetic values, Walter Benjamin’s “bursting open of history” as way of cultural revolution, and Christopher Willits’s “folding of time” techniques in granular synthesis.
I created this piece partly to compile and make productive the hours I’ve spent aimlessly scouring YouTube for interesting music videos, and as a way to accessing and reinterpret the rich cultural vaults of Jewish music.