Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Be’eri Moalem Releases his First Album of Originals for Violin, Viola, and “Tracks”

Be’eri Moalem is a violinist, violist, and composer, who has lived in the Bay Area for the past two decades. He is an Israeli citizen born in Jerusalem. However, much of his music education took place on this continent, having studied with both Jodi Levitz and Paul Hersh at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and with Pablo Furman at San Jose State University. Towards the end of last year, he completed a project with producer DJ Daris that resulted in Exile, an album of thirteen original compositions. Most of the album came about through laying down tracks, often with the result that Moalem is playing both violin and viola at the same time. The only other tracks that are not entirely synthesized come from percussionist Ken Mowrey, currently based at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

I should probably begin with the disclaimer that I, myself, have experienced expatriate life twice; and one of those times, the first, happens to have been in Israel. My first job after completing my doctoral thesis was at the Technion in Haifa. That thesis was the product of working with an advisor who was excellent at letting me find my own way and then working with me to make sure that my results could be documented in a thesis that would hold up to defense. On the other hand he never pressed upon me the need to think of what I would be doing for gainful employment once I had my doctoral degree.

The result was that I ended up at the Technion by happy accident. In my “other life” as a composer, I was working with a choreographer who had been invited to spend a summer with the Bat-Dor Dance Company in Tel Aviv. He invited me to join him, since I had made tape music scores for him in the past; and the visit would be during the period when my thesis was being typed in its final draft. My thesis advisor suggested that I get in touch with one of his friends in Jerusalem, and that friend made arrangements for me to give seminars on my thesis results at both the Technion and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The Technion made me an offer on the spot, and it was the only job offer I had received!

By way of context, this was when Richard Nixon was President; and a lot of my friends had declared that they would leave the country if Nixon got elected. It turned out that I was one who actually did! Nevertheless, expatriate life in Israel was difficult. Being Jewish in Israel was very different from being Jewish in the United States, and the research community was far narrower than what I had experienced as a graduate student. Thus, it was not surprising that I began to feel as if I were an outsider in exile until I could find an opportunity to return to the United States.

The second time took place during the George Bush (the first one) presidency at a time when government funds for research took a dive. This time I moved to Singapore, where the government was much more proactive about supporting research into new technology frontiers. I found myself in the midst of a burgeoning multimedia laboratory, working with some very exciting colleagues. Nevertheless, it was clear that I was an outsider and would always be one; so once again I felt myself in exile, waiting for things to turn around back in the United States (which they did after about four years).

I offer this lengthy prelude to establish that I have a very personal semantic interpretation of that word “exile.” I have no idea if Moalem shares that interpretation. However, I am sure that my own experiences come into play when listening to an album entitled Exile, which is why I chose to begin by establishing a disclaimer.

Having said all that, I should observe that Exile is distinguished by the amount of diversity the listener encounters across its thirteen tracks. There is often the risk of sameness in pieces that depend more on the capture and mixing talents of studio engineers than on the skill of the performer(s). Moalem seems to have been aware of that risk, and has definitely done a good job at avoiding it. Particularly appealing are many of the duo passages with Moalem playing both the violin and viola lines. Any sense of “interaction” is more in the composer’s mind, since “in the moment” experiences are minimal. Nevertheless, he successful evokes the illusion that the violinist and violist are listening to each other in a process of ongoing exchange; and each of those exchanges has its own unique stamp.

From a personal point of view, my preferences tended to run towards the klezmer selections towards the end of the album (although I found myself missing the presence of a good klezmer clarinetist). Also, I have to confess a weakness for “Warriors,” which used the chanting fans in Oracle Arena as a sort of “continuo” above which tracks of thematic material are superposed. Moalem was clearly pulling strings to make this piece work, but I happened to have just the right strings that needed to be pulled!

Exile is being released through a variety of different channels. As might be expected, is one of them. However, my personal recommendation is to visit the album’s Web page on bandcamp. This supports streaming, downloading, and purchase of a physical CD. More importantly, the Web page itself provides the background notes for each of the thirteen selections. Those who really want to listen to this music deserve to do so from an informed perspective.

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