Amnon Raviv: Mirror

Navel-Gazers #41 is an interview with Amnon Raviv who is going to talk to us about Mirror. Produced in Israel in 1983, this is the kind of record which has probably seen the inside of a few safety deposit boxes, having been available in an edition of only 50 copies for three and a half decades before finally enjoying a reissue by Clive Graham of Paradigm Discs, home to the likes of Daphne Oram and William S. Burroughs, not to mention our own veteran Navel-Gazer Adam Bohman. And one thing I look forward to discussing with Amnon is context, as on the first encounter it’s almost as though there is none: no scene or movement with which this record was associated, no other records similar to it, no label it was on, or live footage or track titles for that matter. But its rarity or obscurity is not even what interests me most about ‘Mirror’, it’s the music itself - the frenetic instrumental arrangements for saxophones, violins and flamenco guitars… the bold experiments with sound effects, layering and pitch… the field recordings from vacuum cleaners to chicken coops to marching bands… oh well let’s be honest, ‘Mirror’ is indescribable! Then again maybe Amnon can describe it to us, or at least tell us where it came from…

AC: Thanks for joining me Amnon! It’s a privilege to talk to the person behind ‘Mirror’! To start with, why don’t you tell us about your background and the kind of environment you grew up in? Were you always creative?

Amnon Raviv: Thank you, Andrew, for your invitation. I'm happy to be here with you and with the readers of your blog. Well, I was born in Israel in 1958 to a Jewish family of Holocaust survivors. I was born miraculously, my father survived the Holocaust at the age of 10, alone in the world, with a false identity. My mother survived because her train to Auschwitz was bombed by the Allies. The train and railroad were destroyed and my mother survived. I grew up in a family that suffered trauma but looked ahead with hope. Questions about fate, randomness, life and death occupied my mind from an early age. I was a thoughtful and creative teenager, growing up in a village and near the sea sands, and then in a small sleepy town. At the age of 9 I got a guitar and music became a major part of my life.

AC: What a moving story.. it’s no surprise that you were a thoughtful child. So what music were you first interested in?

Amnon Raviv: My grandfather had an old phonogram with a speaker that looked like a tuba horn and spun 78 rpm. As a very little kid I used to hear the operas that came out of Grandpa's records. When I was 6 Dad brought a tape recorder and then a record player. He had records of bands from South America, and some jazz records. A few years later a flamenco player came to perform in my city and I sat mesmerized by the sounds of the guitar, so I started learning to play the guitar at the conservatory. The first records I bought were of the Beatles. In the following years throughout my teens, I heard mostly British prog bands, but also music from around the world.

AC: Your mention of the tape recorder and the flamenco guitar has already got me thinking about ‘Mirror’. So.. what is ‘Mirror’? Where did it come from, how did it start?

Amnon Raviv: I was a young man full of philosophical thoughts about life, about the reality we experience. I tried to express my feelings and thoughts non-verbally. I was intrigued to try to translate my feelings into sounds and music. I was interested in different states of consciousness of waking and dreaming. I started recording Mirror at the age of 18 and the recordings lasted for several years.

Mirror is my attempt to translate thoughts, feelings, emotions and the experience of reality and dreams I experienced, into sounds and music. The first piece deals with feelings of stability and instability, and deals with structure in a fluid and unstable environment. This is also the first piece I wrote. I wrote part of the piece in score, notes for the instruments and another part improvised. I recorded air bubbles in the water. I tried to achieve the quality of a dream, a fragility that ranges between a strong sense of reality and the characteristic fading of a dream.

The second piece is an attempt to translate pain into music. I thought about how physical and mental pain can be translated in varying intensity. I used wine glasses made of crystal to produce a high and intense sound and overtones that I produced from the guitar with a delay effect and increasing the speed of the recording tape. The intensity also increases as the pitch of the sound increases.

The third segment is a collage of radio broadcasts picked up by my transistor. Throughout the collage I play a kind of ballad of guitar, violin and piano. The section deals with the feelings that arose in me from an encounter in my virtual space with different musical cultures.

In the fourth section, I tried to translate into sounds the love I felt to my lover. During that time, we lived in the village. I recorded my neighbor's chicken coop and my lover talking and laughing. The special days of love connected to a very specific time and place. Falling asleep at noon after intimacy on a wide bed and slipping into a smiling dream.

The fifth section describes the intense hustle and bustle of urban life (it seems that since the beginning of the 1980s the 'noise' of human life has intensified very much, also because of the virtual noise that surrounds us on social networks). An intro of flamenco guitar and saxophone "screams" become everyday noises that rise in intensity.

The last section describes unfamiliar landscapes from which dreams arise and they leave us with an unclear and unexplained record. Almost an alternate reality. For a moment before waking up the reality that the dreams have created in our minds is so tangible and a moment after waking up, they move away from us with great speed. The piece describes the dreaming reality, the incomprehensible landscapes.

AC: It’s interesting to get the scoop on all six sections!

Could you tell us about the logistical side of the project? Were you working in a studio? Were you using a portable device for clips such as the chicken coop? When you say you played guitar, piano, violin, saxophone, was that all you with overdubs or were there others involved?

Amnon Raviv: I recorded some of the segments in the studio. There were parts I only recorded in the studio. Other sections in the studio and added additional channels which I recorded using a portable tape. Other sections I only recorded with a portable tape in different locations such as the chicken coop, at home and on the street.

Musicians played all the instruments, flute, saxophone, violin, piano. I played the guitar in all sections except the fifth section. I also produced/recorded all the acoustic sounds. I created the effects in the fifth section together with the sound engineer in the studio.

The sound engineer's name was David Luria. Today David is one of the most senior sound engineers in Israel. Then, in the early eighties he was a young man, full of enthusiasm for experimental collaboration in the artistic journey that characterized 'Mirror'. I was lucky to meet and work with David, he had a great contribution.

Tony Brower, a British violinist, played with the prog band Zingale that was active in the seventies in Israel and later with the Brosh band. I met him through my cousin and he came to record one piece.

Baldi Olier was a flamenco guitarist at the beginning of his career as a guitarist (over the years he became one of the most prominent in Israel) and he got to play in one of the sections.

Mishka Lavker is a classical violinist whom I met in Jerusalem and he joined the other musicians. (He played in the only piece I wrote a score for); I also knew Oded Yeyni who was a classical flutist in Jerusalem and he also came to play the first part.

Hovav Israel is a saxophonist who joined in. Esty Pomerantz contributed her voice to talk and laughter and some piano sounds.

AC: ‘Mirror’ was originally produced in a very limited run of 50 copies. What was the process of getting the records pressed and distributed? Where do you think those 50 copies ended up? How did you end up in contact with Clive Graham to organise the reissue?

Amnon Raviv: When I finished the recordings, I came with the master to a record factory and produced the "mother and father" of the record from which I produced 50 vinyl copies. I made the record covers with the help of my partner Esty.

Each cover is unique and different from the rest of the covers (we cut and glued the cardboard and on it we wrote the details by hand and glued a collage from newspapers). Then I took the records and went to record stores and offered them to buy some. After about a week the record reached the hands of Yoav Kutner, the important broadcaster who wrote about the album in the newspaper and invited me to a radio interview on his popular program where he interviewed me and played the record. In a short time, all the copies were sold to stores.

A few months later I flew to Amsterdam and traveled around Europe for about four years. I did street performances and theater performances some together with my partner, the music of the record was the soundtrack of the show. The photos on the cover of the reissue are from these shows.

Performance and physical/visual theater have always interested me. Creating images and metaphors and creating a non-verbal message that connects with the audience on the emotional and subconscious level. The street is a great space to create such a performance.

The images that appear on the cover of the reissue record were taken in the Dam Square Amsterdam. It was no ordinary street performance of juggling or magic, but it fascinated hundreds of people. Mirror's music was part of a performance.

The fifty copies were distributed around the world, one of them many years ago reached Clive Graham from Paradigm Discs (he received the record years ago from an Israeli friend), who approached me several years ago with an offer to reissue the record.

AC: How does the music sound to you all these years later? And what are you up to nowadays? Are you still doing music? ..any final thoughts for our readers?

Sound Studio 80s
Amnon Raviv: Today when I listen to the record it throws me back to the early period of my life. Like an emotional photo album that takes me back in space and time. I see the sights behind the sounds, the places where I recorded, in the various studios, but especially the recordings that took place outside, in the chicken coop in the village, at home. I live the place and the situation. The record is also a document of life as it was once lived before the digital age before the revolutionary changes we went through as a society. It makes me happy that my children, who are musicians, really like the record and connect with the music.

For the past decades I have been working as a medical clown. In fact, I returned to Israel from the four years of performing on the street because my mother got cancer and I returned to be with her during this difficult time. There, in the oncology department, I decided to become a medical clown. I have come a long way in the field of medical clowning, I did the first doctorate in the field and published two books. I teach at universities and lecture at universities and hospitals around the world. Over the years I continued to make music. In recent years I have been creating music together with my son Yam Raviv in a project called Tsar Tsar Yarock.

I think 'Mirror' is an album that stays with us for so many years, has been reissued and played on a lot of radio stations, because it is an authentically emotional musical document that doesn't conform to a category and a musical style, a musical document that says something to every listener and resonates something from his/her own personal experience.

AC: That it is and that it does. It’s a classic! Thanks for talking to me.

Amnon can be found at Bandcamp and also at his own website.

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