Resident Alien

Multitalented percussionist and musical producer Rea Mochiach - recent winner of the National Lottery's Landau Prize - explains why he always was and will remain an outsider in Israel.

Haim Shadmi
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Haim Shadmi

t happens once every few years. The familiar galactic phenomenon known by the name of Rea Mochiach appears briefly in the skies in a large number of musical incarnations - and then evaporates, trailing stardust behind him. Later he'll return again, without advance warning, changing shape and surprising us once again with dizzying phosphorescence. That's how it's been for almost 20 years. Recently, the multitalented musician and producer sallied forth once again, this time with his interstellar spaceship, Ra-Ka-Tak, bringing other aliens along with him and some very important insight to share with us. He landed in Eilat of all places, where the debut performance of this ensemble took place at the Red Sea Jazz Festival.

"This time we're talking about a futuristic project that is a continuation of new ideas that I've been trying to promote for quite a while," declares Mochiach, 39, enthusiastically. The Tel Aviv native and Jaffa resident explains: "Ra-Ka-Tak is actually a journey through the consciousness, with the aim of changing reality. It all began when I was in New York. The only thing that interested me there was music and notes. I lived there for 10 years, and after I left I began to understand something about the lives of those who live here, and what New York really is. What I understood, to simplify things so they'll suit a newspaper, is that music and notes are something far beyond the innocent thing called music and notes. They're a bridge to connect cultures.

Rae MochiachCredit: Daniel Tchetchik

"That's how I understood that my present destiny is to introduce initiatives from the social sphere into my musical reality. I'm not talking about being a radical fighter, but about tempting and stimulating people to experience a different sort of communications existence. And the way to do that is to dream about a reality that could exist here if there were communication among people. After all, they're always scaring you here about how dangerous and painful concessions for peace will be, but nobody spurs us to think why it's worthwhile to concede and what we'll get in exchange. And I decided that the best answer is to create a social science fiction dominated by art.

"From this place I established Ra-Ka-Tak, an ensemble that is actually a platform for describing an imaginary situation of what would happen if there were fluent communications here. Ra-Ka-Tak is the first step in an overall initiative designed to create an entire movement of regional fusion, which includes all the music and influences of the region. After the performance in Eilat we are now on the way to creating an entire tour. And you'll see that the mingling of cultures is in the final analysis no more than a road that bypasses politicians on the way to creating a better future here, because politicians are busy with scare tactics and I'm busy with temptation."

Armed with such insight, and a moment before he overwhelms us with his own network of bypass roads, Mochiach had summoned Education Minster Gideon Sa'ar - a person who seems to be furthest away from social science fiction - to explain how he is supposed to become integrated into the new reality that Mochiach wants to invent for us. But Sa'ar is actually Dr. Strangelove in disguise. You look at him and say: The guy is cool, he's a DJ in Tel Aviv pubs, he's familiar among leftists who pretend liberal coolness. But at the same time he sends all kinds of reserve officers to high schools to drive the kids crazy before their army service, and to tell them that anyone who doesn't serve in the army ends up in crime and drugs, and that has a much more dramatic impact than any session of spinning discs. Why is Mochiach hanging around with a character like him, and coming to us with talk about some sort of regional fusion?

Mochiach: "People like you are the problem in this place, because you're incapable of dividing your thinking into several tracks at the same time. I'm now trying to promote several projects supporting avant-garde artists of high-school age, because I feel that without this, there's no artistic horizon in the country. That's why I met with Sa'ar. I'm not talking here about the children who are looking for their 15 minutes of fame, but about those who connect to real things. After all, today if you're not on Channel 2, you feel terribly alone. And what they're looking for on Channel 2 are the things that sound good and hit you right in the gut at first hearing. But what works on you that easily is nothing more than entertainment.

"Real art is something that takes time to ripen in your awareness. An artist was involved in his creation for months and years. He wanted every nuance to be precise, he created layer upon layer of music, and it's impossible to understand all this at first hearing, because who are you - a genius? But in Israel all the support is given only to culture that has proven itself: Everything tries to aim at the lowest common denominator. But for art that is out of the box, support is minimal, and that's what screws up your confidence here ...

"It is precisely into this vacuum that philanthropists who don't need a majority vote are supposed to come and spend money. Rich people are often people with a very short memory and tremendous amounts of hypocrisy. People who became rich at the expense of society, or at the expense of their own parents - who themselves became rich at the expense of society - and often they forget that it's all a question of a combination of luck and the right profession. The moment these people have become rich it's their obligation to give something back to society. Art in Europe has been supported over the years by philanthropists or royal families who understood its importance. And that is precisely the role of the government ministries, which are supposed to understand that it's not enough to pass laws that tell us what's forbidden, but it's also their responsibility to tell us what's permitted. And what's permitted is culture.

"Because in the final analysis, if they don't support multilayered culture here, and war comes to this place, then everything will fall apart here ... This is much more important than a few atom bombs and some shells. But the government has an interest in scaring the public, because they want us to live with a feeling of existential danger. They chew that up and sell it to you repeatedly via filters of art. I want to declare that we haven't been in existential danger for years!"

Now I get it, that's why Mochiach arrived this time: to release us from this crazy persecution complex that for years has prevented us from making progress. To show us that there's existence outside of this obsessive anxiety of ours. He was always ahead of his time.

'Ping-pong in the dark'

In principle, if we have to simplify things, Rea Mochiach is a drummer and a music producer. But in actual fact, Mochiach is simply a genius, and if you don't completely understand it, that's all right: It simply means that your musical understanding is limited. Aside from that, the experience of watching him play percussion during performances is hypnotic. This is how a real band leader looks. Like the group of wild guys in a Western, galloping into the decisive battle in the last scene of the film. Mochiach is there, out in front of the gang, with a murderous look in his eye and the certain knowledge that he's the first to pull the trigger - and the last. In jazz this is called swing. The drummer who strikes the cymbals and makes sure the music gallops forward. That's Mochiach.

"I'll tell you something else," says Mochiach excitedly. "When I play the drums I move into a different dimension. I abandon reality and drumming becomes the main principle in my life. A virtuoso drummer exceeds any emotion, he deceives you and works on you as in physics; he shakes up a person ... and therefore wields control over his consciousness."

If you ask him to define his personality, Mochiach will tell you that he's actually a "sampler." That he can be compared to stills photographers - people who experience reality in separate frames, 24 frames a second, people with communications problems and an inability to maintain relationships for more than a few months. In Mochiach's case, each ear experiences reality from several sources of sound simultaneously, and he emits them after reassembling them. Which means that he is constantly in a state of attention deficit disorder.

"Already when I was three years old I asked my father what the note was between two notes. That note is a melody in major on a minor scale, and vice versa. I'm attracted to a minor chord and a major chord that come into being simultaneously. In musical theory this is something that should be avoided. Music breaks down into directions by means of scales. That is, each scale points to a different direction and it can't be distorted, because then you presumably ruin the music that way. But I'm excited by this two-headed creature, it destroys a musical cliche on which we're raised. I undergo a spiritual experience when I do that, as though I've witnessed the grandiose existence of the infinite, which is not really one-directional, but flows in all directions in the same movement, and that place creates intensity.

"I'm a guy who approaches my work with total irresponsibility. Things pass through me and I don't judge them, because when I judge them I actually destroy them. My activity is totally associative, I'm always in a process of transition from imagination to notes, as in a video game. I move on to the next screen, but experience each one as a beginner. I work from a place of memories and smells, trying to express something that connects to my feelings about the world - to encode a feeling into notes and then let the listener do the decoding and translate it into emotion. I throw together pieces of notes and sounds and try to understand what it all reminds me of. I actually play ping-pong in the dark. You don't see who's returning the ball to you, but you have to be ready all the time to respond.

"I know which notes to play in order to make you cry, but that's cheap manipulation; it's overused. That's why I look for things that are less concrete, like creating two possible endings to a plot. To excite you. To make a guy feel by listening to my music as though he left his girlfriend - by creating a beat and then totally changing it. I describe myself as an artist who doesn't do pop by nature, but 'visits' the world of pop occasionally and brings it content from the non-pop world. I enjoy seeing pop through post-modern glasses. It's like, if you cultivate a garden in such a way that it remains homogenous for too long, mutations, cancer and mongoloids develop. You have to mix up the genetics so it will continue to survive."

Signs of apocalypse

It's impossible to talk about Rea Mochiach without going back to the summer of '93. At the time his resume included playing the drums in the wonderful Ziknei Tzfat band - and that was after he had done so, at the age of 16, with Meir Ariel. But during that summer there was an event that turned Mochiach from a gifted drummer into a spectacle. There are people who are willing to swear that their lives changed that summer. And I'm one of them.

In the summer of '93 one of the best albums ever to be conceived came into the world, produced by Mochiach in his first cooperative effort with guitarist/vocalist Berry Sakharof - another interstellar genius; indeed, every encounter between them creates a big bang. Mochiach was barely 21 and Sakharof already signed him on. "Simanim Shel Hulsha" (Signs of Weakness ) left everyone stunned, chewing gat in the sunshine on the sand at the beach.

It was unheard of. People who really understand music say that until then such things had not been done here, although they had existed elsewhere in the world for years. Like everything else that's sane, this also arrived here with a delay. Then people discovered that it's possible to take whatever music you like, to sample it to the computer, and to play around with it. Mochiach was the first to understand this here. He took you by the hand and on a visit to some crazy amusement park. He opened a horizon and brought in an endless variety of colors that you didn't know before. In his work the guitars changed from the main element to something more marginal that joins forces with the main thing. And you looked at this brilliant guy jumping around on the drums, and asked yourself, "Where did all this come from?"

Even now, 17 years later, "Signs of Weakness" is still surprising in the tremendous number of layers included in every track. There's no question: Nothing has been the same since then.

Mochiach: "I was before my time and was the first to introduce the use of the sampler into the world of music. I brought a hip-hop technique to 'Signs of Weakness.' The only ones who did that [then] were The Young Gods band from Switzerland, and they were also nothing more than some marginal band. But nobody in the world did musical collages before me. 'Signs' was a breakthrough in the evolution of techniques that may have already existed, but in terms of its musical dimension it was timeless."

Since then Mochiach hasn't stopped working to improve himself. He plays percussion for the Ra'ash band, moved to New York for 10 years, where David Byrne of Talking Heads invited him to produce for him. He also produced the wonderful "11a" and "Adumei Hasfatot" (Red Lips ) with Sakharof, produced music for films and put out an album with Yaheli Sobol ("Eldorado" ). That's how he operates - he gets data from the artists with whom he works and mixes them in his sampler brain, until they don't remember how the materials sounded originally.

In addition to cooperative efforts with others, Mochiach founded Orchestra, an ensemble of players that has been performing once a month for the past four years, mainly at Levontin 7 in Tel Aviv, and is based on a large group of players that goes onstage without previous coordination, in a kind of improvisation, with Mochiach conducting from behind the drums. Soon he'll be on the way to issuing a cover album for songs which Yossi Banai planned to issue and didn't get around to doing before he died. And of course there's the latest development, Ra-Ka-Tak.

'One-night stand'

Now, after this long and winding road, Mochiach has finally been compensated by humanity to some extent for what he's done all these years. Turns out, the summer of '93 was significant not only for me, but for Dollin Melnick, too. Melnick is now the director of the art and culture department of Mifal Hapayis, the National Lottery, which means she oversees the Landau Prize for theater arts, which Mifal Hapayis distributes each year. But all this is just a cover for the "double life" she has led. Indeed, in her real universe, Melnick is the diametrical opposite of everything relating to the establishment, a biospheric preserve within an organization that dispenses millions of shekels, builds standardized buildings all over the country - which are dwarfed by the huge Mifal Hapayis logo they sport - and on the way sometimes turns people into betting junkies. But revolutionary seeds were planted in her brain that summer years ago and were waiting for the moment to emerge.

Now as far as Melnick is concerned, the moment for making amends has come, and she knew that Mochiach was exactly the guy who would take her there. She thus decided to "close the circle" with the guy who changed her life back in '93. Technically, Melnick can't chose the winner of the Landau Prize by herself, but her many years at Mifal Hapayis have sharpened her awareness concerning appointing worthy members of the jury that selects the recipients. She has appointed members who she feels understand what real culture is supposed to be - daring, trailblazing and stretching limits. A culture that doesn't align itself with vulgarity. In other words, anything that is opposite to what bombards you from every direction if you live here. There is no logic to the Landau Prize if it goes to mainstream artists who make millions from having their songs downloaded as ringtones.

Two months ago, when Mifal Hapayis published the names of the 2010 prize winners in various artistic categories, including Mochiach, Melnick felt she was close to experiencing spiritual elation. And Mochiach? He was caught by the police on that same morning, speeding on his Yamaha with large quantities of alcohol, and had his license revoked for two years.

"In some way I feel this prize is a victory of the spirit," says Mochiach. "I think they gave it to me because of my influence in the field. It's actually a prize for contribution to the community. And this prize made me think. I'm apparently a strange bird in my behavior, because I do my art without thinking commercially, but my activity affects art here ... You're a kind of outsider who goes against the current and suddenly you get a surprising response from the establishment for your activity. It's a little like sexual deviancy, like a one-night stand with the establishment, and I even kind of like it."

He went up last at the ceremony to receive the prize, thanked his parents who didn't pressure him to become a lawyer, was the only one of the winners who understood the humorous aspect of the moment, and related an unavoidable joke about the fact that "finally I won the lottery - it's a shame that I didn't buy a ticket!"

"Did you get how they changed the text written by the jury when they read out the reasons I got my prize?" he snickered with his mischievous smile, after the end of the ceremony. "'One of the brilliant producers active in Israel,' that's what they said about me, but in the original text, they wrote: 'The most brilliant producer active here.' They simply didn't want to insult the others. Suckers."

Yes, for one evening Rea Mochiach screwed the establishment and left it abandoned, and in love. "I'll know where to find you," he said to us just before leaving, fading in a flash into the night. W

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