On A Roundtable with Dror Feiler

On A Roundtable with Dror Feiler

October 9, 2015

Written by:

Dragoș Rusu

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A Back-table

During the days of the Konfrontationen festival, if you hang around the restaurant/bar of Jazzgalerie, you get to see a lot of different artists that performed or will perform in the festival.

While having a soup and the usual spritz, we saw Dror Feiler sitting alone at the table next to us, probably waiting for somebody (who eventually appeared a few minutes late). We couldn’t help for immediately approaching him for a spontaneous ad hoc interview (as I was carrying the recorder with me all the time), so this is the result of our conversation.

But first, as a short introduction for the ones who are not familiar with this very special artist and human being, Dror Elimelech Feiler is an Israeli-born Swedish musician, artist and radical left-wing activist. Feiler is now the chairman of the Swedish organization Jews for Israeli–Palestinian Peace (JIPF) and the European organization European Jews for a Just Peace (EJJP). He is also a member of the editorial board of the New Colombia News Agency (ANNCOL) and runs the artspace TEGEN 2 in Stockholm together with Gunilla Sköld Feiler.

Dror is active as a composer of modern music, which includes composition music for symphonic orchestras, opera, chamber music and electro-acoustic music.
As a musician and composer for so long time, it has become more and more difficult to make new music, because you come into your own clichés. Some people call it style (it is sometimes a style), but sometimes it’s an escape way to the clichés; to something easy.

An Introduction

What are you drinking?

Dror Feiler: Schnapps.

Scoromide: We have a Romanian guy here that brings a few liters of Romanian pălincă every year.

Scoromide: I know about your project Ship to Gaza, but first let’s talk a little bit about music. For someone who hasn’t listened to any of your music yet, what would you say would be a good introduction?

Dror Feiler: It’s a very difficult question, because I made a lot of different music during the years. Writing for symphony orchestra (this is my profession, as a composer), they’ve made a lot of recordings, which I think are interesting in one way. There is also the improvised music, which is different.

I also have two groups; one is called Lokomotiv Konkret. We have been playing together for 40 years. The band is made with a Swedish drummer called Tommy Björk and a Swedish guitarist called Sören Runolf, who also played in the Fire! Orchestra. The other group is called The Too Much Too Soon Orchestra and it’s an ad hoc different project with musicians that I collect. We had two discs; one was called SAW – Music for Instruments and Machines and another one called ‘What Is The Point Of Paris?’

Any solo recordings?

DF: Yes, one is called The Celestial Fire and another one called The Return of the Real.

Anyway, I don’t remember. I don’t make so many CDs. Many times I feel that this kind of music - like the one from today - it’s best when you sit, when you see it in a concert, live. And you feel it right here - in your body.

You never get that kind of feeling from a CD player. Of course it’s good to have, it’s documentation and so on. I have a lot of concerts video recorded on YouTube; it’s not the best sound, but you get a little more of the atmosphere.

photo credits - Ship to Gaza

Dror Feiler
Dror Feiler

Thinking about music

The ideal is to be there, because the music is being made for the moment, right?

DF: Yes, exactly. And you react to the audience; you react to the temperature, to everything around you. It’s influencing your music.

You know, I have done this music since 1975; it’s 40 years. And I don’t have other profession. I make art; mostly music. So for me, music is a very special thing. I think we have a big problem with live music, because people think too much about music; and when you start to think, you miss the music, because the music is now. So, when I go to a classical music concert and - as a composer - I try to find out how the instrumentation is made, and then I miss the music. Or, as a saxophone player, you listen to John Butcher and you think ‘how is he doing it?’ And then you miss the music. And the audiences, they have other problems. They compare. ‘Aha, this sounds like that; ah, he sounds like Albert Ayler, or… you know. And then they miss the music; all the time.

I think sometimes, when you play on extremely loud volume, the audience cannot think. You come into panic. And when you cannot think, maybe you can hear the music. It is a bit provocative, I know, it is not a solution, but I think there is some truth in it. And I think that only by awaking this question you are already on the way. If I go to a concert and say to myself, ‘ok, now I will try not to be the composer, now I will try to listen, to be the ear’, or the body; because you don’t hear only with the ear, you hear also with the body, with the whole body. And also, I think there are some sounds that our body itself produces.

I was in isolation, in prison, for 34 days, in a small cell.

In Israel?

DF: Yes. In 1970, I was a soldier. I remember that when you don’t hear, you have no stimulant, nothing. Then, you start to hear your heart, your digestion system; and I think I could even hear my brain, on very high tones. I’m not sure, but this was my feeling. I think that this is the essence of my music. If you listen to my music you have this (pointing to his heart); and you have this chaos of the digestion system, and you also have high tones.

S: Most of the thinking that we do it uses concepts that are not created by us. They are older concepts created by others and imposed throughout the culture that we grew up with. So it’s not really yours; but your body is yours.

DF: This is the importance with trying to make new music, with trying to get away from the clichés. As a musician and composer for so long time, it has become more and more difficult, because you come into your own clichés. Some people call it style (it is sometimes a style), but sometimes it’s an escape way to the clichés; to something easy.

Safe and easy.

DF: Safe and easy.

Dror Feiler Ship to Gaza
Dror Feiler Ship to Gaza


Like when you make the same album more than once…

DF: But it’s also difficult, because you have done so much music, and you want to make something new. So, for example, this concept of today’s concert (e.n. – Konfrontationen 2015) I decided I will not decide what I will start with. I wanted to go in a state somehow to start. And when I played the solo alto, I didn’t know I would play the solo alto. And this felt very good, because suddenly I was confronted with the situation that I was not prepared. And this forced me to deal with this. I like to do things. I constructed a specially computer program that has (I would not say randomness) but some unpredictability.

An element of unpredictability.

DF: A lot of elements. For example, if the program detects that I play 93 times on 440 Hz, something happens. Of course, I don’t count how many times. And then, the computer suddenly does something. If you saw, I have a synthesizer with touch control, that I can change all the time. This one was built in 1975. And this gives you the possibility to really improvise with electronic sounds, without having to look at the computer; it’s like playing an instrument. This is what I want to do; I want the electronics and so on to be a part of my… like playing saxophone, you don’t have to think too much, you don’t have too much programming; because as soon as you start looking at the computer and changing volume, your mind will change from the creative musician to a technocrat. Sometimes you must do that, but sometimes I would prefer if there could be a human interference.

Regarding the solo you were talking about earlier, was that a composition or improvisation? It also sounded a bit ethnic.

DF: Yes, it had ethnic elements. I made the research in musicology about Jewish prayers tradition. And I made a CD with my group Lokomotiv Konkrete, called A Voice Still Heard. And the melody is on this tradition, and we improvised on that. I have this in my body. When I was a little boy, I heard it on the radio; every Friday there was a program on Israeli radio where they were singing old prayers. Somehow, I like it very much, although I come from a total secular non-religious world. I like the sadness.

Does sadness inspire you more than happiness?

DF: I think sadness is a bigger part of me than happiness. If you look at the world now, at what’s happening, how much happiness can you get from that?

And the happiness is much shorter.

DF: Haha, it’s true. If you look at the history of art, if you look for Hieronymus Bosch, his paintings of hell are much better than his paintings of paradise. We, as human beings, know what hell is. But paradise…we don’t know. We hope we know, but we don’t. So I think it has something to do with sadness too.

In Swedish there’s this word called dravant. You can say somebody is dravant by sickness, or by music. It means…you don’t choose. I don’t choose to be sick, but the sickness is taking me. The same thing I want music to take me. So when I play, suddenly, I don’t know why I do this. It is taking over me. I become possessed. I like it, I like this feeling, and it is a little bit childish and idealistic.

Nobody is idealistic anymore.

DF: No, I mean idealistic in a philosophical term. You come from Romania; you know the difference between the elected materialism and idealism.

We were only 4 or 5 years old at the Revolution.

DF: My father was the chairman of communist party in Israel.

DR: You know, my parents lived around Jerusalem for 4 or 5 years. They worked there. I remember a story from my mother. One day, as she was waiting for the bus in the station, together with a friend of her, and while chatting together, my mother decided to take the next bus and not the one that just arrived in the station. And 20 minutes later, that bus exploded nearby a market, with all the people on board.

DF: Between 2002 and 2007 was the worst. But I can’t go to Israel again, I am exiled politically.

Dror Feiler
Dror Feiler

The concept of entertainment

Well, let's go back to music. What about the other musicians that you’ve worked with or that you have encountered?

DF: My favorite composer is a matter of fact Romanian and Greek: Iannis Xenakis. He’s my favorite; he was also my teacher. People know him as Greek, but he was born in Romania. His way to relate to politics, to music and to art I’m very inspired by that. He was sentenced to death by the Greek right wing after the war. He had to escape to Paris. When I started to play, I was inspired by Peter Brötzmann (the free-jazz musician) and Anthony Braxton. I like this dryness; I like the tone of the saxophone also.

In this festival I didn’t see so much music that I think it’s very great. I think that the string trio with John Butcher was very good; I liked it very much. I think this group playing yesterday on vibraphone (Mrafi), the Italians… they were good.

Did you play at Konfrontationen before?

DF: No. You know, these kind of festivals… I will say it…I will rephrase it in a little more brutal way. I think most of the music - even at this kind of festival - it’s entertainment. And I don’t like entertainment; I don’t want to entertain anybody. I don’t want to speculate what the musicians think when they play here. I just feel that this is kind of an unwritten agreement between people and audience.

But can you survive for almost 40 years if you don’t entertain people?

DF: I don’t care if it survives. Prostitutes survive also, nobody say that it’s good. I think it’s very important that this festival is here, it’s important that people play, the audience is confronted with something else, which is important. Some people for them is not entertaining, it’s very strange, which is good. But, I say for myself. Many times when I go to festivals, people think that my music is too hard, too loud.

Once I was playing in Odessa exactly after they had become independent in the ‘90s. I came there to play a solo concert, in the stock market, inside a huge beautiful house. The ticket was 10% of the monthly salary. I thought nobody would come. I came at the sound check, I looked around, later at the concert I saw 400 people, and they were all wearing nice clothes, like in the East. And there were normal people, old men, small girls, and I was thinking ‘oh shit, full of people, Friday evening, they came to have some entertainment and they will confront my music’. I had a program called the Brutal Sentimental Concept. I played one piece very hard, extremely hard, and one beautiful melody; all the time, one by one. After the concert, one of the old men came behind the stage and he was walking back and forth, back and forth. And I asked the translator about this. I assume - and I told him - that he wanted to thank me for the beautiful melody. He said ‘no, I want to thank you for the brutal parts.’ ‘Why?’ I said. ‘Have you ever heard such music?’ ‘No’. ‘So than why’, I asked? ‘Because you knew how we had it in the Soviet Union’. I didn’t make the music because of this, but somehow, I think the earnestness and the energy came to him, maybe he felt I was possessed. So he could jump over this barrier of not hearing the music. And then suddenly, I was the one who was conservative; I thought he would like the melody, but it was the opposite.

And this gave me a lesson: I don’t assume that nobody understands or not. I go on stage, I do my thing, and then, if people like it, I am very happy, if they don’t like it, what can I do?


How did you come up to the title of the composition you played earlier today - Music Is Castrated Noise? (more about it here).

DF: I have done this before. As a matter of fact, I got it from reading the biography of Michelangelo, when I was very young. Michelangelo said ‘this stone has the sculpture in it, we just take it away’. You could see in the stone already. And I mean the noise is like the stone, either you use the stone, or you take away and castrate the stone, and make something else which is not the stone. I make it also as a kind of provocation. Sometimes, the title is not meant to be philosophical, it is just like a lighter for a cigarette.

DF: If you start to question things, you don’t know where it ends. You can ask ‘why there’s no bus station here?’ And you’ll go to the municipality and ask ‘why?’ ‘Because we decided.’ ‘Why you decided?’ And it goes on and on. So, I mean, the element of question - what is music and what is not music - this already in itself is a starter of questioning everything.

The problem is that sometimes the relation between what you do and how you get appreciated, this has very little to do with music. It has to do with social connections, with what country are you from, with what kind of place you have in the hierarchy.

“All forms of freedom are bound together, and each is equally significant / dangerous: The freedom of music generates the freedom of emotions, which generates the freedom of thought, which the freedom of action and the freedom of action is enemy number one to the state. So let us keep the opera in its current form! If we want to preserve the monarchy.” (Quoted by Dror Feiler, from Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s pamphlet, 1752).

Nigel Wrench writes: "Dror Feiler is an Israeli-born, Swedish-based composer who believes noise can be music, and you'll hear some of what he produces on PM this evening. Earplugs may be needed. The Bavarian Symphony Orchestra refused to play one of Mr Feiler's pieces in the spring. Orchestra members said they feared permanent damage to their hearing.''

Read also:
*Konfrontationen 2015 - festival report
**Interview with Hans Falb and Philipp Schmickl
***Interview with Hamid Drake
****In conversation with Ab Baars and Ig Henneman

About the Author

Dragoș Rusu

Co-founder and co-editor in chief of The Attic, sound researcher and allround music adventurer, with a keen interest in the anthropology of sound.

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