Rachel Yatzkan (b. 1968)

Intangible materiality

Music, understood as experience and reflection, arises between the ears of the listener. Through the work being realised in sound an ordered musical material is transported to the listener. In the work the composer’s ideas have found form through their being worked out in a musical material. Ideas arise out of the composer’s thoughts and mental/bodily perceptions; the music is a mirror in which the listener in an internally directed gaze gains access to a human fellowship.

A characteristic of Rachel Yatzkan’s music is its physicality and decidedly sensual manifestation in sound: It is almost physically present in the room. In its essence it is however as intangible as the stuff that dreams and souls are made of.

Raised in Jerusalem by parents with roots in Persia and Bulgaria respectively, it is hardly surprising that one finds an undercurrent of Southern European and Middle Eastern folk music in Rachel Yatzkan’s music. On the surface of the music this can be noticed in her preference for glissandi and micro-tonality, for irregular metres and fast pulsations. An echo of the Persian Ney flute tradition appears in the work Ama Mi (2000) for recorder quartet, and Rachel Yatzkan’s way of using the voice is often closer to folk traditions than European art song, as can be heard, inter alia, in the works R∆T (1998) for soprano and baritone and Mequri (2002) for mezzo-soprano, recorder, saxophone and bass-marimba.

Her music is independent of new music’s many conventions and stylistic directions – it appears differently from work to work and yet nevertheless remains itself. This is not to say that the musical experiments of the latest decades are foreign to her work – on the contrary. After studies in Jerusalem (improvisation, saxophone, compositional experiments, work with music for theatre) Rachel Yatzkan moved to Holland (1996 - 2001) and was systematically introduced, through her composition studies in The Hague, to contemporary music techniques. It is often with a radical and highly individual investigation of these possibilities that her music maintains an unmistakably personal character.

The material is generated with mathematical consistency and organised on the basis of an approach to both methodology and material that can have striking similarities with Danish Concretism: The artist-subject takes to the background and material is presented ‘as it is’  – direct, naked and without ornament. The musical structure insists on consistent transparency.

The work I Conquered the Evil of God (1999) for voice and ensemble is based on a systematic shortening starting with the number 10 as a numeric axis: the opening movement lasts 100 seconds after which each of the 10 movements removes 10 seconds from the duration - though with one significant exception: The third movement (80 seconds) is shifted to the position of fourth last. The work 4 (to the power of) 3 (1999) for 4 double basses approaches the conceptual though a systematic sound-presentation or ‘translation’ of two paintings into four sections (movements) of 4 minutes each, each of which investigates 4 sound/instrumental situations.

The point of departure for the choice of material in Yatzkan’s music often has its basis in physical conditions or phenomena. The quartet Collisions (2003) for clarinet, saxophone, violin and piano is exemplary in respect in that its material takes a point of departure in the collision between hard and soft - as when a stone strikes the surface of the ocean: The instrument’s microtonal patterns of movement trace meticulously calculated deformations and waves.

There is, in Rachel Yatzkan’s own words, a ‘resonance’ between the physical conditions that are musicalised in her works with mathematical precision and the emotional/mental states and phenomena below the threshold of consciousness - states and phenomena that nevertheless can be perceived in certain magical moments. Rachel Yatzkan searches for these magical moments in her music – where the individual’s isolation is dissolved in a shared, spiritual space.

By Niels Rosing-Schow