Filling the Void
When Yair Klartag—as is the case in Nothing to express—begins playing the electric guitar, infecting the string quartet with technoid, sinusoidal sounds, there’s nothing at all deliberate about this encounter. No demonstrative reconciling of pop and high culture, no crossover. The electric guitar doesn’t even sound exotic among the four strings. Created here is new idiom all its own. The crisp, Morse code-like signals of the guitar interact with the clamorous, messy sound of the classic quartet. The electric guitar briefly makes known where it comes from. A rapid glissando, a crashing sound. But it’s not altogether clear who is infecting whom here. With Nothing to express, Yair Klartag, born in Israel in 1985, has created a kind of music in which the instruments co-exist so effortlessly it’s as they were never separated by a cultural trench.
What fits with standard aesthetics and what doesn’t? The composer also asked himself what we consider normal when watching rockets in the sky from a café in Tel Aviv’s trendy district while thinking about his next piece. In this work, A Villa in the Jungle, he also tries to express this paradoxical situation compositionally. Yair Klartag not only includes the outdated notion of “expression” in the titles of works and commentaries in which he often references Samuel Beckett, Nothing to express is actually a Beckett quote. It describes the paradoxical reaction to an art that has become weary of itself. An art, says Beckett, that turns “from [the plane of the feasible] in disgust, weary of its puny exploits, weary of pretending to be able, of being able, of doing a little better the same old thing, of going a little further along a dreary road.”
Yair Klartag first began playing piano at the age of thirteen. Two years later, he received his first lessons in composition at school—his teacher took a non-academic approach, which provided the necessary freedom and space to develop a fascination for working with sound. In 2006, Klartag began studying composition under Ruben Seroussi at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University. In 2010, he moved to Basel, where he studied with Georg Friedrich Haas, and ultimately ended up in New York as a doctoral candidate at Columbia University.
Obsessed both with sound and the material he works with, Yair Klartag is a conceptually consistent composer. The question of expression inexorably leads him to the fundamental question of meaning, and—at the Background Music for Fundraising Event in 2010, in which orchestral musicians read out testimonies of human suffering—also to Oscar Wilde’s conclusion: this art is “quite useless.” But with Wilde the target is still “all art.” Evidently, Yair Klartag has not given up the hope of composing music that conveys “moments of authentic, honest expression” without revolving self-referentially around oneself. In one of his most recent ensemble compositions, There’s no lack of void (2016), he focuses on the acoustic overflow of information, which swallows up all meaning. Again, Samuel Beckett serves as the main spiritual figure here, also providing the quotation for the work’s title. There’s no lack of void is an effort to not only present the overabundance of musical stimuli, but also to dispose of it compositionally at the same time, without the negative aesthetic tossing the music out in the trash.
Text: Martina Seeber
Translation: Erik Smith