Raz Mesinai: Evading Genre, Escaping Geography
August 30, 2005—2:30 p.m.
Mesinai’s studio in New York City
Edited and Transcribed by Molly Sheridan
Video Presentation by Randy Nordschow
As I type this, I am studying four different biographies of composer Raz Mesinai and listening to his 2001 Tzadik release Before the Law. Still, I find I’m tripping over my words trying to succinctly categorize the music he creates. My dilemma is poetically appropriate considering the composer’s particular dislike of such monikers—not that it has stopped people from trying. Depending on which of his discs you’re spinning (there are more than a dozen to choose from), it might be filed under Downtown, avant-garde, illbient, maximalist, improvisatory, electronica, sound design, dub, or experimental. See him perform live, and you could add another set of adjectives. No matter. Mesinai will shift again and slip right through your fingers.
Perhaps this chameleon pose is to be expected, considering the life he has lived and the company he has kept. In addition to a childhood spent shuttling between New York and Israel soaking in street beats and Bedouin influences, he’s collaborated with such hard-to-pin artists as Mark Dresser, John Zorn, Marc Ribot, Elliott Sharp, Eyvind Kang, and Zeena Parkins.
Rather than artificially forcing Mesinai into a genre for the sake of some kind of artificial understanding, let’s just say that whether he’s using a palette of electronic or acoustic sounds, notating, improvising, or at work in the studio, he’s principally a storyteller. With an audiophile’s stock of influences, he is crafting a narrative for his listeners, from the existential alienation of Kafka to the boyish energy of an imaginary comic book war in the desert. Here, Mesinai invites us into his studio to tell a few stories closer to home.