Few instruments have changed the world of music as drastically as the synthesizer. Its invention sparked the close bond between music and technology, revolutionising the way in which music is created and produced. In honour of the first international synthesizer day (appropriately taking place on 23rd May, Bob Mog's birthday), Tomer Kariv has decided to share the fascinating story of Arik Rudich – renowned Israeli pioneer of synth.
Up until the 90's, Israel would tend to latch on to musical trends slightly later than others. From musical instruments and styles to recording and computer equipment, Israel found itself obstructed from keeping up with the times. Sometimes it would take only a year or two to catch up, other times it could take a decade.
In the 1970's Israel was far from the thriving metropolis it is today. A small, poor country in the Middle East, surrounded by enemies, under embargo, suffering growing inflation, with musicians who could barely afford a guitar, the obstacles to keeping abreast of musical trends were numerous. The urban legend of the Tammuz band illustrates this well. The Israeli rock heroes could barely fill half a room, and were forced to appear for free for two months in order to repay outstanding debts.
Under such circumstances, it is easier to understand why it took such time for Israel to adopt the sophisticated synths that lit up western music. The likes of Keith Emerson, Kraftwerk, Rick Wakeman, Brian Eno, David Bowie and Gary Numan were lightyears ahead in their musical development because they had the resources to do so (and, of course, they were somewhat talented).
The Synthesizer is a sophisticated instrument. At that time sophisticated meant interesting, intriguing sounds. But at that time, sophisticated also meant expensive. And so, Israel was left lagging. But the small nation would soon join their peers in the sound of the future.
But, by the end of the 70's, Israel's economic situation had slightly improved, and with it a cautiously optimistic spirit in the local music culture was brewing. Tzvika Pik was one of the first to latch on to the synth wave, promoting synth from a background assistant to the main stage of his music.
A combination of Keith Emerson's Prog-Rock with Disco with a touch of heavy Jazz, synth found its way into local pop culture. But the story of Tzvika Pik and the role of the Synth in Israeli pop music is not quite the one we'll be discussing today.
Like most of his contemporaries who worked in music, Arik Rudich's story began in a military band where he served as a keyboardist for the Nahal Troupe. Soon after, he went to study in the U.S. where he was exposed to the disco revolution. Upon his return in the late 1970's, he brought disco funk back to Israel, simultaneously falling in love with Electronic music. Rudich grew obsessed with the sound of the Synthesizer embodied by the free-flowing textures of Brian Eno.
If you listen to them today, the first singles that Rudich released sound like ground-breaking pieces. The truth is that at the time they left little impression. In 1981, Rudich released the first Israeli abstract synth album Sattalla.
The album opens with one track divided into a trilogy of productions. The division was inspired by Eno's Music for Airports, alongside ambitious Prog-Rock releases such as Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond (we should like to mention that Wish You Were Here is one of the first albums that extensively and prominently utilised the synthesizer).
Other influences include the long and meditative releases of Can, and Krautrock – a genre that has little trace in local music. Rudich was unusual in these influences. One must remember that Prog-Rock and Krautrock barely made it to Israel, so to discover such genres is exemplary of a certain diligence. It would not be wrong to say he was a pioneer in many aspects. Contrary to popular opinion, more mainstream groups such as "ktzat acheret" and "sheshet" were more influenced by Fusion and Canterbury rather than the bombastic sounds of Yes. There were also bands such as Atmosphere and Jingla, but they were more on the side-lines.
By the beginning of the 80's, Rudich was a relatively known artist who collaborated with the entire spine of local music - it is because of this that his achievements are so far reaching. From a technical standpoint, Rudich owes a lot of his achievements to Dario Malki. In the same period, he was the keyboardist of the Brosh band who accompanied Zvika Pik at his show. Pik was the one who inspired Malki on the synthesizer who took avid interest diving deeply into the world of synthesizers. On Sattalla, Malki programmed and played the PROPHET 5 Synthesizer. In the same period this was a very popular instrument amongst a very diverse group of artists such as Jean Michelle Jarre, Vangelis, Devo, Level 42, Modern Talking, Japan, Hall & Oats, and even Abba.
Rudich's opening piece, Sattalla (She's the Goddess), layers a psychedelic sound to a spiritual text, written by Robby Shul. It is worth briefly detouring into Rudich's story as a singer. If two years earlier he had adapted his voice in an attempt to imitate singers like Billy Preston, here, he adapted the music to his spontaneous singing. In a rather courageous move, he pushed his vocals backwards in the mix for them to sound just like another musical instrument. Sattalla 2 and 3 already offer a deeper dive. Continuing in harmony for more than 13 minutes, they are pioneering not only in length but in their broken, experimental structure.
Sattalla 2 comprises a slow piano melody with a spatial, hollow synthesizer in the background that is reminiscent of the long floating parts of Can and Tangerine Dream. Then, in a sharp transition, the segment reaches its third part – a celebration of lively synths and groovy Balkan drumming (courtesy of Meir Israel) with distorted background voices. It is somewhat evocative of Shem Tov Levi's instrumentals, but also the free moving solos of Mizrahit music of the time – music that, in 1981, still found itself deeply marginalised: in clubs, weddings, and cassettes sold at the central bus station. Rudich's combination of Eastern groove with ambient aesthetic was an experiment that barely attracted attention. But a few keyboardists were paying attention. Whether from Eastern music or from the New Wave, a small group of followers was emerging and learning from Rudich.
On Sattalla's B-Side are three pieces: "tot anach amon", "mivrashit" and "acherit". The first sounds like a continuation of the disco-dance works Rudich produced for the soundtrack of the movie Dizengoff 99. The piece includes vocals from Rudich himself. "Mivrashit" and "acherit", however, are in a completely different tone. Rudich said that these two pieces were influenced by his being a second-generation Holocaust survivor. Besides the synths that evoke extra-terrestrial textures, the track is reminiscent of Jewish and Hassidic melodies, a suggestion of Rudich's flirting with religion in those years (in 1997 he released an entire album based on samples of Jewish cantors on layers of ambient background). Apparently, the Jewish/Pop style spoke to local music editors – "acherit" became a familiar tone for the weather show on TV. "Mivrashit" and Sattalla 2 were also purchased for different uses on Channel 1.
Soon enough, Rudich evolved from a sought after composer of film scores, such as "nagua", "Bar 51" and "hakerev al hava'ad", to becoming one of the most prominent producers of the local pop industry. He is responsible of the production of Yardeni Arazi's "hakayt bushit" in "ani lo gerta gerbo", and Leah Loptin's "dam hagefen" which infused a strange mixture of Synth and Dabke. He is also responsible for the magical debut album of Meir Banai.
The Synthesizer proved to be the dominant instrument in almost all of Rudich's subsequent adaptations and productions. For example, his 1987 instrumental album Mantra, which collected pieces from his film productions, TV programs and plays. Mantra took forward the pioneering sounds of Sattalla and edited and prepared them as a futuristic concept without words but rich in processing and playing, leaving the synthesizer as a key component of the composition.
Arik Rudich and his synthesizers were the futuristic sound of the 80's in Israel. During a stormy musical period, Rudich's unique sound was the beacon that guided Israeli music through the turmoil. His music shaped Israeli Pop, leaving a lasting impression on the generations that followed. Until today, when hearing polished pop productions in Israel, from Etniks to Rio, one can hear those space-like synths of Sattalla that gently rest in the background.