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The Dream Past: A Sonic Conjuring
A new immersive music experience for the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) from The Sway Machinery

Thursday, September 21, 2023 at 7:30 PM
Union Temple House of CBE - 17 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn
Presented by Congregation Beth Elohim

Click here for a video of Jeremiah Lockwood discussing the event with Aaron Bendich of Borscht Beat. 

On September 21, 2023, during the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, you are invited to the premiere performance of The Dream Past: A Sonic Conjuring, the latest project of the “unclassifiable and uplifting” (The New Yorker) Brooklyn rock band, The Sway Machinery.

Presented by Congregation Beth Elohim in the hauntingly beautiful and historic Union Temple House of CBE, an art deco synagogue, this new set of music draws on the cantorial tradition, initiating a dance with the ghosts.

Featuring the double-front of vocalists Yuli Ya’el Be’eri and band-leader Jeremiah Lockwood, the ace horn section of band-cofounders Stuart Bogie and Jordan McLean, and the great beauty of drummer John Bollinger, The Dream Past extends the band’s long running project of cantorial revival—excavating the otherworldly potentials of Jewish sacred music and lost melodies to instigate a party, break boundaries between communities, and touch the past. Like its debut project, Hidden Melodies Revealed, which also drew upon High Holidays liturgy, The Dream Past offers an expansive vision of what can be achieved through commitment to ancestor voices and reciprocity with the dead. This new work turns to a lost and now rediscovered archive of bootleg recordings of live prayer leading as the source material for its ecstatic transformation.

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What is khazones?

Once upon a time there was a certain kind of person in the world that perhaps no longer exists—a Jewish sacred artist called a khazn (cantor) whose music was beloved in the pre-Holocaust Yiddish-speaking Jewish world and whose voice was prized as a representation of the community. Khazones (the music of the khazn) was both a form of ritual and a popular art form sung in theaters and captured on records that sold to a mass audience. Khazonim were for the most part drawn from the Jewish working classes, often born into hereditary lineages, and trained as child choir singers touring with elder cantors. The hardships of their artist’s life nurtured a sensitivity that was translated into the characteristic emotionally arresting style of cantorial improvisation. It was expected, demanded even, that the cantor be able to elicit tears from their listeners. In the Jewish immigrant community in the US in the early 20th century, khazonim were increasingly focused as performers on stage and electronic media, perfecting their imagined folklore as a theatrically heightened style of Jewish popular culture. New rabbinically-unregulated media outlets created opportunities for women to work as khazentes (women performers of khazones), transcending boundaries that had alienated women from public leadership roles in synagogue ritual. Khazns and khazentes were artists who straddled worlds: their voices transcribed the pain and the fantasies of transcendence long associated with Jewish prayer. At the same time, they were modern artists absorbed in the political and social transformations of the day and sought to channel these themes into their music of prayer. This model of Jewish creative sacred performer has largely faded from memory.

Electronic media and ghosts

The year 1963 saw the introduction of the first handheld tape recorders. While the 1960s are well into the period commonly conceived of as a decline of Yiddish culture (including khazones), many of the great elder khazonim of the immigrant generation were still active. Obsessive fans of khazones took advantage of the new tape-recording technology to make secret recordings of prayer services. For these fans, the aesthetics of prayer were considered so valuable that it was worth trespassing ritual law and breaking the social contract of the synagogue to capture the power of sacred performance. Nevertheless, the resulting underground archive of “live davening” (live prayer) recordings were viewed with a certain sense of shame and mostly kept secret for decades.

It has been said that the ability to talk to ghosts is directly proportional to the amount of historical material that has been electronically archived. In the current day, the internet overflows with secret material, creating unimaginable opportunities to touch the past. The live davening archive, previously held in secret collections and circulated on dubbed cassettes by a tiny community of fans, has begun to go public via file sharing sites and streaming video. These recordings provide raw access to the long-form improvisatory style of prayer leading in the khazones tradition, light-years removed from the stylized excerpts heard on old gramophone records. This newly accessible material has proven especially valuable to contemporary cantorial revivalists, for whom these recordings may provide their only exposure to khazones as a ritual performance form.

The Dream Past

For its latest high-wire act, The Sway Machinery will plunge into the live davening archive, presenting lost gems of Jewish expressive culture in radically recontextualized form. The Sway Machinery has long tapped the potential of khazones as the basis for social music. This new piece embraces the idea that khazones is a “body genre,” a form of art that acts upon the body of the receiver. The visceral effect of this music is evidenced in the noisy soundscape of live davening bootlegs that capture the interplay of sacred artist and community at prayer. The Dream Past calls upon the lineage of this forgotten relationship between performance and ecstatic communal experience. The work instigates acts of memory that transform the baggage of historical experience, seeking wisdom in secret places, oriented towards pleasure and intent on the transformative powers of creativity.

Fri, July 19 2024 13 Tammuz 5784