When you hear the term “Jewish music,” you might think of Klezmer or of cantors singing Jewish liturgical chants. But Jewish music is also whatever music Jewish people create, which is often all kinds of music, from Bob Dylan to John Zorn, Arthur Schoenberg to Amy Winehouse. Jewish music is every music, an eclectic symphony of diaspora.
One of the things I love about Alex III is the way she embraces Jewish music as cacophony. The queer, anti-fascist Jewish noise musician has released dozens of albums over the year and a half since she started her Jewish noise project Yotzeret Sheydim. Her most recent, Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Creation) on Deathbed Tapes, is typical of her approach. Semi-inaudible Hebraic chanting drifts above or is buried underneath bursts of power electronic detonation and static. On some tracks, like “Unconfiscated Devices for Curse Removal,” she edges up to something like an electronica beat—it’s not danceable so much as reminiscent of someone experiencing seizures on a dance floor. Others, like “A Replica of a Sliver of the Toenail of a Major Demon, Cast in Copper” are ambient scratch and glitch, white noise made of fingernails drawn across a blackboard.
The (almost) formless noise has a religious element, half-punishment, half-ecstasy. On “What Did Lilith See Outside the Garden,” Alex III opens the track by saying, “This is a song about the first humans and the first demons,” before unleashing blasts of static and incomprehensible distorted shouting. Is Lilith suffering for leaving the peace of Eden, or is she losing herself in God’s glory? The answer, most likely, is both. Like Neil Diamond bellowing out “America,” the track is an ode to the pain and potential of diasporic existence, in which losing the stable self is also finding a self in heterogeneity and new life.
Noise for Alex III is sometimes being overwhelmed by God, but it’s also sometimes imitating or following God. The Book of Creation is a formless roar of chaos shaped into something at least a little less chaotic. God made the world, and artists can follow in his largish footsteps by making a part of the world themselves. Or as one song title explains, Shefer Yetzirah is an instruction manual on “How to Bring Yourself Closer to G-d by Creating Demons in Thirty Two Easy Steps.”
Demons for Alex III aren’t devils or evil beings. Rather, she says in a Bandcamp interview that they’re “mischievous weird little monsters that are made each time anything is created. They are the anti-divine spark, opposite the spark of creation.” The name Yotzeret Sheydim means “she creates demons” in Hebrew, and so the project is an imitation of God’s creative power and a reveling in anti-creation and pulling music apart. For an anti-fascist Jewish musician, creating sound is both embracing the law and slithering out of its clutches.
Alex III is more devout as a Jew than I am (since I’m neither devout nor believing at all.) I see myself more directly in the spiky, resolutely secular cynicism of someone like guitarist Marc Ribot, who called his early band the Rootless Cosmopolitans and titled one album, Yo! I Killed Your God. I also like noise music, though, and I appreciate the way that Alex III’s squall of chaos and anti-chaos is an argument with God as well as a celebration of him. Jewish identity can feel amorphous, agonized and joyful, flirting with the divine and scuttling off with the three-eyed toads and bird monkey things that adorn The Book of Creation’s cover. There’s too much great Jewish music for any one artist to define Jewish music. But Yotzeret Sheydim’s blare is a righteous effort.