Raised in Tel Aviv, Malka Spigel began her musical and artistic life in Amsterdam in the early 80s. There, she first picked up a bass guitar and, with fellow émigrés Berry Sakharof and Samy Birnbach, founded Minimal Compact, whose middle-eastern nuanced post-punk would garner a large, loyal following, especially in continental Europe. The band (later joined by Rami Fortis and Max Franken) put out six studio albums between 1981 and 1988, and their song “When I Go” – sung by Spigel – was famously featured on the soundtrack to Wim Wenders’s 1987 film, Wings of Desire. Although Minimal Compact haven’t released any new material for over two decades, their stature has continued to grow with each reawakening of the band for live work: six dates in Israel in 2012, for instance, saw them play to crowds unimaginable even in their heyday.
In 1985, Spigel met Wire’s Colin Newman – then producing Minimal’s Raging Souls – and collaborated with him on Commercial Suicide in 1986. They married soon after and, basing themselves in Brussels, developed a creative partnership on various projects before relocating to London in 1992. The couple then set up the Swim~ label, releasing Spigel’s debut album, Rosh Ballata (1993), as well as projects recorded under the names Oracle and Immersion. Spigel’s mini-album, Hide, and her second full-length record, My Pet Fish, both followed in 1997.
Inspired by the experience of creating an Immersion installation for Event Horizon at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 1996, Spigel began to pursue her interests beyond music, earning a degree in Fine Art (specialising in video and photography). She subsequently made video work for Immersion and promos for Minimal Compact, Vapourspace, Githead and Wire. Under the name Maya Newman, she also established herself as a photographer. Now widely known for her innovative, arresting work with Lomo LCA cameras, she has had major shows in Strasbourg (2008), Tel Aviv (2010) and Jerusalem (2011).
Although Spigel has broadened her artistic horizons over the past decade, she hasn’t abandoned music. Far from it. In 2004, with Newman and Robin Rimbaud, she formed the band Githead, which has to date released three acclaimed albums: Profile (2005), Art Pop (2007) and Landing (2010). In 2010, Spigel also developed Hopper, a site-specific performance and installation project.
Autumn 2012 saw the release of Spigel’s third solo album, Every Day Is Like the First Day, featuring contributions from a diverse array of artists such as Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Alexander Balanescu (The Balanescu Quartet), Julie Campbell (Lonelady), Nik Colk Void (Factory Floor) and the Italian composer Teho Teardo. Live work followed in support of the record, including concerts in France and Israel, a BBC radio session for Marc Riley’s 6 Music show and a performance at Wire’s DRILL : LONDON festival.
Malka Spigel emphasises the organic nature of her creative process: “It’s about not thinking or planning or having a concept – not even deciding not to think. You do it before your brain gets involved. It’s quick. It’s instinctive.” Every Day Is Like The First Day was created very much in that spirit. The title itself is a mantra for Spigel, intimately linked to her process, as she comes to each new piece of work as a discrete act of creation, with no preconceptions, no plans: “Every song is like the first song,” she explains. “That’s the way I like to approach music.”
The genesis of this material was an exploratory four-day stint with spouse, collaborator and producer Colin Newman at Press Play Studio in London: “We didn’t talk about what the record or the songs would be,” Spigel recalls, “or what the direction would be. Nothing. There was zero preparation.”
The studio (run by Stereolab’s Andy Ramsay) offered a treasure trove of musical playthings with which to interact intuitively – from bouzouki and vibraphone to decommissioned Stereolab organs and synths. This was an ideal environment for Spigel’s blank-slate approach, and it influenced the musical direction as it developed between her and Newman: “We started from scratch in the studio, with all these strange instruments,” she says. “The songs were built on random starts, tiny little sequences, just piano lines, or the two of us playing bouzouki and guitar or bass and guitar.”
Having laid the foundations, the couple embarked on a second phase, opening the work up to collaboration: “We erased the history of everything,” Spigel says, stressing that guest musicians were chosen from friends with whom she hadn’t worked before, so as to remove any sense of continuity, familiarity or habit. And, to extend the intuitive sensibility at the heart of this material, rather than give instructions or suggestions, Spigel and Newman invited their guests simply to react to the songs as they felt appropriate. “It was fun, and it got better and better,” recalls Spigel. “Better than we had imagined. We never felt stuck or lost or confused about anything. Every step was so easy.”
In keeping with Spigel’s nomadic trajectory as an artist, which has taken her from her childhood home, Tel Aviv, to Amsterdam and Brussels (as a member of Minimal Compact) and now London, this album’s collaborative process itself became peripatetic. With Newman, she visited Berlin, Rome and Tel Aviv to record with Ronald Lippok, Teho Teardo and Gil Luz, respectively. Some friends dropped in at the couple’s home studio (Matt Simms, Nik Colk Void and Alexander Balanescu) and others participated remotely (Johnny Marr and Julie Campbell).
What comes across from this elaborate process (involving a grand total of thirteen musicians, four countries and eight studios) is the essence of each song as what Spigel would call “the first song” – a distinct, singular entity, with its own unique emotional resonance and atmosphere. Blending real and synthetic instruments in ways that are at once seamless and striking, these songs are as rich as they are diverse. A meditation on ephemerality in 3/4, “Ammonite” sets the agenda, its Mellotron flute (“Strawberry Fields” enthusiasts take note), live strings and bouzouki shaping otherworldly textures. Newman’s production here – and throughout the record – is crucial, allowing the individual parts to breathe and retain their own identity, while weaving them into a lush, integrated whole.
There’s often a subtly hypnotic quality to this work, most memorably on tracks that forego drums, building cyclical patterns from more understated percussive and melodic elements such as vibraphone, xylophone, violin, cello and Mellotron: the ethereal “Dream Time” and “After The Rain,” the haunted “Back In The Old City” and the bittersweet “Lost In Sound” – Spigel’s poignant 80s remembrance of things Minimal.
Other tracks have a greater immediacy and a sometimes harsher edge: “Chasing Shadows,” for example, on which Spigel indicts those addicted to the pursuit of their 15 minutes of fame, to the accompaniment – appropriately perhaps – of Velveteen drones and a relentless robotic beat; the assertive, driving “See It Sideways,” meanwhile, focuses on the artistic process itself, its lyrics assembled from a series of Oblique Strategies-style instructions devised by Spigel.
Indeed, while Spigel herself wouldn’t waste time rationalising it, this is, above all, an album about creativity and the creative process – an artistic statement bringing together her work in different media: music made with a visual artist’s sense of colour, atmosphere and composition. Images and music are inextricably connected throughout: the words of “European Weather,” for instance, capture and transform the world seen from a window at Tarwater’s Berlin studio, while each line of “Two Dimensions In A Single Frame” describes one of her own photographs.
Every Day Is Like The First Day may be Malka Spigel’s third solo album, but it opens a whole new vista for her work; it has all the freshness and promise of an exciting debut.