Ambarchi-Avenaim / The Alter Rebbe's Nigun

album cover

Oren Ambarchi and Robbie Avenaim
The Alter Rebbe's Nigun
Tzadik Records, TZ7131, 1999


In recent months I have been listening with growing frequency to a 1999 Tzadik recording by Australians Oren Ambarchi and Robbie Avenaim, "The Alter Rebbe's Nigun." In it, two members of the Australian punk unit "Phlegm" try to create a musical approximation(?) or appreciation(?) of the three levels contractions: worlds that represent different levels of closeness(?) to the world of G-dliness, itself.

Opening with gentle guitars, and quickly descending to the clash of disharmonic guitar, then on to heavy metal soaring, the album begins with the first level, "Asiyah" (Action). Then there is the spaciness of "Yetzirah" (Formation), with pipelike tubes of sound, followed by shofar-like crescendos as something builds. For a moment I flash to Paul Kantner's "Blows Against the Empire," but this is 20 years later, and Jewish Kaballah--a different form of fantasy or science fiction :-). Gradually, we are left with creaks of sound slowly leaving behind silence as we move to the third sphere, "Beriah" (Creation) and the buzz of kazoo-like ullulation. Now space begins to close in as sound gathers, filling the emptiness, and eventually, amid the random percussion, there is the rapid-fire of guitar notes, gradually replaced by a glockenspiel playing a hasidic nigun. And finally, on to Atzilut (emanation). Behind a reading, in a very Ashkenazic Hebrew, about the Alter Rebbe's nigun, looping and spliced, the sounds begin to slowly reverberate, as from afar. Electronica, sound, slowly begin to create an ethereal, fascinating texture. After all, in true Jewish fashion, text must be part of the highest level of G-dly emanation; formed text is no less a part of what it means to be Jewish than the sounds we gather around that text. Suddenly, the words are processed further, so that they become as babble behind a now-noisy tapestry of white noise, crashing, random guitar chords, and then the words resolve themselves as recognizable nigun, created out of the white noise, gradually building in passion until it sounds like a huge crowd of dancing, singing hassidim. Then silence, and the rebbe resumes reading over gentle guitar picking out sounds that, again, resolve themselves as nigun, sounding more an more like human voice, wordless. Asiyah. Action.

Like other Tzadik pieces that I have recently reviewed, this is the sort of CD that illustrates "new Jewish music" or even "radical Jewish music" in the most exciting way: sounds that fit together in ways that push the bounds of both music and Jewish, in ways that stretch the mind, and are listenable over and over. I'm sorry they never returned (or haven't so far) to Tzadik to do another piece. I'm sorry I didn't hear this when it came out. But for now, I am glad to have discovered it at last and am happy to spread the word.

Personnel this recording:
Oren Ambarchi: all instruments
Robbie Avenaim: all instruments

Special Guest
Rabbi Yankel Lieder: text, (track 4)


  1. Asiyah 9:11
  2. Yetzirah 7:45
  3. Beriah 11:47
  4. Atzilut 15:57

All compositions by Oren Ambarchi and Robbie Avenaim

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