Challenging the Theater of Memory. Yiddish Song beyond Kitsch and Stereotype - AR Pilot project
The project “Challenging the Theater of Memory. Yiddish Song beyond Kitsch and Stereotype” attempts to explore and deconstruct the ways that Jewishness is portrayed and embodied in the performance of Yiddish song through ethnographic research and musical performance.
In Germany and in Austria, there are scores of expectations regarding performer, repertoire and the type of Jew represented on stage. Sociologist Michal Y. Bodemann has called this phenomenon, in which Jewish participation in public life fulfills a role on the German post-Nazi national narrative, the Theater of Memory (Bodemann 1996). In the Theater of Memory the diversity and complexity of Jewish life is instrumentalized and reduced to a supporting role in the German or Austrian political narrative. The performance of Yiddish song and more broadly the cultural heritage of Ashkenazi Jews, are not exempt from this phenomenon. Often Yiddish culture and music is portrayed through the nostalgic tropes of traditional shtetl life, stereotypical images of “Ostjuden” and the destruction of the Shoah. Such performances of Yiddish music often reinforce hegemonic narratives rather than creating empowerment for Jewish minorities in Germany and Austria.
In this artistic research project Yiddish musicians and researchers Isabel Frey and Benjy Fox-Rosen reflect on their attempts to challenge the Theater of Memory in their artistic practice. Drawing from their experience of past performances, theory from both performance and Jewish studies as well as ethnomusicology, they develop an artistic performance which weaves together music, texts and visuals. This performance is situated at the center of this artistic research project; it will be presented in multiple settings, and to diverse audiences. The project will be documented through auto-ethnographic (see Bartleet 2021) research methods and audio/visual recordings, published in the Research Catalogue. The final goal of the project is to complete an application for the PEEK program of the FWF in Spring 2023 that will build on and expand upon the topics explored in the present pilot project.
Bartleet, Brydie-Leigh. “Artistic Autoethnography: Exploring the Interface between Autoethnography and Artistic Research.” In Handbook of Autoethnography, edited by Tony E. Adams, Stacy Holman Jones and Carolyn Ellis, pp. 133-145. New York: Routledge, 2021.
Bodemann, Y. Michal. Gedächtnistheater: die jüdische Gemeinschaft und ihre deutsche Erfindung. Hamburg: Rotbuch-Verlag., 1996.
Benjy Fox-Rosen (Los Angeles, 1984) is a musician and researcher based in Vienna, Austria. He is the conductor of the Vienna Stadttempel Choir accompanying Cantor Shmuel Barzilai weekly. As a singer and bass player, Fox-Rosen has performed at Celebrate Brooklyn (USA), the Chicago World Music Festival (USA), Wiener Festwochen (AU), and Krakow Jewish Festival (PL) as well as many other festivals and venues throughout the Americas and Europe. He has taught workshops at the New England Conservatory, Tufts University, the University of Performing Arts Vienna (mdw) and other institutions. As a composer, Fox-Rosen has been commissioned to write works for choirs, artistic interventions, and audio-installations. He has produced three recordings of his own music, two of which were recognized by the Forward in the top-five Jewish music album of the year category.
Fox-Rosen is currently finishing his Masters thesis on the musical practice of the choir of the Stadttempel synagogue at the Institute for Musicology of the University of Vienna. This project uses ethnographic research methods to address questions of musical change, meaning and continuity. Fox-Rosen has also published scholarly reflections on his own artistic practice, focusing on questions of translation in the performance of Yiddish song, particularly in the German speaking world.
Isabel Frey is a Yiddish singer and PhD candidate in the Structured Doctoral Program “Music Matters” at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. She has a background in medical anthropology and sociology, a field that she has also published peer-reviewed articles in. Her current research deals with the politics of Yiddish folksong, the practices of oral transmission and the current developments in creating new Yiddish songs. Her project combines her passion for Yiddish music with the anthropology of the voice and the body and ethnomusicological minority research. It is located between the disciplines of ethnomusicology, cultural studies and gender studies, but also draws on theories from Jewish, Yiddish and diaspora studies. In her PhD project, she also combines her artistic work with her research, conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Yiddish music workshops and master classes that she also received artistic scholarships for. The artistic research pilot project “Challenging the Theater of Memory. Yiddish Song beyond Kitsch and Stereotype” is a further step in this direction to link research with artistic practice.
As a performer, Isabel Frey specializes in Yiddish revolutionary songs and continuing the tradition of Jewish social justice activism both on stages and at political protests. She regularly performs Yiddish music either as a soloist, in the duo Soveles or with the Isabel Frey Trio. She has performed at various international festivals and venues, such as the KlezMORE Festival Bratislava, the Singera Festival in Warsaw or the Willy Brandt Center in Jerusalem. In September 2020 she released her debut album “Millenial Bundist” with Yiddish revolutionary and resistance songs. For the time period of 2023/2024 she has been selected for the New Sound of Austrian Music (NASOM) support program by the Austrian foreign ministry. She has also been interviewed and featured by national and international media such as radio Ö1, ORF2, Deutschlandfunk, Ha’aretz or InGeveb. Additionally, she is the founder and general secretary of the Yiddish cultural association “Friling.”
Études for live-electronics (PEEK project)
Wider arts-based research context:
Études for live-electronics is an artistic research project that aims to re-define the western classical music-influenced concept of études, by applying it to the diverse practices in the field of electronic music performance, where most live-electronic practitioners (LEP) are simultaneously instrument developer, interface designer, composer, and performer. Practising études is a fun method to gain skills on acoustic instruments. However, with electronic instruments, the interface and the sound generator are decoupled, interchangeable, and instrument parts can even be driven algorithmically. Thus, the skills required by each LEP are unique, and research on knowledge transfer in electronic music performance is subsequently needed, a shortcoming, that is often discussed in the community for New Interfaces for Musical Expression.
With the overall aim to develop an agile concept of études, we will test the hypothesis that its core element – the encounter with a problem through repetition and slight variation – can be transferred to a multi-culturally driven, collaborative research procedure, that facilitates knowledge exchange through the practice of live-electronic music performance creation. Our goal is to build a community of key agents in the field that will study the acquisition and transference of skills and implement actions to share this knowledge.
With cyclically recurring, artistic experiments in collaboration with practitioners from diverse backgrounds, such as sound artist KMRU aka Joseph Kamaru (Kenya), composer Trinh Luong Hue (Vietnam), music technologist Bernt I. Wærstad (Norway) and interaction designer Astrid Bin (UK), we will explore new methods to create skill-derived electronic instruments, historically-informed repertoire and collaborative live-electronic performances. For a multi-cultural perspective, the artistic research team will be in dialog with local music scenes in East Africa, Southeast Asia and Europe, giving public workshops and concerts in collaboration with international partner institutions. From the data collected during these actions, we will formulate a new understanding of études, applicable to live-electronic instruments of the 21st century.
This project will lead to methodological innovations for the development of electronic instruments and related repertoire, represents the first long-term investigation of how LEPs develop embodied knowledge with electronic instruments, and will, furthermore, explore new forms for the preservation of computer music works, by establishing an active musical live-performance practice around them.
Primary staff involved:
The project will run under the supervision of Alex Hofmann, working together with two PhD students at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna (mdw), in a strong collaboration with Karlheinz Essl from the Department for Composition (mdw).
Network of national and international cooperations:
- Karlheinz Essl – Department for Composition, Electro-acoustics and Sound Engineering (mdw)
- Bernt Isak Wærstad – Norwegian University for Science and Technology (NO)
- Trinh Luong Hue – composer, performer (VN)
- Joseph Kamaru – sound artist, composer performer (KE)
- Astrid Bin – Bela.io / Ableton Live (DE)
- Andrew McPherson – Queen Mary, University of London (UK)
- Joachim Heintz – Institute for New Music Incontri at the University of Music, Drama and Media Hanover (DE).
- Marko Ciciliani – Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics (IEM) of the Arts University in Graz (AT)
- Julia Mihály – HfMDK Frankfurt (DE)
- Martin Kaltenbrunner – Tangible Music Lab at the University of Art and Design in Linz (AT)
- Susanne Gerhard – Cultural Programme Office, Goethe-Institute Nairobi (KE)
- Valerie-Ann Tan – Goethe-Institut Singapore (SG)
Confronting Realities. Working on Cinematic Autosociobiographies (PEEK project)
Atlas of Smooth Spaces (PEEK project)
- Theoretical framework
In this artistic research project we explore how to notate, communicate and compose space phenomena across audio-corporeal artistic practices. We investigate these in four disciplines: Dance, Rhythmics, Choir Conducting and Direct Sound. They share an awareness for a certain tacit knowledge about space. In stark contrast to musical or movement notations, one finds that notated spaces are rather scarce in the audio-corporeal practices even though space unites them. We argue that this lacuna will be brigded by working on an atlas of space qualities. Rather than communicating merely the metric measures of spaces without the performer, we are concerned instead with emergent spatial qualities of smooth spaces that complement the performer, that exist outside of but not without the performer.
- Hypotheses / Research questions / Objectives
We will compare and contrast each of the four disciplines with one another to investigate how to intensify spatial phenomena, how to translate and communicate them, how to appropriate them for ones own practice and how to engage into mutual composition. We inquire about the kinetic spheres of two performers when a third one enters. Similar to the three-body problem in physics we seek to describe this emergent phenomena. How can the complexified spatial interactions of the kinespheres be notated? How saturated becomes the space, how fragmented, how synchronous?
- Approach /Methods
We conduct experiments during which a smooth space phenomenon is first distilled and condensed to a clear spatial expression. This we call the null-space. It is the starting point for our investigations and experiments, which are co-created in an iterative process by the performers and a complexity scientist. We foresee a recursive pipeline, that divides the work into individual, collision and co-production modes. We also foresee a role fluidity – performer, experimenter and documenter are not attached to individuals allowing for a change of perspective.
- Level of innovation
Acknowledging the importance of spaces in the audio-corporeal arts we consider the development of transdisciplinary space practices and notations as our major innovation. Secondly we believe that the particular mode of collaboration between performers and a complexity scientist leads into new artistic methodologies. Thirdly we create a toolbox that refers to the intense qualities of audio-corporeal space articulations and enlargens the disciplinary range of compositional space factors for artistic productivity.
- Primary staff involved in the project
University of Music and Performing Arts (mdw)
Institute of Dance Arts / Anton Bruckner Private University Linz
Complexity Science HUB Vienna
Alphabetically: Rose Breuss (Dance), William Franck (Direct Sound), Johannes Hiemetsberger (Choir),
Hanne Pilgrim (Rhythmics).
Creative (Mis)Understandings (PEEK project)
The project departs from two premises: first, that contemporary western art music as a practice often tends to resort to certain degrees of elitism; and second, that non-western musical knowledge is often either ignored or merely exploited when it comes to compositional inspiration. We do not regard inspiration as unidirectional, an “input” like recording or downloading material for artistic use. Instead, we foster artistic interaction by promoting dialogical and distributed knowledge production in musical encounters. Developing interdisciplinary and transcultural methodologies of musical creation will contribute on the one hand towards opening up the—rightly or wrongly supposed—“ivory tower of contemporary composition”, and on the other hand will contribute towards the recognition of the artistic value of non-western musical practices. By highlighting the reciprocal nature of inspiration, creative (mis)understandings will result in socially relevant and innovative methodologies for creating and disseminating music with meaning.
The methods applied in the proposed project will start out from ethnographic evidence that people living in non-western or traditional societies often use methods of knowledge production within the sonic domain which are commonly unaddressed or even unknown among western contemporary music composers (aside from exotist or orientalistic appropriations of “the other”).
The project is designed in four stages: field research and interaction with indigenous communities in Taiwan with a focus on the Tao people on Lanyu Island, collaborative workshops in Vienna, an artistic research and training phase with invited indigenous Taiwanese coaches in Vienna, and feeding back to the field in Taiwan. During all these stages, exchange and coordination between composers, music makers, scholars and source community experts will be essential in order to reflect not only on the creative process, but also to analyse and support strong interaction between creation and society. Re-interaction with source communities as well as audience participation in the widest sense will help to increase the social relevance of the artistic results.
The University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna (MDW) will host the project. The contributors are Johannes Kretz (project leader) and Wei-Ya Lin (project co-leader, senior researcher) with their team of seven composers, ten artistic research partners from Taiwan and six artistic and academic consultants with extensive experience in the relevant fields.
Rotting Sounds - Embracing the temporal deterioration of digital audio (PEEK project)
Most of today’s media output, be it audio or video, is produced and stored in the digital domain. Although digital data are adorned by the myth of lossless transmission and migration, everyday experience does prove the existence of degradation and, ultimately, data loss in various forms. This pertains to the physical nature of storage media and playback devices as well as to media formats and software in the context of their technological infrastructure. The project strives to elaborate on the causes, mechanisms and effects of such deterioration, specifically in the context of digital audio.
Since degradation cannot be avoided on principle, it is our general aim to unearth latent degrees of freedom pertaining to the artistic practice in the omnipresence of decay.
How can degradation effects be understood, actuated, reproduced, directed and harnessed within sound art? Which are the mechanisms and implications of obsolescence concerning hard- and software? How can we model the process of decay in the digital domain, and what are its products and residues? What is the impact of the environment and human interaction? To which extent are artworks products of their material sources or their symptoms of decay?
Social D(ist)ancing – AR Pilot Project
project blog: https://sociald-ist-ancing.blogspot.com/p/pilot.html
RAD Performance – AR Pilot Project
RAD Performance places concerts and sound art on bicycles, in motion and with a multitude of loudspeakers at the centre of artistic research. Under the artistic guidance of Conny Zenk, the project started in July 2020 as an Artistic Research Pilot at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. Based on historical drawings and approaches to participatory, bicycle-related forms of play (Reigenfahren u. Radfahr-Spiele by Josef Adametz, Vienna: Kreisel u. Gröger, 1901), the artistic team (Petra Sturm, Veronika Mayer, Rahel Kraft and Conny Zenk) is developing a choreography for cyclists, as well as graphic notations for musicians as the basis for 6-channel compositions. RAD performers will perform in public spaces using mobile loudspeakers on their bicycles. The acoustic, urban space complements, overlays and expands the electronic composition. At the crossroads of concert, performance and sound art, the bicycle becomes an artistic medium.
Mobile Stage – AR Pilot Project
The interdisciplinary project with the working title “‘Mobile Stage'” combines diﬀerent components and aspects of classical theatre, such as stage design, performance, sound, and the relationship between viewers and performers. It is a rotating stage that serves both as a performance space and as a sound installation and has been designed that it can be used for various external projects. The work is based on the idea of an inclusive public space and performance as an integral part of everyday public life and sees this as a prerequisite. The inclusion of the environment in this stage body is a central point in the individual disciplines. It has an inﬂuence on performance, sound and stage design. So we wanted to make the public space our space of action. Building on the stage body, we become part of the place, transforming and expanding the action space into a stage moment.
In the design, the centre of movement forms a metal tube around which a stage surface moves and rotates the surface moves both on its own axis and up and down in a helical motion. This creates diﬀerent height ratios and spaces in between.
Through the institutional independence of the performance space, the project stands for an open space of experience and deliberately opposes the categorised ascribed social classes of the viewing audience. The round shape is supposed to dissolute the classical frontal perception so each viewing side is equal.
The rotating stage was designed to be able to change between scenes as quickly as possible. One starting point was the inclusion of the revolving stage as a basic element of movement to which the performers are exposed. Questions of proprioception in relation to moving surfaces come up. How does the body react, how do movements change?
New choreographies are tested by means of the stage project. The rotating movement of the platform simulates the dancers’ proprioception and dissolves their basic motor skills. New possibilities in movement material and self-perception are developed.
Proprioception – The 6th sense
Proprioception is the perception of the position of one’s own body in space, including the sensation of weight, tension, strength and speed. It is no organ of its own and operates invisibly deep inside the body. Its a product of all the nerve stimuli that our brain constantly receives, especially from muscles and tendons. Proprioception is also about internal sensations that are diﬃcult to recreate. The 6th sense arises from the interaction between our body and our environment, it accompanies us consciously and unconsciously. At a time when our body is being used less and less and is being paralysed due to increasingly sedentary activities, it is good to listen to our proprioception – both in our self-perception and in our interaction with our fellow human beings and our environment.
The Mobile Stage is meant to go to diﬀerent places to enable diﬀerent reﬂections and happenings with its environment. The synthesis between the stage element/sound sculpture/installation and its environment/surroundings/environment as a central research topic on all levels. It is about the relationship between human and environment, as well as between sculpture and environment. (References to Anish Kappor or Dan Grahams’ Octagon for Münster)
The inclusion of the environment in the object is also an essential point in sound design. The “sonic environment” described by Murray Schaeﬀer serves as a central concept in dealing with sound. In
the stage, this would be the soundscape, by which the stage is surrounded by. For the development of the piece itself, a soundtrack is planned that will mixed with the “sonic environment”. Modulating eﬀects could be Informations won out of the movement from the stage or the performer. Here we would like to experiment and research. How can movement change sound?
Book – Knowing in Performing
Knowing in Performing. Artistic Research in Music and the Performing Arts
This anthology takes stock of current developments in and reflections on artistic research in music and the performing arts. Thirteen international contributions explore the possibilities of processual knowledge production, taking into account participatory and experimental approaches, and examine their institutional implementation. How can performing be transformed into cognition? What does it mean to think through music, theatre, or dance?
The anthology published by Annegret Huber, Doris Ingrisch, Therese Kaufmann, Johannes Kretz, Gesine Schröder and Tasos Zembylas with transcript is based on contributions to the symposium “Knowing in Performing” in April 2018 as well as to the eponymous lecture series that took place at the mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna from 2018 to 2020. As part of the book presentation, the dancer, choreographer and artistic researcher Evfa Lilja has read excerpts from her opening statement on the state of artistic research.
Lecture by Efva Lilja at the book presentation of “Knowing in Performing” DOI: 10.21939/KIP-2021-LILJA
AR Pilot Call – support for artistic research
In 2018 the mdw began offering internal financial support for pilot projects in the field of artistic research.
The objective of this call was to facilitate the further development of artistic research practices, methods, and discourses within the fields and disciplines represented at the mdw. Nine artistic research projects, most of which are transdisciplinary and collaborative in nature, have since been granted support, and several of their teams have already submitted third-party funding applications to the Programme for Arts-Based Research (PEEK) of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). The nine internally funded projects were selected from over 20 submissions by virtue of their innovative research questions and commensurately portrayed methods, with the idea being that artistic practice should play a central role in the research process. A further objective of this pilot call, above and beyond facilitating eventual third-party funding applications, was to disseminate projects’ findings via public performances, exhibitions, and publications. One avenue of publication is the website “Research Catalogue”—an online database that collects, archives, publishes, and exhibits artistic research—run by the Society of Artistic Research (SAR), of which the mdw is a member. The University’s present objective is to further intensify and refine its activities in the field of artistic research, a field that is now developing in so many respects, via the lecture series Knowing in Performing, the ongoing PEEK projects Rotting Sounds and Creative (Mis)understandings, and preparatory work for the future doctoral programme.
Think Tank – about the foundations of artistic research
In 2018 in three meetings at mdw with experts from mdw and from outside perspectives of artistic research were discussed, their foundation, contexts, possible or impossible definitions.
Think Tank Artistic Research (documentation, in german)