Hello – and Goodbye!

At the launch event for “The Sound of Theatre”. Adrian Curtin, Millie Taylor, Pieter Verstraete, David Roesner. Photo by Martin Nangle

This post marks a moment of change for this Blog: The DFG project “Theater music today as a cultural practice” has official come to its close on 31 October 2022. There will be a few thoughts about its achievement and findings soon, but at this point I wanted to already announce an immediate successor: from October 2022–September 2023, I will lead a new research project with the support of the Center for Advanced Studies at the LMU Munich, which is very much an extension to our work so far.

The CAS Reseach Group has a fancy title – “The Sound of Theatre. Musical and Acoustemological Approaches to Contemporary Performance Practice in an International Context” – and it allows us to widen the perspective we pursued to far quite substantially in two ways:

Firstly, we will edit a book with input by our esteemed ten fellows as well as additional authors, which will offer a much more international perspective (which is also why this blog will continue in English from here on). With a focus on European theatre, we will be able to collocate case studies from Austria, Belgium, Czech Republik, France, Germany, Greece, Kurdistan, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey, and the UK. Despite a number of groundbreaking publications in this field – notably from many of the fellows themselves – it is still very much an emerging field of study. 

The second broadening of our perspective is to do with the topic itself: while theatre music still sometimes functions like much of contemporary film music – a clearly separate sonic level in addition to dialogue, sound effects and ambient sound – the separation of these elements becomes increasingly problematic. They all work together to what we might call “The Sound of Theatre”. We hypothesise that theatre ensembles or directorial teams often develop a distinct sound, not unlike the sound of a rock band. We recognise a band, a singer, a saxophone player or a drummer by their sound, which acts like a signature. Can we apply this idea to a theatre collective? When and where does it manifest? In the acoustics of their venue? Their vocal styles and casting choices? Their use of instrument and musical material? Their technologies of production, amplification and distribution? Do theatres have a ‘sound’?

Despite a gradually growing interest in this sonic side of theatre performances, our experience of theatre (its aurality) and its ways of capturing meaning and knowledge (its acoustemology), the ‘sound’ of theatre remains largely unrecognized by audiences and is still insufficiently researched by theatre scholars or musicologists. 

With this in mind I suggested three points of focus for this new project:

1) Sounding and listening practices in contemprary theatre practice(s)

2) Sounding and listening practices in contemprary theatre audiences: 

3) The acoustic ecology of theatres: which sounds, musics, voices can be heard?

To discuss and develop these ideas, CAS allowed me to assemble an illustrious group of experts, who will spend time with me and with each other, in Munich and on Zoom. The edited volume mentioned above is one of our planned outputs, a conference in June 2023 another. And finally, there will be a podcast to accompany our journey – more on that in the next post.

Let me finally introduce, very briefly, the fellows of this project: 

Prof. Dr. Ross Brown is a composer, musician and sound designer and Emeritus Professor of Sound at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. He is the author of Sound. A Reader (2010) and “Sound Effect. The Theatre We Hear” (2020).

Dr Anna R. Burzyńska is an adjunct professor of theatre in the faculty of Polish Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and works as an academic, critic and dramaturg. She has published widely on radio art and theatre makers such as Heiner Goebbels, Christoph Marthaler, and Marta Górnicka.

Prof Dr Adrian Curtin is Associate Professor at University of Exeter. His research is wide ranging from modernism to contemporary orchestral theatre. In 2014 he published Avant-Garde Theatre Sound: Staging Sonic Modernity. He also works as a theatre musician.

Dr Lynne Kendrick works at the  Royal Central School of Speech and Drama as Reader for New Theatre Practices. In 2011 she co-edited a book entitled Theatre Noise. The Sound of Performance. In 2017 she published Theatre Aurality – a core text on audiences experience of sound-based theatre. She has also founded and directed theatre companies such as Camden People’s Theatre.

Prof. Dr. Ursula Kramer is a musicologist at the University of Mainz with a particular research expertise on Schauspielmusik, which led to one of the very few German publications in this area: her edited volume Theater mit Musik. 400 Jahre Schauspielmusik im europäischen Theater from 2014.

Tamara Yasmin Quick is Senior Lecturer at the University of Bayreuth, having just finished her work on the DFG Project “Theatre music today as a cultural practice“ at the LMU Munich. She is in the process of finishing her PhD entitled Musical Embodiment – Live-Musicking on the contemporary theatre stage. Corporeal processes of performative identity formation. She also works as a dramaturg.

Dr Duška Radosavjlević is an academic, critic, dramaturg with Serbian roots, a long presence in the UK and currently based in Lund. She has worked on Ensemble Theatre(s) and most recently published an extensive website auralia.space and subsequent monograph on Aural / Oral Dramaturgies. Theatre in the Digital Age (2022).

Dr. Julia H. Schröder is a musicologist specialising in contemporary art music, sound art, sound studies, music and dance as well as sound and theatre. Her DFG postdoc project explores “theatre sounds” (Theatergeräusche) at Technical University Berlin. In 2015 she edited a book on sound/music in theatre focusing on Hans Peter Kuhn’s work for Robert Wilson and on Leigh Landy’s work for Heiner Müller.

Prof Dr Millie Taylor holds the Van den Ende Chair of the Musical at the University of Amsterdam. For almost 20 years she toured Britain and Europe as a freelance musical director in Musical theatre. I constantly use her and Dominic Symonds book Studying Musical Theatre (2014) in my course. More recently she has published Theatre Music and Sound at the RSC: Macbeth to Matilda (2018).

Dr Konstantinos Thomaidis is Senior Lecturer in Drama, Theatre & Performance at the University of Exeter, UK. His publications include Voice Studies: Critical Approaches to Process, Performance and Experience” (2015), Theatre & Voice (2017) and Time and Performer Training (2019). He is also a practitioner and  has worked as actor, director and musician.

Dr Pieter Verstraete is Assistant Professor at University of Groningen and Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow at Free University Berlin. He published his first book on “Auditory Distress and Aurality in Contemporary Music Theatre (2009), later co-edited a collection on “Cathy Berberian: Pioneer of Contemporary Vocality” (Routledge, 2014). Having worked extensively in Turkey, he also focuses on post-migrant theatre, artists in exile, and has a book forthcoming on “Theatre, Performance and Commemoration: Staging Crisis, Memory and Nationhood”

At the launch event for “The Sound of Theatre”. Adrian Curtin, Millie Taylor, Pieter Verstraete. Photo by Martin Nangle
Poster for the launch event