The Munich Biennale for Music Theatre as a Form of Artistic Research

Brandon Farnsworth

conference: DARE 2017: aberrant nuptials
date: November 20, 2017
venue: Orpheus Institute, Penthouse
format: in absence
keywords: artistic research, de/re-territorialisation

abstract about the author(s)


The Munich Biennale for Music Theatre, founded in 1988, has long served as an incubator for music theatre productions, gradually building a contemporary repertoire. In 2014, composers Manos Tsangaris and Daniel Ott together took over artistic directorship of the Biennale. As became evident in their first iteration in 2016, they are producing a shift away from the linear mode of musical production of their predecessors to a rhizomatic one.

Tsangaris and Ott subtitled their 2016 edition of the biennale “OmU: Original mit Untertiteln” (Original with Subtitles). Implicit in subtitles is the interpretative line  of flight inherent to commentary, to a change in medium, to deterritorialisation. This title also suggests the performance of a relationship between both theory and practice as forms of creation. It can be read in terms of an emergence of a new relationship between theoretical writing and practical acting, between doing and thinking in contemporary music, forming a new relation between knowledge and artistic practice. Rather than fall victim to the overdetermined but empty relationship between these two categories that plagues discussions about artistic research, they gain the space to be thought together, as co-existing in a relation (Baldauf/Hoffner).

The earlier festival was set up to produce chamber operas that acknowledge the influences of performance art and postdramatic theatre on contemporary music, with the intention of revitalising the out-of-date canon (Eckle). The new artistic directors are not attempting to write themselves into such a major history of development. They acknowledge and encourage the plurality of approaches, wrapping them into a becoming-minor of music theatre. There is a consistency of approach, a focus on creolisation and site-specificity (i.e., an ever-expanding field, making its relation to other arts much clearer). Rather than telling a major narrative of operatic innovation, the same practice is reterritorialised in terms of a becoming-minor.

Last, this practice can be used to reaffirm the existence of genuine moments of critique. Adopting the term “infrastructural critique” from Marina Vishmidt, it will be demonstrated that  the  artistic  directors  see  organising  this  festival  as  an  extension  of  their artistic practice, and furthermore as an affirmative  form  of  institutional  critique  that  enters  the messy space of attempting to model its alternatives (Holert). Since the nineteenth century, a defining characteristic of European art music has been a disavowal of its social mediation, a lack of engagement with its relationship to the broader institutional forces that produce it (Born). The work of Tsangaris and Ott actually functions to upend deeply ingrained beliefs in Eurocentrism, singular genius, and the neutrality of site, doing so positively by telling new stories and through creating speculative models for the future. It is a dream scenario for institutional critique discourse: tangible change is really taking place. The question of a reinvigoration of the concept of institutional critique through an examination of its manifestations outside the traditional circuits of contemporary art (here contemporary music) will remain an invitation to further thought at the end of the article.

about the author(s)

Brandon Farnsworth

Brandon Farnsworth is a writer, researcher, music curator, and doctoral candidate at the University of Music Carl Maria von Weber Dresden. He completed an MA in transdiciplinary studies at the Zurich University of the Arts in 2015, and a BA in music performance in 2013. Projects include Rehearsal, a marathon-concert in December 2014 at the Zurich University of the Arts, co-authoring a book about the Hong Kong arts scene entitled Why Hong Kong in 2014, and Pinyin Festival, an experimental music theatre project in Hong Kong. He is based in Zurich and Berlin.

info & contact


Zurich University of the Arts, CH and University of Music Carl Maria von Weber, Dresden, DE


brandon.farnsworth [AT]