The Festival of
The Festival of Musical Action
Multimedial Music-Theatre in Lithuania
The 7th Festival of Musical Action, December
Lithuania National Drama Theatre
-Zachar Laskewicz, Australian composer of multimedial
music-theatre, performed at this festival and has written this article on the
remarkable cross-fertilization between different artistic genres.
Festival of Musical Action" is a major event held annually in Vilnius,
the capital city of the ex-Soviet state of Lithuania. It could certainly be suggested that the need
for ground-breaking artistic events such as this is due to the massive changes
that have been brought about by the new intellectual and artistic freedom now
that they are separated from an oppressive Soviet regime. Whether or not this is true, it is certainly
one of the most exciting events I have had the pleasure of witnessing in Europe. It was
free from pretensions and western aesthetic ideals, attempting to extend the
forms of communication binding music, theatre, and dance which can communicate
with today's audience in a dynamic but fragmented 'musical' language. From my experiences here both as composer
and theoretician I feel that such a state of multimediality has still not been
reached to the same degree in western Europe because of the strength of
hundreds of years of European history which have resulted in the Europe of today.
Philosophical, political and economic concepts have brought about a rigidified society of specialists and an
elitist concept of musical communication.
My work as a composer has from the very beginning been involved with an
extended concept of musical communication.
I must confess that my time at the "Festival of Musical Action" was
indeed a dream come true.
first heard about developments in contemporary Lithuanian music while attending
a music-semiotics conference in Finland. A musicologist there described the changes
brought about since their independence, and the search for a musical language
which would express this new-found freedom.
One of the students from a Lithuanian music academy heard my paper on a multi-medial approach to musical experience and
told me about the "Festival of Musical Action", and the artistic director Tomas
Ziburkus was soon in contact with me after I had returned to the Netherlands. It took unfortunately two years before they
were successful in getting me to perform there.
I managed to find out a bit about the history of the festival from
Ziburkus himself, who told me that they received no support from the government
but from local and European sponsors who were interested in the event. Although not condoned by the traditional
musical 'establishment', its popularity among young musicians and artists and
the Lithuanian community in general had ensured its success.
Ziburkus wrote his thesis on contemporary music-theatre during his studies at
the music academy in Vilnius. This thesis included the work of such figures
as Mauricio Kagel who have challenged traditional approaches to 'musicality'
and 'musical expression' by using media which don't belong to the categories
propagated in western musical 'institutions' (both universities and
conservatoria). Ziburkus told me that
the intention of the festival was to explore all possibilities of 'musical
expression', allowing many different types of experimental music-theatre and
multi-media performance to take place.
The ultimate purpose was to demonstrate that music has the possibility
of being so much more than simply 'the
sound it makes', but a way of experiencing reality, a form of artistic
expression which goes beyond rational translation into verbal form but that can
be expressed in many different 'non-musical' ways. This festival stands against the distinctions
set-up and perpetuated in western culture, and is an event free from
preconceptions about how music should be defined, resulting in an open
atmosphere in which the existing artistic boundaries can be transcended.
programme took place over a period of two evening concerts on a Saturday and a
Sunday. The selection of performances
was varied and presented 'multimedial' mini-concerts from France, Denmark,
Australia, Russia, America
and of course Lithuania. Carol Robinson, an American musician living
in Paris, gave
a performance of clarinet music combined with theatrical movement and lighting
effects. The Danish performer Christer
Irgens-Møller presented a programme for prepared voice, machinery and water
called Water/Vand/Vatten/Eau/Aqua/Agua... involved with electronically
adjusted vocal improvisation reacting to the amplified sound of water dripping
from cups into buckets, combining natural and electronic sounds in an exciting
fashion. Since 1989 Irgens-Møller has
been a part of the group SKRÆP - an experimental music forum from Copenhagen. A music-theatre group from Austria
presented a more staid form of music-theatre, embedded in the Austrian approach
to dance and music. A highlight of their
performance was Schafer's theatre work La Testa d'Ariane which involved
a bodiless head only able to react to musical sound, put on show for a
carnival. It was wonderfully brought to
life by the actor/singer Gunda Köning and was accompanied by the skills of the
accordionist Alfred Melichar. The
Austrian performance seemed quaint and almost stale in comparison to the
dynamism of the Lithuanian performances.
My own concert included two major solo performance works for performer,
slides and tape based on Russian futurist experimental 'ZAUM' poetry  , interspersed by a composition for masked flute
performer and tape which explores the sound-based qualities of ancient Greek
text, namely Songs of Incantation.
There were many exciting Lithuanian compositions, which were by far the
most diverse in the programme covering a large range of different types of
performances, including among others combination of video, ritual-like theatre,
jazz, stage objects and lighting effects.
The work of the composer Antanas Jasenka with his composition Room
Music was a particularly striking work, combining tape, voice, furniture
and objects. Antanas said that his
composition is a result of a realisation that the twentieth century has brought
new ways of operating and relating to objects.
Unavoidable was the presence of Russian artists, or Russian speaking
Lithuanians, who presented some interesting collaborative projects.
were many things that struck me about the festival, although the most striking
of these would have to be the relationship between the audience and the
performances. It didn't appear to be
viewed as an avant-garde or 'fringe-event', and was held in a major theatre
situated in the centre of the city and as such attracted an extremely large
audience made up of many different types of people both young and old. The audience reacted and interacted with the
performance in a dynamic way, which can be compared to the passivity of a
standard audience in western Europe who have a bloated conception of the
solitary and all-powerful figure of the 'composer'. For this festival, this whole notion has been
rethought, and the composer is at once a dancer and a singer and a musician. Text is wrapped together with sounds and movements
to create the whole complex multimediality of musical performance, and the
audience itself becomes part of this totality.
How wonderful it was to see an audience who were considered equally able
to 'create' the performance for themselves, an idea which seems still absent in
some western European 'contemporary music' circles which seem to consider that
the (usually male) composer holds some kind of transcendental musical
is the first time I have really felt like I was involved in an event-be it not
an officially sanctioned one-in which my work really fitted. Composers and musicians were given the
chance to demonstrate that the shells provided for them by their culture are
only constructions and that there are many other communicative possibilities
open to them as creative artists. Anyone
interested in taking part in this festival should contact me or Tomas Ziburkus,
the artistic director of the festival, at the addresses below. I'm also interested in organising such a
festival in Brussels,
and anyone interested in taking part should send me information about their
performance work. Although European
music is still in many ways restricted by cultural and philosophical
boundaries, events such as the "Festival of Musical Action" and new developments
on the theatre-scene I regularly encounter in central Europe
demonstrate to me that nothing remains static.
The unavoidable forces of change will ensure that there will be an
exciting future for multimedial musicality.
Lithill music agency
c/o Nachtschimmen music-theatre scores