Transculturality in Artistic Research


In a globalized (artistic) world we consider western music tradition as one among many traditions. This attitude acknowledges existing hegemonic power relations, but it aims to enhance the ability of the participants to reflect on one’s own artistic practice and art-based scientific methods, and to experience them in different social, cultural and artistic contexts. This implies the awareness of multifaceted power-structured conditions of artistic practices. In a post- colonial context, the development of diverse reflective approaches should support students to find, develop, articulate and communicate their own standing. This also contributes to the ability of finding / developing / presenting one’s own artistic and professional niche.


RAPP Lab 4 was designed by a small board of mdw faculty, with colleagues who have experience in the context of transculturality and/or artistic research, as well as drawing from experiences of past initiatives, symposia and lecture series in this field(s):


The board (Evelyn Annuß, Thomas Grill, Daliah Hindler, Therese Kaufmann, Johannes Kretz, Wei-Ya Lin, Hande Saglam, Tasos Zembylas) together developed a concept of contents and of people, who could offer diverse perspectives on the topic. The aim here was not to construct a consistent or homogenous frame work of Transculturality in Artistic Research, but rather to juxtapose different (partially contradictory) theoretical and practical approaches, also from different art disciplines (music, theater, film, research). The basic idea was that these partially contradictory approaches would trigger reflection and action in the student group.


During six days, an intense program of workshops was offered:


Sandeep Bhagwati (composer, theatre director and media artist): Śabdagatitāra: Rhizomatic Structures in Transtraditional Networks of Music.

Since 2013, Sandeep Bhagwati has worked as an artistic coordinator and producer of musical ideas (metteur-en-musique) with various ad-hoc ensembles initiated in response to the aesthetically and stylistically globalized population of musicians in large cities. In their composition and working process, these ensembles embody some of the musical traditions (and their social structures) found in, for example, Berlin, Montréal, Pune, Istanbul, Zurich, Oslo and Toronto. Fragile and ephemeral as such projects are, a rhizome of musical as well as methodological connections has emerged over time between their different models of music-making, their resonant spaces and actors, allowing for surprisingly robust insights and working methods for a critical trans-traditional practice. Inspired by aspects of actor-network theory (Latour/Callon), Bhagwati has developed the musicological concept of Śabdagatitāra (sanskr.: the crossing of different sound methods) for such practices, and explored some of these methods with the ad-hoc ensemble present at the workshop.


Philipp Tyran (musician and teacher): Traditional music of Burgenland Croats: contemporary approaches 

The current cultural practices among Burgenland Croats, in particular their music, seem to be crucial for the survival of this ethnic group, which experienced constant assimilation during the last decades and centuries. In particular the so-called traditional music and the different contemporary approaches of its performers seem to have a substantial importance for the members of this "cultural island", referring to the process of finding and gaining "identity" or feelings of "belonging to the community", respectively. Additionally, it seems to serve as an inner motor for the preservation of the mother tongue.


In his workshop, Philipp Tyran showed different contemporary musical expressions of this cross-border ethnic group, which sway between the intentional maintaining of tradition, folkloristic revival and tradition-based modernity. The participants became acquainted with different contemporary interpretations of Croatian folk music from Burgenland, as well as with contemporary compositions which are obviously inspired by the traditional music of this ethnic group. Furthermore, the participants discussed the extent to which Burgenland Croatian performers develop multiple cultural or musical identities and how contemporary music expression generates a feeling of belonging to a community, especially in relation to cultural boundaries vis-à-vis other ethnic and linguistic communities.    


Not only did the participants of this theoretical-practical workshop discuss certain aspects of contemporary music expressions of the Burgenland Croats, but they also performed it practically by singing and dancing. The participants perceived this workshop as particularly inspiring, and fragments of this songs where even continuously sung and quoted by them throughout the informal parts of their stay in Vienna. The group somehow integrated these fragments into their informal group folklore.


Sakina Teyna (Kurdish musician) and Mahan Mirarab (iranian musician): The Oral Tradition of Dengbêjî (story teller)


Dengbêjî, the job of a dengbêj, a storyteller – literally a 'Soundteller' – is the tradition of oral expression, which, as the only path to survival of a language facing extinction under oppression, formed the foundation of traditional Kurdish music. Many melodies sung in this tradition belonged originally to women. For Kurds, deprived of any written sources, this poetic artful style of lyrics and rhythm by the dengbêj has been a unique method of preserving their language and culture to this day. Although it was mostly women who, for instance, lamented the loss of their sons and husbands in endless wars or expressed their love, joy, longing and suffering through such songs, it was always men who carried these works over to the dengbêj Divan (assembly). Due to religious and traditional restrictions and judgments, women could only raise their voice behind closed doors, silently. Kurdish women fought countless battles to be present in many fields including music, successfully getting their voices out from behind those closed doors and deaf walls.  Mahan Mirarab introduced the system of melodic modes, Maqam and microtonality in Kurdish Music. The concept of music as a frame of storytelling as well as the function of music as a tool for resistance in constraining social contexts were interesting points of departure for reflecting about the function of music practices even in other contexts.


Félix Blume (sound artist and sound engineer): Listening to the other(s) 

Félix Blume has a background as a sound engineer and slowly started working on his own personal projects. More than sound listening became the central point of his work. Listening as a way to relate to others an excuse to meet or a way of learning from other(s) and their cultures. Through the collaborative process of different sonic projects (sound pieces, sound installation and films) Félix Blume explained his relation to listening as a possibility of transculturality. 


Nina Kusturica (film and theatre director): categories of belonging, culture and origin in one's own artistic work 

How is it possible to use the categories of belonging, culture and origin in one's own artistic work as a creative source? What does it mean for one's own work to break through the prefabricated classifications and attitudes? The goal was to stimulate critical thinking and also to face the uncomfortable questions about one's own automatisms. 

The participants explored the mechanisms of interconnectedness, intermingling and commonality in our modern, highly differentiated society, examining their influence through art on our understanding of the world. 

During the workshop the participants followed the questions of one’s own artistic origin, belonging, heritage, borders and changes in today's society, at the intersection of a diverse range of artistic disciplines. They also considered the notions of identity politics, issues of representation, dealing with historical realities, cultural appropriation, inequality, and privilege. Possibilities were tested to artistically evade a classification from the outside and thereby open up a new space for one's own artistic creation.

In the context of the workshop the participants discussed, created and experimented. What moments and parts of our own work define us in our own eyes, and which define us in the eyes of others, of the society, the artistic world and for how long? In this process, artistic contributions of different formats were created, which were part of the joint concluding round of reflections.


Horacio Curti (shakuhachi, ethnomusicology, artistic research):  transcultural and transdisciplinary artistic creation – a dialogue between ethnomusicology and artistic research 

This presentation explored a transcultural and transdisciplinary artistic creation process researched in a dialogue between ethnomusicology and artistic research. Throughout it, epistemological, creative and methodological aspects of artistic research were addressed. These included the empowering of the creator, the uses of the audio-visual, ethnography and the collaborative, among others.

The project presented here included ethnomusicological fieldwork in relation to the aesthetic dimension of sound inside Japanese music, the creation of a performative piece including dance, live audio-visual and music and an audio-visual documentary presenting the creative process from a dialogue between ethnomusicology and artistic research.


Golnar Shahyar (vocalist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, lyricist, music educator, and activist): personal expression, storytelling, and advocacy

Golnar Shahyar is a vocalist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, lyricist, music educator, and activist based in Vienna and Berlin. Her work introduces a new approach to the arts of songwriting, improvisation, vocalisation and composition, with many integrated elements from the rich musical cultures of East Asia, northwest Africa, contemporary jazz, European contemporary, electroacoustic, and chamber music.

Aslı Kışlal (theatre, sociology): unlearn things which we have learned

We live in times in which we are starting to question things which we have learned and viewed as ‘normal’ until now. The performing arts and the institutions which have been created for this purpose are in a phase of reconstruction in order to adapt themselves to the demands of contemporary society. Is this process really taking place, and which questions need to be answered during this period of reorientation?  How can we deal with our uncertainties in order to unlearn things which we have learned? Questions are there to be answered, aren’t they? 


María Do Mar Castro Varela (queer studies, postcolonial theory, critical migration and education studies, trauma, and conspiracy narratives):  The Production of Knowledge

The lecture took a closer look at the production of knowledge: How is knowledge produced? What counts as knowledge? What is considered good and useful knowledge? And what is declared rejects?

Based on considerations within postcolonial theory, the production and circulation of knowledge was analyzed – with special focus on the processes of mixing and hybridization. For that matter, the structure of clients and consumers when talking about knowledge production was discussed in detail. Furthermore, the fragility of knowledge and the specific exploitative relations that structure the production of knowledge were examined, and the body as producer and archivist of knowledge was be deciphered.


Katalin Erdödi (curator, dramaturg and researcher): From barter trades to collaborative village plays: Collaboration as conceptual, cross-cultural practice 

The workshop explored collaboration as a conceptual, cross-cultural practice and drew on my experience of collaborating with artists and people from different walks of life—who live and work in rural areas across Europe—on artistic projects that involve collective creation and an intensive dialogue across cultural, social and political difference. I introduced selected projects that I have worked on recently, which all propose different approaches to collaboration, ranging from barter trades with farmers, through the re-writing of traditional songs with folk singing choirs, to the creation of collaborative village plays’ with local inhabitants.

How do we work with the different cultural practices—understood in the broadest sense, from autocross racing to watermelon farming—that we encounter through our collaborators? How do these inspire, inform and transform the artistic research and the collaborative process?

What are the pitfalls and challenges of such collaborations? How can they be generative for, and conducive to unexpected forms of artistic experimentation? 

What does it mean to embrace the uncertainty of creating something together that we cannot yet imagine?