Music Theatre

“Amazonas – Music theatre in three parts”: A multimedia encounter with the Amazon

© ZKM

The Brazilian rain forest is shrinking: another huge swath of this “green lung”, an area roughly the size of 8,000 football fields, is destroyed everyday. And with the forest disappear countless species of flora and fauna – along with the native habitat of the Yanomami, an indigenous tribe in the Amazon that have been living in symbiosis with nature for centuries. The Yanomami are now taking part in a multimedia project called “Amazonas – Music theatre in three parts”, a coproduction of the Goethe-Institut, the Munich Biennale, ZKM Karlsruhe, SESC São Paulo, Hutukara Associação Yanomami, the São Carlos Portuguese National Opera and other international partners. The piece is to be premiered on 8 May 2010 at the Munich Biennale and subsequently performed in São Paulo, Lisbon and Rotterdam.

“Amazonas – Music theatre in three parts” reflects the manifold aspects of the Amazon in its combination of music theatre, media art, technology and science. Its central focus is on the perilous state of the world’s largest rain forest, its unique resources, and decades of habitat destruction. The project involves German, other European and Brazilian partners working closely together with the Yanomami to promote a long overdue dialogue between the world’s indigenous and Westernized populations.

The rain forest is the protagonist of the project. It is given a voice in the multimedia art works of German and Brazilian artists and social scientists, but also through the Yanomami, one of the last remaining primitive peoples of the northern Amazon. The roughly 33,000 Yanomami form a cultural and language community inhabiting the region between Brazil and Venezuela. They believe they have been entrusted with the forest – to dwell in the forest as well as to protect it: “People should not think the forest was simply placed on the ground and that it is dead. It is alive. That is why it causes the things to grow that we eat. Its earth is alive and that is why we move and are alive too. The forest is big, and that is why its breathing is long, too; it is truly a supernatural being,” says Davi Kopenawa, shaman and spokesman of the Yanomami.

Since 2006 European and Brazilian experts and artists have been working closely together on this project, exploring the immeasurable potential – and the imminent destruction – of the rain forest, on the one hand, and new ways of combining media art and contemporary music theatre, on the other: active participants include media artists Peter Weibel (Karlsruhe) and José Wagner Garcia (São Paulo), composers Klaus Schedl (Munich), Tato Taborda (Rio de Janeiro) and Ludger Brümmer (Karlsruhe), the sociologist Laymert Garcia dos Santos (São Paulo), shaman Davi Kopenawa (Watoriki), anthropologist Bruce Albert (Paris/São Paulo) and theatre director Michael Scheidl (Vienna).

“Amazonas – Music theatre in three parts” takes native cosmology as its point of departure. Shamanist spirituality is juxtaposed with a technico-scientific world view to yield new insights into various interrelated aspects of the Amazon: its bio-diversity, climate change, slash-and-burn land clearance, and genocide. The art works that emerge out of these complex interconnections should enable the public to see and hear the Amazonian world in a whole new way. The media artists involved draw inspiration from the virtual dimension of Yanomami shamanism, bringing to light remarkable, hitherto unexplored parallels between the Western and indigenous worlds. “The lore of the Yanomami shamans should be seen as a very special and highly developed sort of audiovisual technology, in the sense that during their rituals they transform virtual worlds into sounds and images,” says sociologist and philosopher Laymert Garcia dos Santos.

Furthermore, the participating media artists are teaming up with Amazon composers to redefine the concept of multimedia music theatre: media art and contemporary music theatre merge to make music visible, images and information audible. As Peter Weibel, director of the Centre for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, describes the process, “We’re asking how music theatre could be further developed as a fusion of language and music, movement and images, space and time, as a fusion of all the artistic media and genres, in other words as the first genuinely multimedia work – and in connection with the so-called New Media. So virtuality – that is to say artificial environments that perfectly simulate natural environments, but can also transcend them – and interactivity – a give-and-take between image and viewer, sound and listener – play a central part.”

Composers Klaus Schedl and Tato Taborda invite the audience to experience through their music hitherto unknown timbres, ambient noise, the sounds of animals and shamanist rituals. “I’d like to use voices,” explains Brazilian composer Tato Taborda, “though not in the sense of people singing, but individuals making sounds. That might include instruments, other sonorous objects or general ambient noise.” After the world premiere on 8 May 2010 at the Munich Biennale, “Amazonas – Music theatre in three parts” will be performed at other venues in Munich, São Paulo, Lisbon and Rotterdam. The tour will be accompanied by a wide-ranging communication programme, including a separate Internet portal and related publications, as well as special programmes for primary and secondary schools designed to engage children and teenagers in the issues of preserving indigenous cultures and the rain forest.

“Amazonas – Music theatre in three parts” is one of the highlights of the Goethe-Institut’s focus on “Culture and Climate Change” in 2009 and 2010. Through this initiative, the Goethe-Instituts around the world seek to assess the cultural and aesthetic dimensions of climate change.


“Amazonas – Music theatre in three parts” is a coproduction of the Goethe-Institut, the Munich Biennale, ZKM | Karlsruhe, SESC São Paulo, Hutukara Associação Yanomami and the São Carlos Portuguese National Opera, in association with Operadays Rotterdam, Netzzeit (Vienna), Ministério da Cultura (Brasilia), Petrobras/CENPES (Rio de Janeiro). The project is funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation, the European Union’s CULTURE programme, Deutsche Bank and Fundaçao EDP.
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