Instrumental Theatre. Music and the Stage in Latin America (1954-2006)

International Conference. 3-5 December, 2018.

Casa del Bicentenario – CASo (Centro de Arte Sonoro). Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Confirmed Keynote Speakers: Carmen Baliero (composer, Argentina), Björn Heile (University of Glasgow), Christina Richter-Ibáñez (Universität Salzburg)
Public interview with Margarita Fernández (Grupo Acción Instrumental)
by David Oubiña

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On October 14th 1958, at Gallery 22 in the city of Düsseldorf, John Cage, Cornelius Cardew and David Tudor premiered Music Walk. Among the audience were composer Mauricio Kagel, a newcomer from Argentina, and the German critic Heinz-Klaus Metzger. Cage’s work will leave a deep mark on these two spectators: that same year Metzger responds to the performance with a conference given at Darmstadt, titled “Intrumentales Theater”, where he proposed the first definition for this type of experience as “theatre that arises as a result of an instrumental performance”. Two years later, Kagel applied the ideas of Cage and Metzger in his work Sonant (1960), considered as one of the first to reconceptualise silence as a sound-action embodied in the performer (Kagel 1963, 1997). Since then he has become the main reference of the genre, extending his influence to all of Europe. Thus goes the “founding myth”, with a precise date and place, of the genre called “Instrumental Theatre” (Kaduri 2016, 342-345; Salzman and Desi 2008, 127; Craenen 2014, 55; Heile 2006, 34-35, Adlington 2005).

When doing a retrospective review in the field of contemporary music in Latin America, we find that in the 1970s, the Grupo de Acción Instrumental (formed by Margarita Fernández, Jacobo Romano and Jorge Zulueta), carried out at least four works identified under the genre of instrumental theatre, presented in Latin American and European tours. In parallel, the group Movimiento Musica Más carried out performances and happenings that sought to transcend the limits of the concert hall. This leads us to wonder how many of the works produced in the CLAEM (Centro Latinoamericano de Altos Estudios Musicales) of the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella and the CICMAT (Centro de Investigaciones en Comunicación Masiva, Música y Tecnología), or by composers Oscar Bazán (Argentina), Mesías Maiguashca (Ecuador), Gilberto Mendes (Brazil) and Joaquín Orellana (Guatemala) can be considered part of these conceptions that expand the languages of both music and the stage.

This conference proposes a philological-historical research of the works, events and institutions little explored and that played an important role in the development of both instrumental theatre and New Music Theatre in Latin America, between 1954 and 2006. Although all time frames are arbitrary, we have taken as significant events the work Música para la Torre (1954) by Mauricio Kagel, and the “Festival Kagel 2006”, organized by the Centro de Experimentación del Teatro Colón in honour of the composer, who returned to Argentina after a 30-year absence. This festival involved a recognition of the composer in his country, which received him with an effervescent scene, especially in the production of contemporary operas and collaborations between theatre and music. Música para la Torre, an early, “fascinating and elusive” work (Heile 2014, 14), was a commission for the Feria de América in Mendoza, in collaboration with the architects César Janello and Gerardo Clusellas (Richter-Ibáñez 2014; Monjeau 2017). The work proposes, perhaps for the first time in the region, ideas of bi-dimensional theatre, in which light and sound correlate with the actions of the interpreters (Heile 2014, 21). In this sense, the time frame that we propose serves as a hypothesis to think of a back story for the founding myth that was Music Walk in 1958.

What are the boundaries between opera, music drama, ballet? The productions of the 60s widened these questions of the pre-war avant-gardes, surpassing distinctions between theatrical and musical actions, and consolidating new terminologies. Instrumental theatre, anti-opera, happening, “visible music” (Schnebel, 1996), contemporary opera – these are some of the new genres that gave account of this transformation. We propose to consider them outside compartmentalized definitions, to think of them as questions, as initiatives that stressed disciplinary boundaries and demonstrated that music is more than what is heard.

Some of the themes proposed are:

  1. the reflections of the composers themselves on their practice and on their inspirations from twentieth century music and theatre as well as the “modern drama”.
  2. the multiple relations between avant-garde and politics: works that specifically address a political issue or that offer implicit critiques in its structure of theatrical-stage behaviours and modes of expression.
  3. technology as a keyword for thinking about the incorporation different media in music theatre: light installations, visual projections, electronics, sound spatialization, audio-visual recordings. This allows a consideration of radio and television as new means for experimentation.
  4. the institutional and geographical contexts of production of these new productions and the role played by the “off” circuits – the alternative festivals and the different production centres. This also includes a diasporiccharacteristic of Latin American composers inside and outside the continent.
  5. the challenges for the analysis presented by many of these works – that involve hybrid languages that include the movements of the actors and new bodily forms, images, staging. They are works that establish a permanent negotiation between the abstraction of the music and the concreteness of the theatre. The tension between these elements, which are often not in the scores and which can change according to each performance raises the question of how to analyse these works if we consider the permeable borders between the different categories and definitions, such as “Instrumental Theatre”, “New Musical Theatre”, “Music for Theatre”, “Contemporary opera”?
  6. the characterization of the performer that is needed for this type of theatre and the type of training that is required. This raises questions regarding the role of the voice and new forms of vocalities, the instrumental performance as it relates to theatrical action, the influence among performers (musicians, actors, mimes, dancers) and the reconceptualization of the idea of performance in general.

These axes are to serve as a guide only. Proposals from different disciplines and theoretical frameworks will be accepted (musicology, theatre studies, art history, literature, narratology, cultural history, among others).

Paper submission

Abstracts must include author, institutional affiliation, title, and a summary of up to 400 words. Proposals will be accepted in Spanish, English or Portuguese and must be sent to before May 31st, 2018. The accepted speakers will be notified during the month of June.

Important Deadlines

May 31st 2018: CFP dead-line

June 2018: final program announcement

November 2018: reception of papers

December 3rd-5th, 2018: conference

Organizing committee 

Esteban Buch (EHESS/CRAL), Miguel Garutti (UBA), Violeta Nigro Giunta (EHESS/CRAL), Camila Juárez (UNQ), Martín Liut (UNQ), Laura Novoa (UBA).