“THIS MACHINE KILLS-Hidden Tales of the Revolutionary Piano” by VEIT SPRENGER AND THIES MYNTHER 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th October

Dear Diane and Shaded Viewers,

I’ve had the pleasure and new challenge to work on scenography for the musical theatre piece “This Machine Kills-Hidden Tales of the Revolutionary Piano” by VEIT SPRENGER AND THIES MYNTHER. The piece premiers tonight in Berlin at Hau Theatre and runs till Sunday night. “This Machine Kills” is a short world history from the perspective of the piano, a necromantic evocation of the unlimited musical apparatus. Starting from Veit Sprenger &  Thies Mynther’s obsession with the Piano, a classical musical instrument with rich traditions, they developed a musical theatre work together with the dramaturge Anja Quickert. Collaborators include; choir director and internet activist Ithea Koch, choreographer Dasniya Sommer (and creator of a bespoke rope installation), filmmaker Sandra Trostel and lighting designer Joscha Eckert.

“This Machine Kills” embodies the piano’s affective sociopolitical meanings through a gesamtkunstwerk made up music compositions, text, dance, filmic environments and a piano apparatus skyscraper and patch-worked red velvet curtain with the velvet remnants being found throughout Europe’s flea markets, on ebay and humana, adding to the complexity of layers of meanings presented in the piece.

I share a small tale from my perspective of a set designer for the masterpiece/mistress piece “This Machine Kills” which Thies and Veit have crafted and worked on for years, the piece will play throughout Europe and the world in the next months. It’s been a thrilling time for me, searching out old standup pianos (with crucial support of theatre producer Johanna Thomas) now sadly redundant technologies of the past, which many families literally throw onto the street, to be replaced by midi keyboards and ipads, the stand up piano just doesn’t seem to have a place holder in the contemporary home. The unwanted classical musical instruments of others fit well into my set design concept to build a giant piano sculpture musical instrument, which from the onset had the objective to be representative of sustainable stage craft and so i set about to attempt to “not buy anything” in the creation of my stage work for the piece. The piano’s were collected and brought to Hau Theatre patio where with the expertise of wood worker genius Joerg Fischer we set about to demake the pianos, to our surprise finding it was more complex a task, than what we’d initially imagined. These machines were hand crafted for a lifetime and more, intricate, heavy, complex systems of keys, hammers, strings brass frames (weighing 160 kilos), pedals and in some cases 70 years of dust covering the internal guts of these beautiful monsters; we used chainsaws, crowbars, makita drills, screw drivers, table saws, hand saws and angle grinders, some taking 15 hours to take apart carefully. Somehow Joerg and I became experts on the demaking of the piano, an instrument i’d never really cared much about, as it seems like such a tool of discipline, repeatability and virtuosity in most cases (minus that of John Cage and other Fluxus prepared Pianos like that of Mary Baumeister). However, after the performative demaking of the old pianos and reconfiguring the parts into a new musical instrument sculpture skyscraper for stage, i gained a new respect for these beauties.

There’s a still a few tickets for those in Berlin for Saturday and Sunday night, but selling fast,

If you’re in Berlin, don’t miss this, it’s part of the new pioneering genre of German musical theatre and this work definitely sets the ambitious and visionary standard for future works to follow.



Alexandra Murray-Leslie

Alex is an artistic researcher and co-founder of the art band Chicks on Speed. She is currently Professor, Trondheim Academy of Fine Art, Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Honorary Industry Fellow, Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, University of Technology Sydney.