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Oliver Kontny

Oliver Kontny

Interweaving Performance Cultures

Fellow 2016/17, 2017/18

Oliver Kontny studied philosophy and history in Bremen, and Iranian and Turkic studies at the Free University of Berlin. He has worked as a translator and interpreter in Turkish and has collaborated with award-winning filmmakers such as Fatih Akın (Germany) and Semih Kaplanoğlu (Turkey). In 2009, he started working as a dramaturge at Ballhaus Naunynstrasse, Berlin, known for its post-migrant theatre. He left the theatre in 2011. He has collaborated with director Hakan Savaş Mican on pieces such as the internationally acclaimed “Snow”, based on the novel by Orhan Pamuk. In 2012, Oliver wrote, directed and produced the audio play “Iranian Voices - Mad People’s Republic”, which won the main award at Berlin’s Hörspielfestival and was shortlisted in the Best Radio Play category of the Deutscher Hörbuchpreis in 2014. He has been serving as a member of the advisory board of the Zukunftsakademie NRW in Bochum and has taught the “Introduction to Dramaturgy” course at the Institute of Theatre Studies of the FU Berlin. 

Research Project

Beyond the Ineffable: Acquired Tastes, Conditional Surrender and Intersubjective Concerns. An Attempt at Writing about Spirituality in Musical Performance.

The experience of listening to music has been described as spiritual by a tremendous array of voices from different times and places. When writing about music from a perspective informed by performance studies rather than ethnomusicology or formal analysis, we invariably have to account for certain issues. Any claims listeners, audiences or performers make about spiritual experience(s) in relation to music are non-falsifiable and non-reproducable. However, performance studies has developed ways of talking about performances—which necessarily arouse diverging emotional and cognitive reactions in different spectators—that remain intersubjectively valid. Could these be used to develop categories for writing about spirituality in music?

My research project departs from my own experiences with listening to music and will critically engage with the whys and hows of making claims about spirituality. The music I would like to discuss includes South Indian Carnatic music, North Indian/Pakistani Qawwali, jazz from South Africa and the USA, reggae and post-rock, Renaissance, baroque and contemporary classical music. I would like to focus on the performance of codes of discrimination and discernment rather than rapture.

While engaging with different theoretical approaches to spirituality and music, such as those propounded by Cornel West, Stuart Hall, John Cage, Alan Ginsberg, Luigi Nono, Jalaluddin Rumi, Meister Eckhart, Steven T. Katz, Thomas Merton, T.M. Krishna and others, my principal concern lies with a definition of spirituality that highlights issues of social justice and political modes of articulation rather than metahistorical esoteric knowledge.

Recommended Readings 

  • Krishna, T. M. A Southern Music: The Karnatik Story. Noida and London 2013.
  • West, Cornel. »The Spirituals as Lyrical Poetry«. The Cornel West Reader. New York [1998] 2000.
  • »Spirits Rejoice! Sacred Songs, Divine Drones and Ritual Rhythms.« The Wire Magazine, Issue 394, December 2016.
  • Kontny, Oliver. “Von der Qualität zur Alterität – postmigrantisches Theater als Gegenentwurf zur Integrationsdebatte” in: Vielfältiges Deutschland. Bausteine für eine zukunftsfähige Gesellschaft. Bielefeld 2014. 440-465.


Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung