The Voice of the Instrument is Deeply Multi-Lingual


“contrabass” is a story of separation and unification – of an instrument and its instrumentalist. The composer and bass player Clayton Thomas has been inspired by the Steffi Hensel’s play, Hiroko Tanahashi’s video-art and Ellen Urban’s rope-acrobatics. Likewise, the playwright Steffi Hensel has written texts under the impression of Clayton Thomas’s multi-facetted bass-paying, and Ellen Urban created her choreography according to Thomas’s finger movements on the strings as well as Tanahashi’s projected imagery. Max Schumacher has invited experts of their respective fields to play with the concept of the doublebass – a massive instrument that is still fighting for attention. The stage design is an installation that grows into a huge bass, with the strings being ropes and fabric lanes on which Ellen Urban moves – with the imagery projected on them.

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Clayton Thomas showcases all the possible positions of the instrument, ways of tickling, teasing, forcing, caressing, beating and shaking sounds out of the body of his double-bass The range of sounds is exceeding the preconception most audiences might have about the double bass by far. It is the team’s ambition to overwhelm with playfulness – and surprise the audience with new images and sounds and combinations of these. Rather than striving for dominance, the contributing elements are supporting each other, allowing a new definition for music theater.

Premiere and Touring

Radialystem, Berlin, December 2008

Hi Seoul Festival, Korea, 2010



Press Quotes

Australian improvised music practitioner Clayton Thomas attacks and teases the double bass in the most delightful of ways. At the beginning he attempts a cello suite by Bach which he masters astonishingly smoothly. To this, video artist Hiroko Tanahashi projects the score – which decomposes more and more – while the bass sounds increasingly spatial or percussive in many different ways.
… Throughout the performance, the screen transforms, become a double bass itself.
… After one hour the performance is over – a pity indeed.
(Ulrich Pollmann in Der Tagesspiegel, December 29th, 2008)

Five creative artists have staged a genre-blurring program that balances between the disciplines, between video installation, poetry, music and aerial acrobatics. The symbiosis generates its excitement out of the low frequencies’ energy which is teased out of the mighty instrument…
Ellen Urban explores the explosive sounds with acrobatic playfulness. While she is stretching, contracting and extending her body and entangling herself in ropes and tissues hanging in the space, Japanese Hiroko Tanahashi projects video sequences with more lucid dancers on a huge screen…

(Tomasz Kurianowicz in Berliner Zeitung, December 24th, 2008)


Artistic director: Max Schumacher
Text: Steffi Hensel
Composer / musician: Clayton Thomas
Video artist: Hiroko Tanahashi
Acrobat / choreographer: Ellen Urban
Acrobat on tour: Christina Wintz
Production management / PR: Mario Stumpfe
Technical director: Fabian Bleisch
Design: Hiroko Tanahashi
Production assistance: Esther Schelander

Funded by the Senat for Culture, Berlin