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ON STAGE | Wim Catrysse - The Mass Man | Muziekgebouw Amsterdam - 13 NOV 2022

03.11.2022 (20:15) Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Amsterdam


Muziek Theater Transparant / Zefiro Torna

With Elias Canetti's book Crowds and Power as a catalyst, director WOUTER VAN LOOY and artist WIM CATRYSSE zoom in on man's relentless struggle against death as invincible power.

There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown. [...]

All the distances which men create around themselves are dictated by this fear.

With this statement, Elias Canetti opens his book Crowds and Power (1962).

The Nobel laureate wrote down his experiences with the mass movements of the early 20th century, mixing them with remarkable sociological and anthropological insights. The book not only reads as a reflection on the past, but it is also an eye-opener for today. Even now, the masses are constantly rising, fueled by socio-political discontent. They crave or reject leadership, rally on social media, storm the Capitol, set cities ablaze when they unite in waves of uprisings, protests and revolutions, or flee to new environments when their habitat becomes untenable. They grow in number and seem unstoppable, only to disappear again, unannounced, into thin air.

Both phenomena portrayed by Canetti - the formation of crowds and the quest for power and ultimate rulership - seem inextricably linked in a complex and dynamic mechanism of survival strategies.

In an immersive scenography, audiences - strategically split into two seemingly opposing camps - are inundated with images Catrysse shot or collected on social media during a three-month artist residency in the West Bank. An area where humanity has been held hostage for decades by a relentlessly oppressive apparatus of power.

A seemingly insoluble ideological and territorial rivalry rages on; leaves, to this day, a grotesque trail of death and destruction, and continues to disrupt the social fabric. The oppressors know how to willfully and continuously feed the enemy image, and under the pretext of defence, the attack is launched daily. The fear of being touched' takes on an extremely sinister connotation in the context of these occupied territories. The fear of a sudden and unexpected clutch out of the darkness, does, in this context, not present itself as a metaphor but is bitterly serious and tangibly real. In the performance, Catrysse's images bear witness to an institutionalized us versus them thinking, a mentality that leads to irrational group favouritism and ultimately divides society.

The musical part of The Mass Man, completed by Jurgen De bruyn and ensemble Zefiro Torna, contains a contemporary interpretation and arrangement of 11-13th century crusader songs. Soloist singers, instrumentalists on the viol, lute, cornetto and trumpet and electronic soundscapes shape and express a wide range of medieval subgenres of the crusader song. They show a nuanced picture of a complex time and turning point in history. Monophonic recruitment songs, such as the famous Palästinalied by Walther von der Vogelweide, can be heard alongside Occitan pilgrim songs, lamentations, sirventes, pastorali, love songs and polyphonic Ars Nova motets from the socially critical Roman de Fauvel by composer Philippe de Vitry. In response to the early crusade campaigns, they affirm changing identities and worldviews. They reflect both the outer world and the inner life and give shape and expression to the concerns with the homeland, spatial aspects and new emerging positions in socio-political history.

The troubadours strikingly touch upon themes that also characterize our precarious times: religious and political propaganda in the service of geopolitical strategies, lust for power, corruption, disruption of social systems, migration and broken family ties, stigmatization, oppression and persecution of minorities, anti-democratic - irrational - reactions of the so-called threatened majorities, the genesis of a collective identity, the existential compulsion neurosis of anxiously clinging to the known - reinforced by the current pandemic - to the need to gain new experiences, explore unknown worlds and to meet the other. According to Raimon de Miraval, the impoverished knight and troubadour from Carcassonne, what drives a man to survive is compassion, youth and love, which restore what reason and measure precipitate.


  • Concept, direction: Wouter Van Looy

  • Concept, video: Wim Catrysse

  • Text: Elias Canetti, Peter Verhelst, Mahmoud Darwish

  • Electronics/text: Jo Thielemans

  • Vocals/text: Timo Tembuyser, Els Mondelaers

  • Costumes: Ruby Renteurs

  • Lighting Design: Peter Quasters

  • Stage Design: Wim Catrysse, Peter Quasters

  • Jurgen De bruyn: Musical direction, lute, guiterne, electronics

  • Simon Seger: drums

  • Jon Birdsong: trumpet, cornetto

  • Jochem Baelus: sound installation

  • Production: Muziektheater Transparant and Zefiro Torna

  • Co-production: DeSingel, Concertgebouw Brugge

  • With the support of Tax Shelter of the Belgian Federal Government and the Flemish Government

Video installation

  • Concept and editing: Wim Catrysse

  • Production: Escautville

  • Co-production: MORPHO Antwerp, RAMALLAH Municipality, Music Theatre Transparant

  • With the support of the Flemish Government

  • Special thanks to Ulrike Lindmayr, Vincent Stroep, Alan Quireyns, Sally Abu Baker, Ika Sienkiewicz-Nowacka, Khaldun Bshara.

Location and performance dates

  • 11.08.2022 (20:00) MAfestival, Concertgebouw Brugge

  • 08.10.2022 (20:00) De Singel, Antwerp

  • 13.11.2022 (20:00) Muziekgebouw aan't IJ, Amsterdam (NL)


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