Sonic Antagonism: The Sounding Audience of Performance

Andrej Mircev*


Focusing on two examples, the performance Revolt Against Violence (2012) by the Kosovo artist Fitore Berisha and the theatre work Our Violence and Your Violence (2016) by the Croatian artist Oliver Frljic, this article examines the sonic environment in which the works were realized. In both cases, right-wing protesters tried to stop events by starting to sing patriotic songs, which led to an auditory response from the audience. Cross connecting performance and sound studies, I am arguing that the figure of sonic antagonism can be applied to explore the ideological rifts in the post-Yugoslav region (Croatia and Serbia), where these works were shown.

Keywords: Sonic antagonism, ideology, territoriality, antiphony

Assuming that artistic and cultural performances can trigger antagonistic acoustic reactions, this text discusses the sonic consequences of two performances that provoked responses from right-wing protesters in Belgrade and Split. I examine the projects by Fitore Berisha and Oliver Frljić, interrogating the political effects of art in a seriously antagonized cultural field, overshadowed by the aftereffects of the war in the 90s and the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Map of former socialist Yugoslavia. Photo: Web

As a multicultural nation-state, Yugoslavia existed first as a kingdom (1918–41) and from 1945 until 1991 as a socialist country in south-east Europe. With the collapse of socialist structures and communism after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Yugoslav society faced an increasing rise of nationalism, fueled by growing clerical voices as well as those of fascist groups who survived WWII in exile and started returning to the country. The result of the process was more than one hundred thousand deaths, many destroyed cities and about four million refugees. In political and economic terms, the consequence of this violent conversion from socialism to neoliberalism is a violently divided territory in which, instead of freedom, democracy has led to social inequality, xenophobia, precarious working conditions and a collective confusion.        

Focusing on the figure of sonic antagonism, I will outline an epistemic framework to survey these ideological changes, approaching them as cultural and sonic frictions. According to the Dictionary of Critical Theory:

existence of ideology must be explained as originating in material practice, meaning the sum of the productive forces, capital and social forms of existence. . . . Ideology is an essential feature of the reproduction of social relations in all societies (including communist societies) and that it is its mechanism of interpellation that constitutes individuals as subjects

Macey 198–99

The acoustic performances that I intend to examine seem to function precisely within the logic of interpellation, which for Louis Althusser is the way ideology recruits its subjects. Giving an example of interpellation in the act of police hailing—“Hey, you there!” (Althusser 86)—it could be asked what the relationship between ideology and a sonic performance is. On the other hand, the proposition I am following here is that “theatre is a social institution that by and large reflects the ideological assumptions and beliefs of the dominant order” (Davis ix). Revealing the conflicting political reality in Serbia and Croatia, the performances by Berisha and Frljić demonstrate the ability of contemporary theatre practices to expose the ideological foundations of the new national states that grew out of the breakdown of Yugoslavia.   

If it can be argued that there is something like a visceral experience of sounding, then it seems perhaps plausible to conceive of a discourse, in which “thinking through sound” (Henriques XV) discloses the possibility to articulate a sonic expression of ideology. This approach brings the field of Performance Studies into dialogue with Sound Studies and Critical Theory. The capacity of sounding to reflect political subjectification turns it into a powerful heuristic and diagnostic instrument for sharpening the focus for the political impact of art. At the same time, such an analysis demonstrates how ideological mechanisms can be explored by considering the sonic antagonism triggered by the performances.

While the construction of ideology mostly seems to happen through language, embodied practices and visual messages, research connecting sound to ideology seems to be lacking. Arguing that in two works the sonic performance becomes the medium of ideological interpellation, my intention is to demonstrate how sounding and sound can reveal the circulation of political ideas. One benefit from such a methodological reorientation, which places the emphasis on sound in the construction of ideology instead of images and language, is that it opens up an inquiry to reflect on the connection between sonic performances and the mobilization of political affects.

I will discuss two examples—the dance performance by the Kosovo artist Berisha Revolt Against Violence and the theatre performance by the Croatian theatre director Frljić Our Violence and Your Violence—that will show the challenging relationship between performance and politics in the postwar zone of former Yugoslavia. Departing from these two case studies, I would like to discuss how cultural struggles can be related to specific sound constellations and audience reactions. Hence, I will argue that the sonic dimensions of these works not only influenced their aesthetic and receptive modalities but also determined the socio-political effects. Making visible the frictions within Serbian and Croatian society, Berisha and Frljić challenge the imagined political communities and the religious underpinnings of the two nation states that grew out of the ruins of Yugoslavia. What these examples will hopefully show is the power of contemporary performance to put on trial conservative representations of the state and the church. In doing so, the two works reveal the toxic alliances between nationalism, patriarchal structures of domination and religion.

The Mythic Refrain of Serbian Nationalism 

Scheduled as the opening event of the Miredita festival in Belgrade, the dance performance Revolt Against Violence took place on May 30, 2017. The festival aims to promote cultural exchange between the artistic scene of Serbia and cultural workers from Kosovo. It has been taking place in the Serbian capital since 2014. According to their web page:

Visitors to the Festival will have an opportunity to learn more about the cultural scene of Kosovo—theatre, film, music, and visual art. Besides the above mentioned, public debates which will critically examine relationships between Serbia and Kosovo from the standpoint of inheritance from the past, as well as perspective for cooperation in the area of economy, trade, education, sport, civil sector and all segments of the society, will be held.

Due to the presence of right-wing protesters who have regularly tried to interrupt its events with loud demonstrations, the festival is considered to be a high-risk event. This means that fully armed police have to protect the organizers, the artists and the audiences. The reason for this hostility is the disagreement regarding the unclear status of the Republic of Kosovo. While Kosovo is de facto functioning as an independent state, the Serbian authorities and a large part of the population deny this, claiming that the formerly autonomous province is temporarily an occupied territory, but still a legitimate (yet, in their view, “stolen”) part of Serbia. Being thus an unresolved political and territorial issue, the tension between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians obstructs a shared future for two neighboring nations still waiting to become full members of the EU.

The Kosovo Myth is one of the historical themes at the center of Serbian nationalism since the mid-1980s. Present in the historical imagination since the nineteenth century, when Serbs started to fight for their independence from the Ottoman Empire, the myth survived because it was a vital part of cultural and religious memory. Dating back to the year 1389, when the Ottoman empire invaded the medieval Serbian state, the Battle of Kosovo became the cornerstone of the national imagination and identity; something like a “cultural artifact” (Anderson 4) in establishing the nationhood of modern-day Serbia. Sidelined by the ideology of unity and brotherhood during the years of socialism (1941–91), the narrative of the brave Serbian knights who protect the Christian world from Islam resurfaced after the death of President Tito in 1980. Furthermore, it became the key factor for the resurgence of various patriotic and nationalist agendas that went hand in hand with the return to models of religious identity after the collapse of socialism.

Berisha is a visual artist from Kosovo, who has been living and working between Prishtina and Iceland. In her multimedia work, she explores affective states of desperation and joy with the aim of empowering women in their fight against patriarchal oppression. Short in duration (5 min.), her work Revolt Against Violence is structured as a dance duet performed by a female and a male performer. After being shown in Prishtina at the FemmeArt festival in 2016, this non-verbal choreography was invited to Belgrade to the Miredita festival, scheduled to be performed in the hall of Dom Omladine (Youth Centre; my translation). The first thing the audience sees upon entering the performance space are four black and white photos of torsos bearing black inscriptions. Different expressions in different languages like Albanian, Serbian, English signify the following concepts and events: war, aids, politics, drugs, crime, rape, conflict, trafficking, abuse, fear, lesbianism, and so on. In the context of the title of the piece, these sentences can semantically and conceptually be related to violence. The issue of power relations and the violent misuse of power in psychological and social situations is thereby clearly framed (fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Performance: Revolt Against Violence, Fitore Berisha, 2017. Photo: Fitore Berisha

The performance is structured as a series of choreographed encounters between two bodies of opposite sex. In the beginning, the dancers are lying flat on the ground. The song “Surrender” (composed by the Icelandic composer and Indie musician Ólöf Arnalds) accompanies their movements, creating a dreamy and melancholic atmosphere. After they have circled the floor for a minute, the dancers slowly start reacting to each other’s presence. As the male dancer wraps himself around the female dancer, they start moving together. At this point, the choreography develops a nonverbal story about human relationships that are gentle and caring. However, as the execution of movements gets faster and the performance intensifies, the affects shift, and, instead of a tender relationship, the audience experiences tension and violence. The first part reaches its highpoint when the female dancer pushes her partner to the ground (fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Performance: Revolt Against Violence, Fitore Berisha, 2017. Photo: Fitore Berisha

The female dancer now takes the lead. She lifts him from the ground and caresses his face. The dance becomes a series of embraces, touches and encounters but also disconnections and departures. Swinging between acts of love and violence, joy and anger, the moving bodies portray the complicated affective relationship between men and women. In the final sequence—after the male dancer is pushed down—she stands resolutely while he remains motionless on the ground. In terms of gender relations, it is a reversal of male dominance and a performative expression of the empowerment of woman.

Berisha wrote about the work the following:

What this artwork represents is a reminder that we are all vulnerable to any kind of violation regardless of where we come from, what class, and what the colour of our skin is. By realising that if we stand up and rebel against inequalities, exploitation and human violation of any kind, we are protecting ourselves and the future of our children against those that disregard the sanctity of life in order to gain more power and more money.


Since its first edition in 2014, right-wing extremists, football hooligans and patriots supported by militant clerical structures from the Serbian Orthodox Church have regularly organized demonstrations against the Miredita festival. Before the performance was to begin, a group of protesters gathered at the entrance to the venue. One of the groups involved in the protest was members of the far-right nationalist party “Oathkeepers” (Serbian: Srpski sabor Zavetnici), whose ideology is characterized as conservative, homophobic, Russophile and anti-EU. Their female leader and spokesperson, Milica Djurdjevic, claimed that the performance was offensive as it suggests that the male dancer represents a Serbian soldier abusing a woman from Kosovo. In other words, the protesters (mis)interpreted and (mis)read the choreographic action, identifying it as an act of rape. This, in their view, corresponds with the agenda of the festival to portray the Serbs as perpetrators. For the protesters, however, it is the Serbs who must be represented as victims.

Although the police secured the venue, a group of ten protesters succeeded in entering the hall. Carrying disturbing images of dead civilians, portraits of Kosovo leaders (accused of committing war crimes against Serbs) and placards with the slogan “Kosovo is Serbia,” they joined and mixed with the audience. After the performance had begun, they loudly started to sing the folk song Oi Kosovo, Kosovo, which had become popular in right-wing circles after Kosovo claimed independence in 2008. One of the strophes declares: “All Serbs shout: `We are not giving you away Kosovo! It was always ours, through the ages it stayed ours! Oi Kosovo, Kosovo my beloved land! The land of great knights Lazar and Miloš!“

Loud applause counteracted the singing, and the protesters stopped their ineffective performance.

Members of “Oathkeepers” trying to interrupt the performance Revolt Against Violence (Fitore Berisha), Belgrade, Dom Omladine, 2017. Source: Youtube

The sonic counteraction of the audience ensured that the performance would proceed. The loud applause generated something like an acoustic protection for the performing bodies to continue in their action. In that way, the noise of the clapping hands of the audience overpowered the protesters, cancelling out their singing.

The song the protesters sang can be considered an expression of patriotic, nationalist and religious ideology, intertwined with explicit territorial reference. The mentioning of the great knights Lazar and Miloš refers to the historic battle of Kosovo. For the conservative groups and political parties like the “Oathkeepers,” Kosovo not only represents a physical territory which has been occupied; it is also the cradle of Serbian spirituality and religious identity. Numerous churches were built there during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries when the medieval Serbian state was at the peak of its power.

Writing about the place and role of the Kosovo myth in the creation of Serbian national identity, the historian Siniša Malešević observes: “The central political myth in Serbian tradition is the Kosovo myth. The myth is based on the actual defeat of the Serbian army by the Ottomans in 1389 when the last Serbian tsar was killed and Serbia lost its medieval kingdom, which then became an Ottoman province” (Malešević 175). On the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the battle in 1989, the Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević used this nationalist sentiment when he gave his famous speech on Kosovo. It had homogenized and mobilized the Serbian nation, preparing it for the wars in which Yugoslavia was dismembered. In that regard, his speech represents one of the key (sonic) events in the disintegration of the former federation.

As Malešević described it: “the collapse of communism opened the way for legitimization through traditionalism” (174) A comparable ideological transformation—the shift from socialist values to conservative, religious and nationalistic principles—can also be identified in other countries of former Yugoslavia. In the next section, the focus will be a similar antagonistic sonic constellation that was caused by the performance Our Violence and Your Violence in the Croatian town of Split in 2017.

Acoustic Clash and the Forces of Antiphony

A comparable case in which the performance was almost interrupted by the collective singing of irritated protesters was the project Our Violence and Your Violence by the Croatian theatre director Oliver Frljić. As one of the most prominent and controversial theatre directors of south-east Europe, he works as a director and author. He studied directing at the Academy for dramatic arts in Zagreb and has served as the artistic director of the Croatian National Theatre in Rijeka. His performances deal with disputed and provocative issues such as nationalism, war atrocities, hate, clerical violence, and so on.

After it successfully premiered in Ljubljana and Vienna in 2016, Our Violence and Your Violence went on tour. While it did not cause any trouble and hostile reactions in Ljubljana, Berlin or Vienna, the performance stirred up the public sphere in Poland, Bosnia and Croatia. Inspired by the three-volume novel The Aesthetics of Resistance by the German playwright and novelist Peter Weiss, the project addresses the migrant crisis, the neo-colonial exploitation of the Global South and the violence of capitalist structures.

The performance unfolds as a series of tableaux vivants that change in a quick rhythm. What acoustically dominates are the dissonant tones of Krzysztof Penderecki’s symphony De natura sonoris. A wall of green oildrums marks the scenic space and can be interpreted as a direct allusion to the oil exploitation that is at the heart of geopolitical frictions in the polarized world. The performers wear orange jumpsuits, calling to mind the Guantanamo Bay detainee uniforms that have become the iconic representation of violence and inhuman behavior performed in the name of Western democracy. The performance shifts between semi-autobiographical testimonies establishing the narrative of the experience of refugees and explicit corporal depictions of humiliation and torture. As can be read on the web page of Mladinsko theatre:

[T]he performance Our Violence and Your Violence will ask a couple of very unpleasant questions: Are we aware that our welfare depends on thousands of dead in the Middle East? Do we cry for the victims of terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels the same way as we do those in Baghdad and Kabul? In which moment did we start to believe that we are masters of truth and that our God is mightier than others?

Fig. 3. Performance: Our Violence and Your Violence, Oliver Frljić, Wiener Festwochen, 2016. Photo: Alexo Pelekanos

The peak of the piece is the scene of a female performer pulling out the national flag from her vagina, recreating the famous performance Interior Scroll (1975) by the avant-garde filmmaker, performer and artist Carolee Schneeman (fig. 3). If in this specific situation, the symbol of state representation came to the fore, in one of the following scenes, the focus shifts toward religious symbols. After descending from the cross, a male performer pursues an action that can be described as rape, directed at the female performer who is wearing a burka and who gave birth to the flag. These two scenes in particular caused furious reactions, as they were (mis)interpreted as a provocation and attack on national and religious symbols/values (fig. 4).

Fig. 4. Performance: Our Violence and Your Violence, Oliver Frljić, Wiener Festwochen, 2016. Photo: Alexi Pelekanos

Equipped with whistles, fanfares and improvised percussion instruments, a group of 100 people gathered in front of the Croatian National Theatre in Split. The protesters carried posters with slogans: “This performance insults me,” “Go home red devil,” “Go to Serbia,” as well as Croatian flags, images of Jesus Christ and similar Christian iconography. In front of the church of Our Lady of Health, situated next to the theatre, a pulpit was installed with microphones and loudspeakers. A priest, a female gymnasium teacher (who recited from a poem of the renaissance writer Marko Marulić) and a war veteran delivered speeches against the performance. They expressed their dissatisfaction, accusing Frljić of disrespecting religious and state symbols, thus offending their Christian feelings.

Marko Marulić, after whom the festival is named, is a Croatian writer from the end of the fourteenth century, considered the father of Croatian literature. As such, he is a fundamental figure in the awakening of ethnic and national consciousness which resurfaced in the 1990s and replaced the ideology of socialist Yugoslavia. In parallel to the genealogy of Serbian nationalism and patriotic sentiment that is grounded in the revival of medieval narratives, the rediscovery of the “true” Croatian identity in the 1990s is closely linked to an instrumentalization of historical and religious heritage.

In their article on the role of Balkanist discourse in Croatia, anthropologist Maple Razsa and Nicole Lindstrom observe: “Tudjman repeatedly insisted that Croatia’s fourteen-century old European cultural heritage ensured that Croatia would quickly return to its rightful place in Europe” (Razsa and Lindstrom 645). Thus, both in Croatia and Serbia, the ideological agenda of rediscovering national and nationalistic identities goes hand in hand with the resurrection of medieval mythologies, iconographies and histories. With Benedict Anderson, it could be argued that nationalism “shares a strong affinity with religious imaginings” (Anderson 10), which means that it has to be thought of in relation to a sacred imagination. Despite their mutual animosity, both Croatian and Serbian nationalism grew out of a similar alignment with the medieval Christian tradition.  

Shortly before the start of the performance, a group of protesters who had entered the theatre and joined the audience began singing the patriotic song: Zovi, samo zovi (Call, Just Call; my translation). After a few seconds, however, the rest of the audience reacted with a counter song: Kad bi svi ljudi na svijetu (If All the People in the World; my translation), composed for children by the popular Croatian singer Arsen Dedić. The audience stood up from their seats, clapping and singing.

The audience in Split sings and supports the performance Your Violence and Our Violence (Oliver Frljić), National Theatre in Split, 2017. Source: Youtube

After a short disruption, the police evicted the protesting chorus from the theatre and Your Violence and Our Violence continued. While the first song (Call, Just Call) aims at mobilizing and uniting the patriots in their fight against the enemies of the homeland, the song sung by the audience conveys a message about peace. Writing about the performance as an example of “Worksites of the Left,” performance scholar Silvija Jesterović observed: “Yet in the incident of the performance´s overflow into the audience, in the battle between the song of solidarity and the curses of Right-wing hardliners at the theatre festival in Split, the voyeuristic act of watching turns into doing” (Jesterović 252).

As a sonic expression of patriotic feelings, the tune Call, Just Call came into being during WWI, when it served as a mobilizing instrument in the pan-Slavic fight against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A fact that the right-wing protesters were probably not aware of is that the song was originally part of the Pan-Slavic movement and that, in the years before WWI, it was used to advocate the unification of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. This is why the song is popular in Serbia, where it is also claimed by patriotic groups and serves the function of homogenizing nationalist feelings. The lyrics say the following: “Oh Croatia our mother, do not grieve. Call just call. All the falcons will give their lives. . . . For peace, for freedom Of the Croatian people We will give our lives.” The refrain mentions the historical regions Dalmatia, Lika and Istria, establishing a direct link between territoriality and national identity. In a talk published as a podcast within the research project “Aural/Oral Dramaturgies Post-Verbatim, Amplified Storytelling and Gig Theatre in the Digital Age” (initiated and led by theatre scholar Duška Radosavljević), sound studies scholar and filmmaker Julian Henriques brought to the discussion the figure of antiphony as a device of responsive singing.

Julian Henriques/Andrej Mirčev, Dramaturgy as Sonic Warfare, podcast, part of the “Aural/Oral Dramaturgies Post-Verbatim, Amplified Storytelling and Gig Theatre in the Digital Age,” an AHRC Leadership Fellowship held by Duška Radosavljević at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, 2020/2021

The auditory mechanism of call and response is an important dramaturgical element in the context of Jamaican reggae culture. It is a rhymed verbal dueling between the MC and the crowd, and its goal is to redistribute and convert real violence into rhythm, transforming social chaos into verbal poetry. Focusing on music and popular culture from Kingston, Henriques reflects on the visceral dimension of sound and compellingly shows how intense sonic performances challenge the separations between the stage and the audience. By elaborating a relational and affective theory of auditory culture, he points out the impasses of epistemologies grounded in representation, hierarchies and dualism. Henriques argues: “One of the principal values of the sonic logos and the propagation model in which it is embodied is in providing a critique of the kinds of thinking, that is, logos, that has led to numerous schisms, dichotomies and antitheses on which the episteme relies” (246).

If we now apply the figure of sonic logos to the performance Your Violence and Our Violence, it describes an auditory constellation where the relationship between the protesters and the rest of the audience was one of call and response.

Once the protesters started singing, the other part of the audience responded by clapping and singing the song by Dedić. Their clapping and singing provided the acoustic protection, enabling the performance to continue despite the noise of the singing bodies. [Therefore, it could be said that the performance generated and caused a double sonic response. As an expression of the cultural war between conservative and liberal forces, the socio-political tension had occurred as an acoustic event. The antagonizing sound of the protesters, the song and the counter-song correspond, according to my argument, to reveal the unresolved ideological frictions of postwar Croatia.

Performance and the Affects of Sonic Territorialities 

To closely examine the relationship between sound and territoriality, I will now survey the sonic situation generated within the performances, relating it to the affective responses. This will serve as a springboard to reflect on the potential of contemporary performance practices to destabilize state representations established by nationalistic and clerical ideologies.

The title Oi Kosovo, Kosovo (sung by the protesters in Belgrade) voices an explicit territorial claim and, in doing so, mobilizes and ideologically unites the right-wing protesters. In the case of the song Call Just Call, the naming of the territories in the refrain similarly aims to interpellate and assemble the homogeneous body of the nation. Thus, it can be argued that the act of collective singing corresponds with the territorial and affective grounding of right-wing political forces claiming to be the sole protector of nationhood.

An analytic possibility to relate auditory processes to territories is given in the book A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Singing is an event that has a territorial mark: “The role of the refrains has often been emphasized: it is territorial, a territorial assemblage” (Deleuze and Guattari 344). If we apply this idea to the sonic performances of the protesters, can it be asserted that their singing not only semantically (the lyrics of the songs) but also performatively expressed an act of territorialization? What happens as the noise of the applauding and singing counter-performance becomesopposed to the song of the protesters? Does its rhythm constitute new, different territoriality? Where can the border between these two opposing territories (and ideologies) be re/drawn?

If grasped within the argument of Deleuze and Guattari, the singing performance of the protesters signifies a territorial song performed to halt the performances. Pondering further on the relation between the notion of the homeland, territory and religion, Deleuze and Guattari write:

Inside or out, the territory is linked to this intensive centre, which is like the unknown homeland, terrestrial source of all forces friendly and hostile, where everything is decided. So, we must once again acknowledge that religion, which is common to human beings and animals, occupies territory only because it depends on the raw aesthetic and territorializing factor as its necessary condition.


Considering the ideological background of the protesters, it seems plausible to claim that the sonic performances linked territoriality with the mythic, medieval foundations of nationalistic identification in Serbia and Croatia. On the other hand, Revolt Against Violence and Your Violence and Our Violence displayed and disturbed the underpinnings of Croatia and Serbian right-wing nationalism, whose roots are religious, territorial and historical. When Deleuze and Guattari address the effect of territory as “regrouping of forces” (353), this implies that territorialization is related to rites and religious practices.

The right-wing protesters in Belgrade and Split were (and still are) closely connected to militant clerical structures who rose to power with the dissolution of the socialist state. The shift to nationalism at the beginning of the 1990s would not have been possible without the comprehensive support of the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Being the guardians of nationalism and the mythological concept of the nation-state, the religious structures both in Serbia and Croatia succeeded in regrouping conservative forces, paving the way for the wars of the 1990s and the ideological-economic transformation that led to xenophobia, deindustrialization and precarious labour.

Introducing the concept of Affective Societies as a research theme and a “diagnostic approach centered on a social-relational and situated understanding of affect and emotion,” philosopher Jan Slaby and sociologist Christian von Scheve ground their observation on the polarizing qualities of political contestation and “surging religious conflicts” (1). Applying these considerations to the analyzed performances, I would argue that the sonic (re)actions operated within an affective register, bringing to the fore “the nexus between affect, power, and subjectivity” (22). In her paper on Affective Publics, cultural studies scholar Margreth Lünenborg suggests a “conflictive potential of affective publics” that especially becomes visible (and audible) in “mobilization strategies of right-wing extremists” (320). With regard to the two performances, it seems plausible to claim the following: as territorializing forces, the sonic performances set in motion ideological and political constellations that have a dynamic shape of antagonistic and affective publics. This furthermore signifies the moment when the aesthetic order gets intertwined with the political realm.  

The Sounding Bodies of Performance (Conclusion)

The sonic antagonism central to the works described above points to a cultural and social field that is in a state of unresolved friction. Focusing on the “microsound of politics and the micropolitics of sound,” and the cultural tensions it amplifies, sound studies scholar Steve Goodman examines “emergent modes of perception, collectivity, and cultural conflict in the twenty-first century,” which he frames with the notion: sonic warfare (6). With the concept of sonic warfare in mind, my argument is that the two performances made audible the persisting ideological ruptures within Croatian and Serbian society. So far, the works exemplify “how sonic features are entangled with social and cultural practices” (Marra and Madeira).

With the focus being shifted from mimetic representation to embodied experiences, what becomes relevant are the ways these performances challenge divisions between the stage and the audience. To grasp the transformative and liminal moment, one needs to understand the ability of the bodies to react and interfere with the performance by singing, clapping and producing noise. A concept that might clarify the pivotal role of the audience in performance, is the autopoietic feedback loop between actors and audiences. Erika Fischer-Lichte who coined this term writes:

A shift in focus occurred from potentially controlling the system to inducing the specific modes of autopoiesis. Given this shift, it needs to be investigated how actors and spectators influence each other in performance; what the underlying conditions of this interaction might be; what factors determine the feedback loop’s course and outcome; and whether this process is primarily social rather than aesthetic in nature.


Having in mind that both of the analyzed examples happened to be determined by the double reaction of the protesters and the audience, the autopoietic feedback loop took the shape of a visceral event of sonic antagonism. The process in which the audience acoustically safeguarded the performances, taking control over it, shows their constitutive role.  

Radical experiments of the avant-garde in the first decades of the twentieth century, such as that of the Italian Futurist Luigi Rusollo, the German Dadaist poet Hugo Ball or the French artist and theatre director Antonin Artaud, contested the dominance of psychology and text, challenging the communicative and representational model of language, the arts and music. In Artaud´s conception of the Theatre of Cruelty, musical vibration is of the utmost importance. It places the spectator in the middle of the performance, complicating any stable border between the audience and the stage: “In this spectacle, sound effects are constant: sounds, noises, cries are chosen first for their vibratory quality, then for what they represent” (258).

With this in mind, it could finally be argued that the sounding audiences and bodies in Berisha´s and Frljić´s performances resonate with the acoustic turn that was anticipated a hundred years ago and also scandalized the public sphere. Concerning the two works, the social, religious and political antagonisms become palpable in the form of sonic clashes that caused ideological ruptures to appear, dividing audiences and the public in an event of call and response. Since this division parallels the sociopolitical separation which splits both Croatian and Serbian society, it might be said that the unresolved conflict between the right-wing and the liberal milieu manifested itself precisely in the form of antiphony. The call and response situations, following my argument, were intense acoustic manifestations of the cultural clash. The refrain of this clash links territoriality, gender issues, violence and religious beliefs. Unfortunately, as another crisis sweeps across the post-Yugoslav region, the dissonant melodies of discontent get louder, turning societies and cultural events into an ideological battleground between the mythic time of nationhood and the unknown future of a progressive politics.


Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso, 2006.

Althusser, Louis. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Monthly Review Press, 1971.

Artaud, Antonin. Selected Writings by Antonin Artaud. U of California P, 1988.

Berisha, Fitore. “Revolt Against Violence.” Youtube, uploaded by Fitore Berisha, 19 Aug. 2012. Accessed 3 Apr. 2021.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Slateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Continuum, 2004.

Davis, Walter. Art and Politics. Psychoanalysis, Ideology, Theatre. Pluto Press, 2007.

Festival Miredita. Accessed 1 Apr. 2021.

Fischer-Lichte, Erika. The Transformative Power of Performance: A New Aesthetics. Routledge, 2008.

Goodman, Steve. Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear. MIT Press, 2010.

Henriques, Julian. Sonic Bodies, Reggae Sound Systems, Performance Techniques and Ways of Knowing. Continuum, 2011

Jesterović, Silvija. “Bringing the Left Back: Radical Performances of Dissent From The Remains of Ex-Yugoslavia.” Studies in Theatre and Performance, vol. 39, no. 3, 2019, pp. 240–55.

Lünenborg, Margreth. “Affective Publics.” Affective Societies: Key Concepts, edited by Jan Slaby and Scheve von Christian, Routledge, 2019.

Macey, David. Dictionary of Critical Theory. Penguin Books, 2001.

Malešević, Zoran. Ideology, Legitimacy and the New State Yugoslavia, Serbia and Croatia. Routledge, 2002.

Marra, Pedro Silva, and Madeira Thaise Valentim. “Sonic Politics: Sonority, Territoriality, and Violence in Urban Cultural Practices in Brazil.” Journal of Sonic Studies 19: Sounds of Latin America, 2020

Mladinsko Theatre. Accessed 4 Apr. 2021.

Razsa, Maple/Lindstrom, Nicole. “Balkan Is Beautiful: Balkanism in the Political Discourse of Tuđman’s Croatia.” Journal: East European Politics and Societies, no. 4, 2004. 

Slaby, Jan, and Scheve von Christian. “Introduction: Affective Societies—Key Concepts.” Affective Societies: Key Concepts, by Slaby and von Christian, Routledge, 2019 

*Andrej Mirčev is a performance scholar, dramaturg and visual artist from former Yugoslavia. He received his PhD from Freie Universität Berlin. From 2017 to 2018 he was fellow at the International Research Center Interweaving Performance Cultures in Berlin, where he was doing research on iconoclastic performances. His research focus is spatial theory, intermediality, memory and archives, critical theory and performance. Mirčev teaches at the Department for Stage Design, UDK Berlin and Institute for Theatre Studies in Berlin. 

Copyright © 2021 Andrej Mirčev
Critical Stages/Scènes critiques e-ISSN: 2409-7411

Creative Commons Attribution International License

This work is licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution International License CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email