echoraum: Alisa Beck and Sara Zlanabitnig > It's hard not to cooperate when you live in Vienna

echoraum: Alisa Beck and Sara Zlanabitnig > It's hard not to cooperate when you live in Vienna

At the Festival-in-Opposition, which takes place from June 8 to 11 at the KC Lab in Novi Sad and is dedicated to sound, improvisation, and networking of actors of the independent art scene, the Viennese cultural space echoraum will be presented, and the artistic directors will talk about it. Alisa Beck and Sara Zlanabitnig. This space, which has existed since 1988, is not only a place where experimental concerts are held, but is also dedicated to collaboration, developing artistic discourse, combined art forms, etc. In this sense, the connection with the organization, which organizes the Festival-in-Opposition with the same mission, as well as numerous other activities in our country, is clear.


On Festival-in-opposition you will have the presentation of echoraum - cultural space and venue in Vienna. This venue was established in 1988 and has a long tradition, and you’re appointed as an artistic direktor since 2022. How did you relate to this long tradition before your engagement, and how in your current work? What is your personal input, or maybe change you’ve made in your term so far?

Sara: I discovered echoraum quite late – after spending maybe ten years in Vienna already. It’s kind of hidden- in a yard, you cannot see it from the street – and therefore you really need an occasion to find it for the first time. Mine was when I took part in an interactive music performance, that might have been in 2013, after this it still took me some years to regularly see concerts there.

When we organized some presentations with the platform Fraufeld – an initiative to increase the visibility of female instrumentalists in the fields of improvisation and composition – I became friends with Werner Korn who had been running echoraum for about 30 years at that time. I think it’s a mixture of coincidence, good fortune, right timing and sympathy that it came the way it came: Werner asked me to work together with him. That was at a time when echoraum was threatened to lose its main funding and therefore the experimental music scene stood up to reinforce it to continue.

The transition to renewed funding worked out and Werner decided to take 3 years for me to get to know all necessary processes to run such a space, also to tell me lots of stories from the past 30 years, a very rich history…a very dense time (in the middle of pandemic challenges)! I learnt a lot since then, not just how to run a space but also how to create synergie.s I met whole new circles of musicians and other organizers – although I knew many already before.

It was quite clear to me from the beginning on that I don’t want to do all this work on my own, so I thought a long time about who I could imagine doing it together – and in the end I asked Alisa who I co-organized a collective festival with at this time. It turns out to be a good decision.
What I love about this work is to bring people together to experience experiments and inspiration.


echoraum is oriented towards music but also dealing with mixed art forms. In that sense how do you see the topic of this year’s Festival-in-opposition which is dealing with sound in a wider context? How do you relate to “sound” and how do you see it as a tool or art form in context of music and beyond?

Sara: Sound is everywhere. At echoraum it is most welcome to mix with other artforms, just the focus usually stays somehow on the aspect of sound. This can be in film programs, performances, exhibitions, media art or lectures paired with music. In our regular concerts and collaborations with other organizers we get to listen to quite a lot of electroacoustic and electronic music but also of course improvised instrumental music. I’d say sound is a tool you can use for anything really.


What is your relation to “sound” and how do you think of what you are trying to achieve in music?

Sara: For me it was a clear decision against having to make a living out of being a musician. It felt just too stress- and harmful in different ways and getting the possibility of being an active part at echoraum therefore just came in the right moment. Here I can combine my passions in a very healthy and natural way – I constantly expand my networks and get a lot of inspiration by music performances I partly also choose. (Programming not as a single person is quite important I guess to get the chance to get to see performances one would not have had the chance to choose, I’m happy to work and curate in teams!)
So for my own music there’s really time to develop and wait for the right moments to present it. There’s not the pressure many freelance musicians face regularly. Of course we are privileged to live in Austria which is not so bad in terms of art funding and therefore we are able to run echoraum as a real paid job.


What do you find most challenging in general, working on independent festivals and in venues dedicated to experimental art, in Austria?

Alisa: I think a response very often navigates towards "rise of public funding" or "fair pay" in current discussions in Austria. Which of course are ongoing debates, not to be taken for granted. Still, when talking about precarity I would rise questions of accessibility, for both producers and audience. Questions like: Which embedded knowledge and background is needed to work (professionally) and actively take part in the field of arts and culture? Which (in-)equalities are in place?

Another big topic, leading to the next question, is that of available spaces (ateliers, venues, public space, etc), mainly in more and more contested and market-driven urban contexts like in Vienna. Here the last years have shown a decrease of possibilities, or simply a huge lack of spaces which are open to use and still affordable, also for long-term perspectives. In short, what I see missing is a more equal access to resources.

Sara: Besides from gaining audience in general (for the fact that Vienna is quite a big city you’ll know most people you’ll meet at the various occasions to listen to experimental music) I would wish for the art-scenes to connect more. I want to see more people from fine arts and more people from performance, more people from film and more people from literature at echoraum. Because of course it all works together and it could be very inspiring to connect more. Also I’d wish the local art scene in general to be more diverse - in a sense of integration of people with migrant background.


You are a part of the collective Fraufeld (to increase the visibility of female musicians). In Serbia we think of Austria as a place more progressive in that area, but probably there are a lot more stuff to do. How do you see the situation in that field nowadays, comparing to maybe 10-15 years ago?

Sara: We founded Frau*feld in a collective in 2017. As female instrumentalists coming from studying jazz and improvised music we agreed on the urge of doing something against the dominance of male presence on stages – in general but also in many events and festivals of our fields. So what we did is to collect female instrumentalists in improvised and composed new music to release their music recorded on compilations. In 5 years we released 3 such compilations with more than 50 musicians. Last year the team changed and now we’re focusing on organizing a discourse series with different topics concerning music from a female* and therefore also feminist perspective. The series takes place at echoraum and each time presents four female* artists who answer a central question of the night and also present a glimpse of their artistic works. In the end it’s all being summed up by a fifth woman*.

We often get asked to join panels or interviews on certain topics but also – which is our main aim – about recommendations for getting a line-up more diverse and less male dominated.
For sure things have changed a lot within the last 10 years, especially since the metoo-debate but sometimes I have the feeling that music needs even longer than other artistic disciplines to recover from this very old and long manifested structures.

You have worked in cultural institutions in different countries, such as France or Germany, apart from Austria. What are the main lessons you learned from those engagements? Is there a difference in the relations between state and independent cultural spaces/associations when it comes to different Western European countries?

Alisa: My experiences are pretty varied, as they are connected to different periods in my life and to quite a range of types of institutions: From a huge foundation like Klassik Stiftung Weimar dedicated to German cultural heritage from Goethe to Bauhaus with thousands of tourists and students running through museums to rather informell artist-run initiatives with noise concerts featuring five people in the audience including the hosts. This being said – a main driver for me was the interest in combining these fields of cultural work and questioning boxes of so-called high and low, mainstream or not. Therefore, the "main experience" might rather be the mix of many experiences, as varied, contradicting and unspectacular everyday they might be. And yes, I see quite big differences between these countries mentioned, ranging from various (and often incompatible) systems of insurance, taxes, funding to deeply culturally and historically embedded differences in approaches to artistic production, its valuation, access and organization. Eg. Just thinking of a federal system like in Germany with many mid-size towns, their mid-sized theaters and idea of "Kunstvereine". Or a more centralized, monopole system like in France. Taking a look into post-Berlusconi Italy changes the picture again. Then again, when we think of being active in Hungary or Poland under current governments. Or Post-Brexit UK. Which opens the question what exactly do we mean when talking about "Western European" and "EU" countries? Well, the question is rather big, to avoid generalizations it would need longer and deeper elaborations...


Can you tell us a bit more about your work in the field of urban activism and do you find it related to art production?

Alisa: My interest and work in urban activism very concretely started with my engagement in the artist-run space mo.ë in Vienna around 2014. This space – located in a former metal factory in the increasingly gentrified area of Brunnenmarkt focussing on interdisciplinary and experimental artistic production – faced eviction due to strong speculative business of its new investors owners. The group active running the space of which I was part refused to leave the space and started a campaign to keep the space, with the aim to provoke a (yet missing) public debate on the questions of a "right to the city" in the cultural field: Who owns the city? What role do artists play in these processes? What tactics and strategies are there to keep independent cultural spaces out of the market? Long story short and one-and-a-half years of legal fights later, we did not succeed and the space stayed empty for six more years in the hands of speculative logics. What remains – at least in my eyes – are experiences in common organization (and the huge lack of it) and the exchange with colleagues and activist urban initiatives in Hamburg, Belgrade, Berlin, etc. dealing with topics like urban commons and (artistic) forms of protest (highly fueled by the networks linked to urbane! Festival and derive magazine for urban research in Vienna). Together with my colleague Marie-Christin Rissinger we published a book with the aim to document some of it (partly German/English):


Austria is near to Serbia and other countries of ex-Yugoslavia region. Do you collaborate with artists and organisations from this region and do you have a perspective on art scene in these countries?

Alisa: Very bluntly speaking, I find it hard not to when you are living in Vienna! – something that is part of my experience moving to Vienna and means working with people both living in Vienna and visiting. Specific cooperations were mostly deriving out of interdisciplinary and activist contexts and together with initiatives active in Vienna like the former cultural space AU and the artists group Boem* (both former neighbors of mo.ë): These included pretty constant exchange with touring musicians/artists and, for example, exhibition projects on Gastarbeiter*innen histories which were linked to the former metal factory where mo.ë was located in. For echoraum and a more specific impro and experimental music scene I still see more potential in exchange through touring and common projects, new connections that we can hopefully increase in the next years!

Sara: We are happy about the collaboration with kuda which we started in 2022 due to the initiative of Burkhard Stangl. We have musicians from Ex-Yugoslavia playing at echoraum once in a while – if they are touring or playing together with Viennese musicians. I feel like the closer connection we have to the Slovenian scene – probably because it’s least far away. But to be honest I don’t have a very broad perspective on art sceneries in these countries. A fact I’d love to change.


Photo: Alisa Beck and Sara Zlanabitnig @ecgoraum

echoraum (Vienna) is a cultural space and venue in Vienna's 15th district with a focus on contemporary and experimental forms of music. Since its foundation in 1988, echoraum works within an artistic experimental field where new approaches can be explored and projects developed. The programme is not only about standard concert formats, but also about discourse and exchange, and not least about different artistic approaches to the space and its context. echoraum is interested in mixing art forms: in addition to concerts by local and international musicians and ensembles, it also includes co-productions from the field of music performance, exhibitions between visual art and sound art, as well as readings, discourse events and various cooperations with other associations and institutions in arts & culture, including several music series and small festivals. The echoraum was founded in 1988 by Joseph Hartmann and Werner Korn in the premises of a former carpentry shop at Sechshauser Straße 66 as an off-theater project. At the beginning there was an exclusive examination of Arno Schmidt's work lasting several years. Although he had never written explicitly for the theater, this offered the opportunity to find suitable forms of presentation for these texts in addition to deepening the content and developing and researching it.

Alisa Beck (Vienna) is a cultural worker, art historian and producer with a focus on experimental formats in performance, music and urban research. She studied art history and cultural studies at the University of Vienna and the Université Paris-Sorbonne. Since 2008, she worked in the fields of curating, communication and education at various cultural institutions in Leipzig, Paris, Weimar and Vienna. She was part of the artist-run space mo.ë in Vienna (2014-2017) and in the production management for urbanize! festival (2018-2021). Since 2017 she is running smallforms (concert series for experimental forms of music) together with Gustavo Petek. Currently she is part of the artist group Blind Date Collaboration (WUK performing arts 2019, steirischer herbst 2020, LICHTHOF Theater Hamburg 2022) and the producer duo Olympionik*innen Productions (Berlin/Vienna). Together with Sara Zlanabitnig she is artistic director of the music venue echoraum in Vienna since 2022. She is board member of IG Kultur Wien and active in various groups related to urban activism. 

Sara Zlanabitnig (Vienna) is based in Vienna since 2005. Her artistic interest as a musician as well as an organizer focuses on free improvised, experimental and electronic music. She is part of the collective Fraufeld (to increase the visibility of female musicians), the collectively organized festival Jahresendzeitschokoadenhohlkörper, the Donaufestival in Krems, the initative mitderstadtreden and of the artistic direction of echoraum. A diverse and non-commercial, subcultural approach is a central concern. As a flutist Sara Zlanabitnig moves between fields of electronic and improvised music. She researches unconventional sounds, tries out effect pedals, fancies false fingerings, quarter tones and multiphonics. Borders between music styles are very open to her.