What the hell is Der Lindberghflug, you ask?

It’s Lindbergh’s Flight, an opera written by German “Epic Theatre” dramatist, Bertolt Brecht. The musical score was composed by Kurt Weill and Paul Hindermith, although not collaboratively, it seems. Weill wrote a version completely on his own, and seems to have been fairly unhappy with the vast and noticeable differences in his and Hindermith’s styles. Some recent versions refer to the Weill-only score, but the original performance was written (in a somewhat fragmented way), separately.

This play is an example of Brecht’s “Lehrstücke” (Teaching/Learning Plays),  part of Brecht’s “Epic Theatre.” These plays radically reinterpret the nature and positions of the performer and audience, often emphasizing the form of the play itself (so we don’t have time to get lost in the plot and identifications). Brecht seems to have altered his plays, also, from feedback that he received from the audience after performances. This would even occassionally include surveys that would be handed out at the end of the show. The performance itself is the important thing in Brecht’s work, which focus on the players and audience in their material relations.

Brecht’s works are inherently and forcefully political (especially Marxist). Being a good Historical Materialist, he renamed the play to  The Flight Across the Ocean (Der Ozeanflug) after Lindbergh had made some anti-semetic and pro-Nazi comments in the mid 30’s. Brecht changed the title and replaced the line “My name is Charles Lindbergh” to “My name is of no importance.” This amendment seems only to reinforce Brecht’s specifically Marxist agenda, by universalizing the character. His accomplishments are no longer those of one man, or hero figure, but rather they become the achievements of collective mankind.

The orchestra in Lindbergh’s Flight is mediated through a radio, while the main character speaks his verse with relatively no emotional attachment. Brecht seems to be emphasizing the problem of Radio as a closed system. It is a one-way message, since the orchestra never actually hears Lindbergh’s dialogue. He is active and engaged with the radio, but it has passed through a kind of mediation where the response will never be relayed. Brecht wants an open system; one that goes both ways.

This play is at once a kind of celebration of the achievements of technology (a first flight across the ocean) and the incredibly limited qualities that it might also possess. Technologies are both liberating and oppressive. The radio is a tool of politics; it is the first truly “mass media” and it is a one-way system. Klaas van der Linden (Utrect University) asks us to consider the relationship between Brecht’s “vast network of pipes” (multi-directional communications) and YouTube. Is Youtube, with its user-generated content, a kind of solution to this problem? How does it dissolve or reframe the power relations between the audience and performer? We should note that there are still regulations that govern sites like Youtube in order to protect corporate copyrights.

How is this work “Interactive”?

Many of Brecht’s plays are actually significantly more interactive than this piece, but this piece emphasises the inherent problems in supposedly “interactive” technologies. The disembodied voice and sounds that we hear on the radio take up acoustic space in each listener’s room, creating a kind of private space for the listener. The listener may respond to the radio, but the radio will not hear this response. This is not an interactive system, since it is uni-directional. This play instead shows us how we must not be fooled into believing that a technology or medium is interactive unless we can truly influence it from both sides. Brecht’s plays accent the material conditions of mediation, and this play reminds us to be aware of these conditions. We should not simply accept the uni-directional narratives that come to us from our Nations, Governments, and Corporations. We should strive for a continuous feedback loop, where one man must not stand in as the voice for everyone.

Brecht higlights the inadequacies of the mass media, but he also celebrates the potential for these media to form a new kind of interactivity between audience and performers. “Der Flug der Lindberghs,” he claims, “is not intended to be of use to the present-day radio but to alter it. The increasing concentration of mechanical means and the increasingly specialized training – tendencies that should be accelerated – call for a kind of resistance by the listener, and for his mobilization and redrafting as a producer” (Brecht). We must all become producers. We must all become perfomers.

Sources and Further Links:

From Brecht himself:

Academic/Secondary Sources:

Tertiary/”Non-Academic” Sources:

News on Some Recent Adaptations:

And from a lack of any script or videos to look at, here’s a collage that gives a basic idea of the Brechtian aesthetic. “Lindbergh’s Flight,” however, seems to be a bit more… cheerful than the rest of these samples.

– Ə [shua]