Auto Auto Musical Exhibition: Review

An amazing musical exhibition, played out on the most unlikely of instruments

Review by Evan Beswick | 07 Aug 2007

The premise of the show – the creation of music via the destruction of a car – is certainly an interesting one. In the case of Auto Auto, the destruction is well attended to; the creation, spectacularly so.

Christian von Richthofen and Kristian Baden are two remarkably talented musicians, but it is Richthofen who provides the musical highlight of the show: his solo performance on what he genuinely terms "the instrument" – a Nissan Micra is virtuosic. Moving around the car and striking out complex rhythms with only his hands and feet, Richthofen engenders a realisation that the vehicle, bizarrely enough, possesses an expressive range. For those interested, the front and rear side doors of a Vauxhall Astra have a staggeringly different timbre. Elsewhere, the pair bang out a New Orleans stomp, playing the windscreen and bonnet, perhaps with an ironic jibe at Tin Pan Alley, but contributing vocal impersonations of instruments which would not sound out of place on the Mississippi delta. Vocally, the pair are stunning; in Richthofen, Germany may have stumbled upon the answer to their scat-singing drought.

Working their way from hands and fists, through sticks, and finally battering the car with hammers, the damage to the vehicle moves from cosmetic to structural, providing direction to a performance which never feels like a tune-by-tune music gig. A series of what one might term 'scenes' comprise the performance: one makes a striking point of deflating Baden's superbly acted hint-of-Hitler rant; a performance in German of a poem by Gustav Schwab, culminating in Richthofen smothered under the mangled windscreen is particularly poignant. The pair's comic schtick does, at times, come unschtuck and Richthofen's acting is less successful than his percussive skills. But scene-by-scene, the car is rendered less like the transport device we take for granted thereby keeping the performance grounded.

Compared to the complex rhythms of the car-drumming, the finale of the show, in which the worst punishment is inflicted, proves less successful. Visually, the annihilation of the Micra to a recording of the waltz from Swan Lake is spectacular; the hammer slams, falling like 1812-style cannon shots, are undoubtedly satisfying. But, when the car isn't the solo instrument, the performance tends towards a teutonic auto-aerobics session rather than the skilled musical production which precedes. That said, the culminating scene of Bader victoriously driving a metal stake through the battered vehicle is both impressive and affecting. It's a moot point whether or not the finished product is art in itself, but the process is certainly artistic and thoroughly enjoyable.