Skip to navigation Skip to main content
View of the exhibition ‘Billy Bultheel & James Richards. Workers in Song’, 29.03 – 09.06.2024 Mudam Luxembourg © Photo : Mareike Tocha | Mudam Luxembourg
Billy Bultheel & James Richards

Workers in Song

Workers in Song is the latest iteration of an ongoing collaborative project by composer Billy Bultheel (b. 1987, Brussels) and visual artist James Richards (b. 1983, Cardiff). Their immersive audiovisual installation and performance take visitors on a journey through a whirlwind of original material and citations, spanning the pleasures of online hookups, underground films, and subcultures of bygone eras, as well as the darker dimensions of romantic subjectivity. At Mudam, Bultheel and Richards present a choreographed performance with live music and film on 28 March 2024, alongside an installation that probes the tension between liveness, sentimentality and desire in the absence of the living body.

Conceived as an open-ended, modular structure, Workers in Song operates as a constantly evolving organism which adapts to the specific context of each presentation – the present version staged in an environment the artists specifically designed for the large curved space of Mudam’s West Gallery. Informed by the early days of cinema, when silent films were conceived to be presented with live music, and more contemporary forms including mixtapes or expanded cinema events, Bultheel and Richards present a dynamic musical score as a framework to bring their original material into dialogue with work by other artists – without subsuming any part into a uniform whole. Their own footage, taking viewers through nocturnal landscapes and dystopian brutalist interiors, is mixed with poems, films, and scores by other authors. The atmosphere of the installation is dark, although decisively rich, almost excessive. Many elements of the live event insistently return to the conflicts of human intimacy and the fraught boundaries between self and other. Nevertheless, the work’s episodic nature invites viewers to bring their own experiences to the table and connect the dots, allowing discrete elements to smudge and blur one’s perception.

A central thread running through the presentation of Workers in Song is ‘Der Leiermann’ from Franz Schubert’s Winterreise (1827), which the composer wrote while suffering from syphilis toward the end of his life. It sings of a spurned lover’s journey to the night and, more specifically, his encounter with a derelict hurdy-gurdy player who repeatedly performs a song that seemingly no one cares to hear. In Bultheel and Richards’s installation, a restrained video rendition by Sebastian de la Cour (b. 1980, Copenhagen) suspends the sentimentality of Schubert’s original piece between longing and disillusionment. At the same time, the titular hurdy-gurdy is translated into a computer-controlled piano player, constrasting the song’s lush emotional register by lack of human presence. With this conceptual twist, Bultheel and Richards seem to underscore an almost machinic dimension of human desire – one that keeps us constantly searching, though for what is never clear.

Deepening the convergence between the installation and performative aspect of the work, the presentation at Mudam questions the boundaries between liveness and the pre-recorded, between presence and absence, between ghosts and the archive, in an intimate and intuitive encounter between the audience, music, and moving image. The work Yellow Movie 1/12-13/73 (1973) by Tony Conrad (b. 1940, Concord – d. 2016, Cheektowaga), from the Mudam Collection, was selected by the artists to be part of the installation. Expanding on the history of film and performance, this work is also a nod and a link to the previous iterations of Workers in Song, which included Tony Conrad’s film The Flicker (1966).

Workers in Song seeks to confront the viewer with paradoxical sensations of pleasure and discomfort. It alludes to the depth of human existence, beauty, death, sex, loneliness, nostalgia, togetherness, and their intricate relationships.

Music sheets and documentation from the performance Workers in Song at WIELS are included in this booklet, providing visitors with a glimpse of the work once fully activated.


‘Workers in Song’ by Billy Bultheel & James Richards


James Richards (b. 1983, Cardiff) lives and works between Berlin and London. Richards’s expanded practice examines themes of obsession, desire, and technology through archival research, found footage, and extensive collaboration. Addressing the relentless flow of imagery in the twenty-first century, Richards’s work carves out a space where personal politics and digital materiality meet.

The artist’s recent solo exhibition projects include Internal Litter, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin (2022); When We Were Monsters, Haus Mödrath, Kerpen (2021); Alms for the Birds, Castello di Rivoli, Turin (2020); SPEED 2, Malmö Konsthall (2019); and SPEED, Künstlerhaus Stuttgart (2018). Selected group exhibitions include Penumbra, Fondazione In Between Art Film, Venice (2022); The Botanical Mind, Camden Art Centre, London (2020); the Whitney Biennial, New York (2017) and Less Than Zero, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2016). In 2017, Richards represented Wales at the 57th Venice Biennale with the exhibition Music for the Gift and was awarded the Preis der Nationalgalerie 2024 in Berlin.

Billy John Bultheel (b. 1987, Brussels) lives and works between Berlin and Brussels. Bultheel’s work as an experimental composer and performance artist bridges contemporary composition with techniques and traditions of European Medieval and Renaissance polyphonic music. His music explores performance and installations, often site-specific, leaving the constraints of the concert hall behind in order to find new territory for musical experiences. The musicians become performers, moving through sound tropes, interacting with architecture, sculpture, and custom-made instruments.

The artist’s recent projects include The Thief’s Journal, Berlin Atonal (2023); Workers in Song, WIELS, Brussels (2023); Mt. Analogue, Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection, Paris (2023); Athens Songs I-IV, 7th Athens Biennial, Athens (2021); UNTER, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin (2021); Songs for the Contract, (2021); The Minutes of Olomouc, PAF, Olomouc (2020) and When Doves Cry, Schinkel Pavillon Berlin, (2019). Bultheel studied composition at the Institute of Sonology in The Hague, The Netherlands and performance and choreography at the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies in Gießen, Germany.


  • Download the exhibition booklet and learn more about the exhibition
    >FR< >DE<

  • Joel Valabrega, with Clémentine Proby
    Assisted by Nathalie Lesure

Co-commissioned by:
  • WIELS – Centre for Contemporary Art
    Batalha Centro de Cinema
    Mudam Luxembourg – Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean
    KW Institute for Contemporary Art

Written, directed and produced by:
  • Billy Bultheel and James Richards

Filmed appearances:
  • Sebastian de la Cour (bariton)
    Sara Neidorf (percussion)
    Adam Sinclaire (flute)

  • Tom Rosenberg

Second camera:
  • Milan Daemgen

Sound recordist:
  • Simone Antonioni

Key grip:
  • Braden Harris

Production assistants:
  • Lea Hopp
    Sinaida Michalskaja

Film locations:
  • anorak and, Berlin

Production manager:
  • Johanna Markert

The performance Workers in Song at Mudam includes screenings of HEVN by P.Staff (2020), My Name is Oona by Gunvor Nelson (1969) and Studio Floor Rotation by Josh Tonsfeldt (2010).