Known for the bloody rituals of his avant-garde performances, the artist is also a composer inspired by Bach and Wagner.

Hermann Nitsch is better known for the visual spectacle of his works than the music that accompanies them. The Austrian avant-garde artist’s ritualistic performance pieces are often brutally shocking. 150.Action, one of Nitsch’s Orgies Mysteries Theaterperformances, which will take place in Hobart on Saturday as part of Dark Mofo, has already attracted criticism from animal rights groups for its use of hundreds of litres of animal blood and the carcass of a bull.

What is less apparent, as the images of blood and dismemberment are splashed across the media, is the important role music and sound plays in the experience Nitsch is seeking to create. “Influenced by the classical antique tragedy, by Wagner and Scriabin I have tried to develop a Gesamtkunstwerk [a total work of art, a term particularly associated with Wagner’s operas] already when I was 19 years old,” Nitsch tells me via email. “This happened by the means of happenings and actions. My theater stages real events. Real incidents are registered with all senses. By the means of the sense of smell, the sense of...