The Ce­les­tial Me­cha­nics of Hei­ner Goeb­bels

Art Press - - MUSIQUES EN SCÈNE - F. M.

Com­po­ser, thea­ter di­rec­tor, un­con­tes­ted mas­ter of music thea­ter and ar­tis­tic di­rec­tor of the Ruhr­trien­nale, Hei­ner Goeb­bels is the guest of ho­nor at the Mu­siques en Scène bien­nial in Lyon March 5–29, 2014. This first re­tros­pec­tive of his work is to com­prise nu­me­rous pieces, in­clu­ding Gen­ko- An 69006, a sound and vi­deo ins­tal­la­tion about the Gen­ko Bud­dhist temple in Kyo­to, and Stif­ters Dinge, an ex­pe­ri­men­tal mix of music, thea­ter and elec­tro­nic voices in which the score is per­for­med wi­thout hu­man in­ter­ven­tion. With Hei­ner Goeb­bels (born 1952, lives and works in Frank­furt), there’s al­ways so­me­thing going on, but what is it? In I Went to the House But Did Not En­ter, re­vi­ved in Lyon, he po­sed the ques­tion of the nar­ra­tive. Using four texts by T. S. Eliot, Mau­rice Blan­chot (the title is ta­ken from his book La Fo­lie du jour), Franz Kaf­ka and Sa­muel Be­ckett, he sta­ged the as­sump­tions of the nar­ra­tive and lan­guage. “A nar­ra­tive? No, no nar­ra­tive, ne­ver again” Blan­chot de­cla­red in La Fo­lie du jour, the ba­sis for this me­di­ta­tive pain­ting re­mi­nis­cent of Ed­ward Hop­per fea­tu­ring four sin­gers fra­med by the doors and win­dows of an iso­la­ted house lost in the im­men­si­ty.

To­day’s un­con­tes­ted mas­ter of music thea­ter, this com­po­ser has ex­pan­ded the “to­tal art” ad­vo­ca­ted by Wa­gner, work that ap­peals to our sight as well as our hea­ring. Goeb­bels’s music thea­ter is si­tua­ted at the cross­roads of the en­semble of ar­tis­tic prac­tices. He has no fear of quo­ti­dian rea­li­ty; on the contra­ry, he makes it a part of his work, in­te­gra­ting the sounds and images of the day in­to a phan­tas­ma­go­ric ka­lei­do­scope. For ins­tance, in 2012, af­ter hea­ring the young wo­men sin­gers of the Vo­cal Theatre Car­mi­na Slo­ve­ni­ca, he wrote When the Mountain Chan­ged Its Clo­thing for them. Graf­ting tee­nage ang­st on­to these young voices, he sent them spin­ning in a poe­tic uni­verse where Jean-Jacques Rous­seau dia­logues with Alain Robbe- Grillet to music by Brahms, Schoen­berg, Kar­mi­na Ši­lec, Sa­rah Hop­kins and him­self. In Ha­shi­ri­ga­ki (2000), he mel­ded Ger­trude Stein, Japanese per­cus­sion and songs by the Beach Boys. In the outs­tan­ding and som­ber Noir sur Blanc (1996), play­wright Hei­ner Mül­ler read Ed­gar Al­len Poe’s “The Sha­dow” while a ko­to, mys­te­rious­ly ma­ni­pu­la­ted by a han­ging wire at the front of the stage, played an en­chan­ted me­lo­dy. Was this a cu­rio­si­ty ca­bi­net or an al­che­mist’s lair? The list of what Goeb­bels consi­ders consti­tu­tive of poe­try could be in­fi­nite. A catch-all, pe­rhaps, but al­ways ins­pi­red, such as his recent Stif­ters Dinge (2007) ba­sed on Adal­bert Stif­ter, a ni­ne­teenth-cen­tu­ry Aus­trian poet whose uto­pian vi­sion drove him to me­ti­cu­lous­ly iden­ti­fy and ga­ther eve­ry si­gn and sound to be found in na­ture. In this piece Goeb­bels com­bi­ned the most di­verse noises in a hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry clo­ck­work me­cha­nism for five pia­nos wi­thout pia­nists. A “no-man show,” as he jo­ked. A French ver­sion of this piece is to be per­for­med in Lyon. In­con­tes­ta­bly his ce­les­tial me­cha­nisms are full of in­ven­tion and ju­bi­la­tion. His ca­ta­logue, run­ning at al­most 150 scores, re­pre­sents a po­ly­pho­nic uni­verse. Tru­ly, Lyon can be proud of hol­ding “the first re­tros­pec­tive of Goeb­bels’ opus ever or­ga­ni­zed,” as Da­mien Pous­set, the bien­nial’s ar­tis­tic di­rec­tor, put it. In ad­di­tion to this ho­mage, last au­tumn Ge­ne­va wit­nes­sed the re­prise of one of the most knock-out shows ever pre­sen­ted at the Ruhr­trien­nale, the ope­ra Delusion of the Fu­ry com­po­sed by the American Har­ry Partch in 1966, in a pro­duc­tion di­rec­ted by Goeb­bels with the mu­si­cians of the Co­logne-ba­sed en­semble mu­sikFa­brik.


How did you dis­co­ver Har­ry Partch (19011974), whose ope­ra Delusion of the Fu­ry you sta­ged for the first time in Eu­rope at the ope­ning of the Ruhr­trien­nale last Au­gust?

I came across his music in the ear­ly 1980s when I ac­qui­red two vi­nyl re­cords put out by the CRI la­bel at his ex­pense. I felt that Partch was his­to­ri­cal­ly in­ter­es­ting for two rea­sons. First, be­cause of his in­ter­est in rhythm and the cor­po­ral sen­sa­tion of sound that it pro­duces, a phe­no­me­non I was al­rea­dy fa­mi­liar with and ap­pre­cia­ted in pop music, and se­cond be­cause he consi­de­red him­self an ex­plo­rer of an as-yet poor­ly de­fi­ned new so­nic space. At the time that was ve­ry im­por­tant for me in terms of po­si­tio­ning my­self in re­gard to con­tem­po­ra­ry music. Conse­quent­ly, in Noir et Blanc there is a pas­sage en­tit­led “Har­ry­pa­ta­ri,” de­di­ca­ted to both Har­ry Partch and my Ata­ri com­pu­ter! When I had the op­por­tu­ni­ty to work with the mu­sikFa­brik en­semble to re­cons­truct all the ins­tru­ments he had concei­ved and made, we de­ci­ded to put on Delusion of the Fu­ry. It took the per­cus­sio­nists al­most a year to learn how to play these ins­tru­ments. During the course of the re­hear­sals it was a real plea­sure to dis­co­ver the ve­ry par­ti­cu­lar cha­rac­ter of his music, a mé­lange of se­rious­ness, pro­bi­ty and hu­mor. I read his wri­ting with fas­ci­na­tion, and rea­li­zed that the ideas I had de­ve­lo­ped during the 1980s had al­rea­dy been for­mu­la­ted by him for­ty years ear­lier. How can such works be sta­ged? How can they be per­for­med wi­thout a conduc­tor? I was in­tri­gued by his thin­king about how to link the bo­dy and mu­si­cal ins­tru­ments. His concep­tua­li­za­tion went beyond the boundaries of art to em­brace life it­self.

You mean that he didn’t se­pa­rate thea­ter and music?

Ne­ver. When I be­gan to read the score and the li­bret­to for Delusion, there were a num­ber of things I didn’t un­ders­tand. I said to my­self, “Doesn’t mat­ter. Don’t try to find an ex­pla­na­tion for eve­ry­thing…” But as I del­ved more dee­ply in­to it I rea­li­zed that what had see­med bi­zarre to me at first glance—his bor­ro­wings and de­ri­va­tions from Japanese folk­lore and Afri­can tales— made sense when they were sta­ged. His me­ti­cu­lous writ­ten in­di­ca­tions were like wri­ting space. The mo­ve­ment and po­si­tio­ning of the ins­tru­ments, which were ex­traor­di­na­ry sculp­tures in them­selves, the stage sets and the ins­truc­tions for the per­for­mers—eve­ry­thing ser­ved the music.


You re­ject ex­pe­rience in com­po­si­tion, but at the same time you want it to be an ex­pe­rience for the lis­te­ner.

Art should not be re­du­ced to com­mu­ni­ca­tion or consi­de­red an ins­tru­ment to convey rea­li­ty. Fur­ther, music shouldn’t have a pre­de­fi­ned role. For example, when I be­came head of the Trien­nale, I pro­mi­sed that it would be a me­mo­rable ex­pe­rience for all concer­ned, so­me­thing ne­ver seen or heard be­fore. I pri­vi­le­ged texts and li­bret­tos that had a pri­mor­dial re­la­tion­ship with edu­ca­tion, trai­ning and culture, be­cause we can all be tou­ched, at­trac­ted and se­du­ced, or, conver­se­ly, frigh­te­ned or ir­ri­ta­ted by a word, a phrase or an image. Above all, what I strive for is to create mul­tiple le­vels of per­cep­tion, so that no­thing can ever be read on­ly one way. A com­po­ser is like a tra­ve­ler in unk­nown coun­tries. His vi­sion can­not li­mit it­self to a simple des­crip­tion where he gives pre­cise names to eve­ry­thing he sees. When art tries to be­come po­li­ti­cal it is even har­der for us to ap­pre­hend be­cause it ne­gates the mul­ti­pli­ci­ty of points of view.

You’ve been wri­ting music since the late 1980s. In the wake of re­si­den­cies in Lu­cerne and Bo­chum, you were com­mis­sio­ned to com­pose for the Ber­li­ner Phil­har­mo­ni­ker, the En­semble Mo­dern and others, and at the same time you were tea­ching. Have you found time to write since you be­came ar­tis­tic di­rec­tor of the Ruhr­trien­nale in 2012?

Please note that I as­su­med this res­pon­si­bi­li­ty for a three-year term that ends in the sum­mer of 2014. Ob­vious­ly I’ve not com­po­sing during this per­iod, but it’s great to be able to stage work that would not be

pos­sible anyw­here else. Be­cause of the consi­de­rable re­sources avai­lable to me I can em­bark on fa­bu­lous ar­tis­tic ad­ven­tures, and the Trien­nale en­joys an ex­tre­me­ly di­verse au­dience. In 2013, for example, more than 90 percent of the seats had been sold be­fore the fes­ti­val ope­ning, which had ne­ver hap­pe­ned be­fore.

What’s on the mar­quee for this year?

The full pro­gram will be an­noun­ced next April. We’ll open with Die Ma­te­rie by the Dutch­man Louis An­dries­sen. I’m sta­ging it with En­semble Mo­dern. This is the first time it’s been done in Ger­ma­ny since Ro­bert Wil­son’s 1989 pro­duc­tion in Am­ster­dam. It’s a ma­gni­ficent work, the per­fect mar­riage of thea­ter and music. The other thing I can talk about is Ri­ver of Fun­dament, a new film by Mat­thew Bar­ney with com­po­ser Jo­na­than Be­pler. Le­mi Po­ni­fa­sio, a lea­der of the Mao­ri cause, a cho­reo­gra­pher and foun­der of the MAU ar­tists’ col­lec­tive in New Zea­land, crea­ted I Am, a piece at the cross­roads of music, thea­ter and games. I love the idea that it can’t be clas­si­fied un­der any ar­tis­tic dis­ci­pline.

That spi­rit is real­ly re­flec­ted in your work at the Lyon Bien­nale.

Like in Stif­ters Dinge, where I tried to re­con­cile con­tem­po­ra­ry music played live and voices that are absent, elec­tro­ni­cal­ly ma­ni­pu­la­ted and broad­cast. Si­mi­lar­ly, Noir et Blanc was a piece filled with ab­sence, com­me­mo­ra­ting the death of Hei­ner Mül­ler. Stif­ters Dinge is an ex­pe­riment with the idea of a score per­for­med wi­thout any hu­man pre­sence. As it un­folds one can per­ceive eth­no­lo­gi­cal ra­mi­fi­ca­tions, like a li­ving sculp­ture whose ra­dia­tions ca­ta­lyze the am­bient sounds, such as wood being cut, stones kno­cking to­ge­ther, glass brea­king, wind, rain and a whole net­work of re­cor­ded voices, in­clu­ding Claude Lé­vi-Strauss. The pia­nos and stage ligh­ting are them­selves ac­tors in this thea­ter of music.

Aren’t you trying to culti­vate or re­dis­co­ver a cer­tain ma­gic in the ri­tuals of thea­ter and per­for­mance?

That cer­tain­ly ap­plied to Adal­bert Stif­ter, the ro­man­tic wri­ter my piece is ba­sed on. He sought to de­ve­lop an in­tense re­la­tion­ship with the na­tu­ral ele­ments he ob­ser­ved, even though he couldn’t grasp their mea­ning. I find this humble and trans­parent at­ti­tude fas­ci­na­ting, which is way I’d like to talk about Stif­ters Dinge.


What made you want to stage Song of Wars I’ve Seen, ba­sed on Ger­trude Stein’s book re­coun­ting her ex­pe­rience in France during 1942 and 1943?

What I like about her is her unique way of mixing po­li­ti­cal ideas and ve­ry per­so­nal ob­ser­va­tions about dai­ly life. For me, she suc­ceeds at what I think is an es­sen­tial ques­tion, how to talk about war. The piece is no­thing but a concert, a sta­ging of the text, where we see the two worlds co­exis­ting. In front is a cozy in­ter­ior where wo­men ins­tru­men­ta­lists play se­ven­teen­th­cen­tu­ry Ba­roque music com­po­sed by Mat­thew Locke for The Tem­pest, since Stein as­so­cia­ted Sha­kes­peare’s play with World War II. Above them, a group of black-clad men ar­med with per­cus­sion and wind ins­tru­ments sug­gests the hard­ships of war as they play jazz tunes mixed with crude and re­pe­ti­tive sounds. To my mind Stein is in­di­ca­ting our in­abi­li­ty to find a lan­guage ap­pro­priate for tal­king about war and all such con­flicts, past, present and fu­ture.

Trans­la­tion, L-S Tor­goff

Franck Mal­let is a music cri­tic (for re­views such as Le Monde de la Mu­sique, Les In­ro­ckup­tibles, Clas­si­ca and art­press), wri­ter, ra­dio broad­cast pro­du­cer (Ra­dio K, France Mu­sique and France Culture) and te­le­vi­sion di­rec­tor of por­traits of Phi­lip Glass ( Loo­king Glass), Pierre Hen­ry ( P. H. ou l’art des sons) and Steve Reich ( S. R. Phase to Face) for Arte.

Bien­nale Mu­siques en scène

LYON, MAC, Gen­ko-An 69006, 5 mars-20 avril THÉÂTRE DES CÉ­LES­TINS, Goeb­bels / En­semble Or­ches­tral Contem­po­rain / Valade, Chant des guerres que j’ai vues, 11-15 mars ENSATT, Cam­pus Hei­ner Goeb­bels, 21 mars AU­DI­TO­RIUM, Goeb­bels / Or­chestre na­tio­nal de Lyon / Stock­ham­mer, Sam­pler Suite, 28 mars THÉÂTRE DE LA CROIX-ROUSSE, Goeb­bels/CNSMD de Lyon/Gardon/Ro­phé, Sur­ro­gate, 29 mars VILLEUR­BANNE, TNP, Goeb­bels / Hilliard En­semble, I Went to the house but did not en­ter, 6, 7, 8 mars Goeb­bels, Stif­ters Dinge, 13, 14, 15 mars DÉ­CINES, Ci­né To­bog­gan, Goeb­bels/Per­roud, De l’ex­pé­rience des choses, 18 mars OUL­LINS, Théâtre de la Re­nais­sance, Goeb­bels / Wilms, Max Black, 21, 22 mars SAINT-ÉTIENNE, Opé­ra Théâtre, Goeb­bels / En­semble Or­ches­tral Contem­po­rain / Valade, Chant des guerres que j’ai vues, 26 mars 2014. Fes­ti­val Ar­chi­pel 2014 GE­NÈVE, BFM, Delusion of the Fu­ry, opé­ra d’Har­ry Partch, mis en scène Hei­ner Goeb­bels, par l’En­semble mu­sikFa­brik, 28 et 29 mars. Dis­co­gra­phie ECM New Se­ries, BMG Clas­sics, Rer, So­ny

« Stif­ters Dinge ». Ruhr­trien­nale. 2012-2014. (© Klaus Grün­berg)

« I Went to the House But Did Not En­ter ». 2008. (© Ma­rio Del Cur­to) « Chant des guerres que j’ai vues ». D’après Ger­trude Stein. (© DR). “Song of Wars I’ve Seen” (af­ter G. Stein)

Ci-des­sus/ above: « I Went to the House But Did Not En­ter ». 2008. (© Ma­rio Del Cur­to) Ci-contre / left: Hei­ner Goeb­bels. (© Wonge Berg­mann)

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