Heiner Goebbels (1952, German)

It would be deprecatory to call Heiner Goebbels only “a composer”. I’ve seen in Paris, in the 1990s and after, a number of his pieces of “music theatre” that he had staged himself, and they were great, displaying a mesmerizing visual and sonic imagination. He’s a full, multi-talented, multi-straddling artist.

I remember two in particular: the first one I saw (and it was also, I think, Goebbels’ first appearance in Paris, in 1993), “Ou bien le débarquement désastreux” (“Or the Hapless Landing”), and (no, I didn’t remember that title by heart, I had to retrieve it on Goebbels’ entry on Wikipedia) “Eraritjaritjaka” (“Eraritjaritjaka is a word derived from the Arunta language of the Aranda people of central Australia. It means, roughly, a yearning for something that has been lost, and it is a key exhibit in Heiner Goebbels’ Musee des Phrases”). In the latter, you could see, on the backdrop of a stylized façade of a house (and the sonic backdrop of Shostakovich’s 8th Quartet and Ravel’s played on stage by – was it the Kronos Quartet?), actor André Willms (become, since their first encounter on “Ou bien le débarquement désastreux, Goebbel’s fetish collaborator) filmed live by a video crew with the images projected on the front of the backdrop house, leave the hall, get in a car (with the video crew), drive away, arrive to a house, climb the stairs, enter a small appartment (obviously a bachelor’s; his own?), cook dinner, slicing vegetables, frying eggs (during which time, if I recall, the String Quartet players stepped out of stage, and a minute later a new camera angle revealed that they were in the kitchen with Willms, playing that same quartet that they had been playing on stage a minute ago, and at the end the mock backdrop front-of-house on stage was lifted up and revelaed them all, Willms and the quartet, on the stage of the theatre. It was magic, and it was brilliant (and there might be some element of imaginary reconstruction in my description, I’m relying on memories from over fifteen years ago and some images found on the net to rekindle them).

Are Goebbels’ pieces as effective when heard on CD, as exclusive music experiences, with their blend (or patchwork) of contemporary jazz, world-music, spoken word, and contemporary classical, but shorn of their visual and theatrical dimension? I’m not sure, but for those who’ve seen the theatrical productions, they serve as an indispensable memento. See my review of “Ou bien le débarquement désastreux” on ECM.